Michael Cook

An unmet need for sound thinking

Michael Cook
By Michael Cook
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July 16, 2012 (Mercatornet.com) - If you are not too greedy and need only a modest amount of other people’s money, get a sawed-off shotgun and a balaclava. However, if you are more ambitious, get an acronym. This is clearly the lesson to be drawn from the latest banking scandal, in which Britain’s leading banks scammed US$300 billion, perhaps much more, by fibbing about the Libor—the London Interbank Offered Rate—an acronym which politicians had never heard of and regulators hardly questioned.

But the same mistake was made all over again at this week’s London Family Planning Summit. The rich and famous of the world have donated $2.6 billion to meet the “unmet need” of 120 million women in the developing world for family planning. The UK has pledged $800 million, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation $560 million, the UNFPA $378 million, Norway $200 million, the Netherlands $160 million, and Germany $122 million. Those are just the donors in the hundreds of millions.

Do any of these governments and organisations really know what $2.6 billion of “unmet need” means? In a year when voters in some countries are rioting over “austericide” in the wake of the global financial crisis, are they tipping money into a gigantic black hole?

A professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, Lant Pritchett, told MercatorNet that “unmet need” is a meaningless concept employed by no one except a coterie of family planning experts. Pritchett, who was described last year as one of the world’s 100 top global thinkers by the magazine Foreign Policy, was scathing in an email to MercatorNet. “Wow, I thought all of this was dead and gone… I wonder what is driving this revival?”

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“It has never caught fire except in a tiny group that push and push and naif outsiders assume they know what they are talking about and take it at face value. No one who has looked at it closely… really thinks it has any analytic use other than advocacy value. I am just amazed this nonsense has come back from its well-deserved dustbin of history.”

The argument which has diddled some of the world’s richest governments and philanthropists was set out this week in a special family planning issue of Britain’s most prestigious medical journal, The Lancet. Melinda Gates and Australia’s foreign minister, Bob Carr, contend that “Across the developing world, some 222 million women who want to avoid pregnancy are not using a modern method of contraception”. Providing them with contraceptives will—they claim—lead to 600,000 fewer newborn deaths and 79,000 fewer maternal deaths each year. With fewer children, women will have more money to spend educating their daughters. And with fewer people there will be a “demographic dividend” allowing more economic growth.

The $2.6 billion pledged at the Summit will reach 120 million of the 222 million women with an “unmet need” for contraception.

“Unmet demand” was dreamed up in the first family-planning surveys in the 1960s. Its high-water mark was the Cairo population conference in 1994 which resolved that: “Governmental goals for family planning should be defined in terms of unmet needs for information and services”. As the organiser of the London summit, Melinda Gates has breathed new life into the idea. But as Pritchett points out, there have always been knotty problems with “unmet need”.

First of all, “unmet”. According to a World Bank briefing note, women with “unmet need for contraception” are those “who do not want to become pregnant but are not using contraception”. Astonishingly, this includes women who are currently pregnant, women who are breast-feeding, and women who find it difficult to become pregnant. The World Bank blandly acknowledges that “women with unmet need may still not have any intention to use contraception were it readily accessible and of good quality”.

In other words, Melinda Gates’s 220 million women include women who know all about contraceptives, can access them, and can pay for them. But they are worried about side effects, or they have religious objections or they have husbands who are working overseas. This makes no difference. Even if they don’t want contraception, Mrs Gates and her supporters know that they need contraception. “Note that the measurement of unmet need,” says the World Bank, “does not include an assessment of whether women want or intend to use contraception.” Even Africa’s 65,000 Catholic nuns fit into that definition.

“The strange thing is,” says Pritchett, “that one of the stalwarts of the family planning movement, Charles Westoff, wrote a paper decades ago showing many of the same criticisms of ‘unmet need’ – eg, that is does not correspond to what women want, that it includes women not currently fecund, etc.—but then they just went on using it anyway.”

Second, “need”. What does “need” for contraceptives mean to a woman? Does it mean “desperation”—Mrs Gates seems to think so—or does it mean “like”? A woman staggering through the Sahara is desperate for a drink; a woman staggering through a bar would like (another) one. In Mrs Gates’s books, both of them have an “unmet need”. But among the 220 million women, should those who are just vaguely interested in contraception be counted?

In a thought-provoking paper which Professor Pritchett wrote in 1996, not long after the Cairo Conference, he pointed out that in comparison to the need for food, water, medical care and fuel, the need for contraception was very small in poor countries.

“Contraception is a very effective technology for having unregulated coital activity and not having children but no one needs contraception in order not to have children. There is no question you need a parachute to jump out of airplanes and not suffer serious injury, but does that mean you need a parachute? Well, the need for parachutes is obviously only as great as the need to fling oneself out of planes, which is pressing if you’re in the 82nd Airborne, but not really otherwise.”

