Pat McEwen was visiting the small village of Huaca, high in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador. The village, not far from the Colombian border, was teeming with refugees fleeing from the ongoing battles between government forces and the drug lords. Mostly women and children, the refugees had arrived with only the possessions that they could carry. Many had lost husbands, sons and daughters to the conflict. ....
Pat decided to ask the group of 42 refugee women that she was meeting with three simple questions: "What are the things you worry about most often? What are your greatest needs? What can I do to help you the most?" Their worries centered around their children, their husbands, and family members from whom they had become separated. Their most pressing need was for blankets and warm clothes. Second was a way to provide for their families. A close third was medicine or health care for their children. Not one mentioned family planning.
Pat then went right to the heart of the "reproductive health care" controversy. "If I could provide a way for you to have fewer children, or no more children, or to not be pregnant if you are pregnant, would you be interested?" she asked them.
The atmosphere in the room, pleasant up to that point, instantly turned chilly. The women whispered among themselves, shooting Pat looks that were no longer friendly. Then one woman, her voice rising in indignation, spoke for all: "Sabe nada, estupida Americana!" Up to this point in the interview, Pat had been relying on translators to help with her halting Spanish, but this stinging barb came through loud and clear: "You understand nothing, stupid American!"
These refugee women had no use for contraceptives, sterilizations, or abortions and rejected Pat's offer of "reproductive health care" out of hand. "The reproductive 'right' that these refugee women wanted was the right not to have me or anyone else interfere in their reproductive lives," Pat recalled later. "They understood that more children meant more minds to plan the future, more hands to share the work, and more hearts to share joy and sorrow. These women had lost family members to violent deaths, but they understood that their children were the promise that there would still be a tomorrow."
Don't take PRI's word for it. Prochoice researcher Betsy Hartmann wrote an excellent book, Reproductive Rights and Wrongs, that came to the same conclusions: women who are considered prime targets for "reproductive rights" don't want the birth control and abortion being shoved at them.
A 2001 survey carried out by PRI in the Ghanan city of Takoradi surveyed 397 people of both sexes. They were interviewed by professionals and given a list of 15 health programs and asked to rank them according to their own personal needs. The health programs listed were: Malaria Eradication, Leprosy Treatment, Reproductive Health, Syphilis Treatment, Polio Prevention, Clean Water Programs, Natural Family Planning, Sleeping Sickness, Gonorrhea Treatment, Tuberculosis Treatment, Yellow Fever, HIV/AIDS Prevention, Cholera Treatment, Measles Prevention, and Other Programs (unspecified).
What did the citizens of Ghana list as their most pressing health needs? Malaria Eradication, Natural Family Planning, Clean Water, Measles Prevention, and HIV/AIDS Prevention.
Signs that these citizens see through the duplicity of population control fanatics can be seen in the comments section: "Stop reproductive health; it's not good," "We don't need reproductive health programs." "Stop reproductive health; eradicate malaria."
They have come to see the words "reproductive health" as synonomous with pushy abortion and artificial birth control programs.
Which, of course, means that if a program comes offering real reproductive health care -- PAP smears, STD treatments, obstetric care, etc. -- people who have had bad experiences with population control efforts will understandably not trust the program. They're fed up with the disdain, duplicity, and paternalism of western do-gooders:
PRI investigator Joseph Meaney, visiting a UN refugee camp in Albania in 1999, was struck by the fact that many of the Kosovo refugee women he was speaking to were eager to have more children, in part to make up for those they had lost to Serbian atrocities. When he mentioned this to a UNFPA doctor, the man exploded with distain for his charges: "They're refugees, don't you see! They can't have children!"
Who are we to tell the poor women of the world that they cannot have more children? This is not reproductive health. This is reproductive oppression, and the women from these developing nations recognize it for what it is: an assault on their fertility and ultimately, their race. We should give the poor nations of the world primary health care, not ideological imperialism.
"The White Man's Burden" is alive and well under a new guise.