Third, the idea of “unmet need” is patronising, even demeaning, for women. How can they “need” something that they do not want? This kind of reasoning comes from a patriarchal mindset. Women in developing countries are already pushed around too much. They should be allowed to make their own choices in peace. Pritchett told MercatorNet:

“This is exactly like calculating the ‘unmet need’ of Jewish people for pork. That is, one could do the calculations of the ‘need’ for protein, look at which Jewish people are getting enough protein, conclude that the experts think the most cost-effective way of getting protein is pork and then attribute an ‘unmet need’ for pork to people who are Jewish. Of course it is completely disrespectful of women to not listen to their reasons for not using contraception and insist they have a ‘need’ for something they do not ‘want’. It is precisely this kind of disrespect for women and their autonomy and choices that led to the disasters in India and China.”

Fourth, “unmet need” may possibly make sense in marketing, but as an analytical tool, Pritchett says, “it makes no economic sense at all”. Even in underdeveloped regions, women are well aware of the existence of contraception. If demand for it were high, the price should rise. In fact, family planning organisations often have to work hard to give contraceptives away.

As Pritchett points out in his 1996 paper, it is not a question of price. Even poor households in countries like Indonesia and Nepal spend between 2 and 3 percent of household income on tobacco. “If the household can afford tobacco the household can afford contraception,” he wrote.

More recent research shows that the use of contraceptives in developing countries does not decline if their price rises. This suggests that the problem is lack of demand, not lack of supply. American academics examined sales of contraceptives during the severe financial crisis which hit Indonesia in the late 1990s. They found that “very large changes in prices of contraceptives have little impact on the decision to use contraceptives or on method choice, even among the poorest couples.”

In an interview with The Guardian about the Summit Melinda Gates described improving access to contraception across the globe as her life’s work. Unfortunately, a gremlin in the typesetting had her claiming that 200 billion women wanted access, rather than 200 million. But perhaps when you are dealing with esoteric matters like Libor or “unmet need”, billions and millions, whatever, all sound the same. As long as the donors feel good about themselves and family planning bureaucrats continue to draw their paycheques.

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet. This article reprinted under a Creative Commons License. 

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PBS defends decision to air pro-abortion documentary ‘After Tiller’

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By Dustin Siggins

Under pressure for showing the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Labor Day, PBS' "POV" affiliate has defended the decision in response to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

The producers of the film say their goal with the documentary, which tells the stories of four late-term abortion doctors after the killing of infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller, is to "change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.” 

POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."

When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received more than $400 million in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."

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"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue." 

In addition to the documentary, POV has written materials for community leaders and teachers to share. A cursory examination of the 29-page document, which is available publicly, appears to include links to outside sources that defend Roe v. Wade, an examination of the constitutional right to privacy, and "a good explanation of the link between abortion law and the right to privacy," among other information.

Likewise, seven clips recommended for student viewing -- grades 11 and beyond -- include scenes where couples choose abortion because the children are disabled. Another shows pro-life advocates outside a doctor's child's school, and a third is described as showing "why [one of the film's doctors] chose to offer abortion services and includes descriptions of what can happen when abortion is illegal or unavailable, including stories of women who injured themselves when they tried to terminate their own pregnancies and children who were abused because they were unwanted."

Another clip "includes footage of protesters, as well as news coverage of a hearing in the Nebraska State Legislature in which abortion opponents make reference to the idea that a fetus feels pain." The clip's description fails to note that it is a scientifically proven fact that unborn children can feel pain.

The documentary is set to air on PBS at 10 p.m. Eastern on Labor Day.

Kirsten Andersen contributed to this article.

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He defended ‘real’ marriage, and then was beheaded for it

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By Pete Baklinski

A Christian man was executed during the night by a high-profile ruler after making an uncompromising defense of real marriage.

The Christian, who was renowned for his holiness, had told the ruler in public that his relationship with his partner was “against the law” of God. The Christian’s words enraged the ruler’s partner who successfully plotted to have him permanently silenced.

John the Baptist was first imprisoned before he was beheaded. The Catholic Church honors him today, August 29, as a martyr and saint.

While John’s death happened a little less than 2,000 years ago, his heroic stance for real marriage is more pertinent today than ever before.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the ruler Herod had ‘married’ his brother’s wife Herodias. When John told Herod with complete frankness, “It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife,” Herodias became “furious” with him to the point of wanting him killed for his intolerance, bullying, and hate-speech.

Herodias found her opportunity to silence John by having her daughter please Herod during a dance at a party. Herod offered the girl anything she wanted. The daughter turned to her mother for advice, and Herodias said to ask for John’s head on a platter.

Those who fight for real marriage today can learn three important lessons from John’s example.

  1. Those proudly living in ungodly and unnatural relationships — often referred to in today’s sociopolitical sphere as ‘marriage’ — will despise those who tell them what they are doing is wrong. Real marriage defenders must expect opposition to their message from the highest levels.
  2. Despite facing opposition, John was not afraid to defend God’s plan for marriage in the public square, even holding a secular ruler accountable to this plan. John, following the third book of the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 20:21), held that a man marrying the wife of his brother was an act of “impurity” and therefore abhorrent to God. Real marriage defenders must boldly proclaim today that God is the author of marriage, an institution he created to be a life-long union between one man and one woman from which children arise and in which they are best nurtured. Marriage can be nothing more, nothing less.
  3. John did not compromise on the truth of marriage as revealed by God, even to the point of suffering imprisonment and death for his unpopular position. Real marriage defenders must never compromise on the truth of marriage, even if the government, corporate North America, and the entire secular education system says otherwise. They must learn to recognize the new “Herodias” of today who despises those raising a voice against her lifestyle. They must stand their ground no matter what may come, no matter what the cost.

John the Baptist was not intolerant or a bigot, he simply lived the word of God without compromise, speaking the word of truth when it was needed, knowing that God’s way is always the best way. Were John alive today, he would be at the forefront of the grassroots movement opposing the social and political agenda to remake marriage in the image of man.

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If he were alive today he might speak simple but eloquent words such as, “It is against God’s law for two men or two women to be together as a husband and wife in marriage. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.” 

He would most likely be hated. He would be ridiculed. He would surely have the human rights tribunals throwing the book at him. But he would be speaking the truth and have God as his ally. 

The time may not be far off when those who defend real marriage, like John, will be presented with the choice of following Caesar or making the ultimate sacrifice. May God grant his faithful the grace to persevere in whatever might come. St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

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The Wunderlich family Mike Donnelly / Home School Legal Defence Association
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German homeschoolers regain custody of children, vow to stay and fight for freedom

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

One year to the day since a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, and forcibly removed all four of the family’s children, aged 7 to 14, a state appeals court has returned custody of the children to their parents.

The reason given for the removal was that parents Dirk and Petra Wunderlich continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.

The children were returned three weeks after being taken, following an international outcry spearheaded by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

However, a lower court imposed the condition on the parents that their children were required to attend state schools in order for them to be released, and took legal custody of the children in order to prevent the family from leaving the country.

In a decision that was still highly critical of the parents and of homeschooling, the appeals court decided that the action of the lower court in putting the children in the custody of the state was “disproportional” and ordered complete custody returned to the parents, according to a statement by the HSLDA.

The Wunderlichs, who began homeschooling again when the court signaled it would rule this way, said they were very pleased with the result, but noted that the court’s harsh words about homeschooling indicated that their battle was far from over.

“We have won custody and we are glad about that,” Dirk said.

“The court said that taking our children away was not proportionate—only because the authorities should apply very high fines and criminal prosecution instead. But this decision upholds the absurd idea that homeschooling is child endangerment and an abuse of parental authority.”

The Wunderlichs are now free to emigrate to another country where homeschooling is legal, if they choose, but they said they intend to remain in Germany and work for educational freedom.

“While we no longer fear that our children will be taken away as long as we are living in Hessen, it can still happen to other people in Germany,” Dirk said. “Now we fear crushing fines up to $75,000 and jail. This should not be tolerated in a civilized country.”

Petra Wunderlich said, "We could not do this without the help of HSLDA,” but cautioned that, “No family can fight the powerful German state—it is too much, too expensive."

"If it were not for HSLDA and their support, I am afraid our children would still be in state custody. We are so grateful and thank all homeschoolers who have helped us by helping HSLDA.”

HSLDA’s Director for Global Outreach, Michael Donnelly, said he welcomed the ruling but was concerned about the court’s troubling language.

“We welcome this ruling that overturns what was an outrageous abuse of judicial power,” he said.

“The lower court decision to take away legal custody of the children essentially imprisoned the Wunderlich family in Germany. But this decision does not go far enough. The court has only grudgingly given back custody and has further signaled to local authorities that they should still go after the Wunderlichs with criminal charges or fines.”

Donnelly pointed out that such behavior in a democratic country is problematic.

“Imprisonment and fines for homeschooling are outside the bounds of what free societies that respect fundamental human rights should tolerate,” he explained.

“Freedom and fundamental human rights norms demand respect for parental decision making in education. Germany’s state and national policies that permit banning home education must be changed.

"Such policies from a leading European democracy not only threaten the rights of tens of thousands of German families but establish a dangerous example that other countries may be tempted to follow,” Donnelly warned.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said that acting on behalf of the Wunderlichs was an important stand for freedom.

“The Wunderlichs are a good and decent family whose basic human rights were violated and are still threatened,” Farris said.

“Their fight is our fight," Farris stressed, "and we will continue to support those who stand against German policy banning homeschooling that violates international legal norms. Free people cannot tolerate such oppression and we will do whatever we can to fight for families like the Wunderlichs both here in the United States and abroad. We must stand up to this kind of persecution where it occurs or we risk seeing own freedom weakened.”

Visit the HSLDA website dedicated to helping the Wunderlich family and other German homeschoolers here.

Contact the German embassy in the U.S. here.

Contact the German embassy in Canada here.

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