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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The Romanian Orthodox Church's Patriarchal Cathedral in Bucharest Wikimedia Commons
Bogdan Stanciu

Romanian news outlet sanctioned for discrimination in attacking pro-life initiative

Bogdan Stanciu
By Bogdan Stanciu

BUCHAREST, Romania -- A decision of CNCD, Romania's Council Against Discrimination, has recently become definitive, recognizing the right to dignity of all Orthodox Christians in the country.

Last year, PRO VITA Association - Bucharest branch, one of the main nonprofits in Romania defending life, family and religious liberty, filed an official complaint with the Council, showing that a blog post dated May 17, 2013 and hosted on the Adevarul.ro platform prejudiced the image of Christian Orthodox believers.

The article, signed "Alex Dumitriu," challenged the support given by the Romanian Orthodox Church to the “One of Us” European initiative, which required a ban on public funding for the destruction of embryos during research and medical procedures.

The blog post described the Romanian Orthodox Church as an “anti-human, criminal and anti-life organization, whose purpose is spreading suffering and abjectness, mysticism and ignorance for their own profit.”

The applicant argued that these allegations created a degrading and hostile atmosphere for Orthodox Christians in Romania, thus harming a whole community.

The Council agreed that the affirmations in the article referred to both the clerics and the simple believers and discriminated against the Christian Orthodox community. It concluded it was discrimination, infringing upon the right to dignity granted to persons of Christian Orthodox confession.

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The council cited the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that freedom of expression is not an absolute right in Europe, carrying with it duties and responsibilities. Also, the Adevarul.ro platform was fined a symbolic sum of 2,000 RON (approximately 445 EUR).

It is for the first time in Romania that a media institution is sanctioned for discriminating against Christians.

As a brand, the Adevarul newspaper has continued the tradition of a title established in the 19th century, but after 1989 it took over the infrastructure and human resources of the recently-deceased communist newspaper Scanteia, the official propaganda channel of the Romanian Communist Party. Today it has also developed Adevarul.ro, an online platform that is one of the most popular media channels in Romania.

Adevarul.ro has recently made it a habit of harassing the Romanian Orthodox Church with almost daily frequency, presenting negative aspects in the church and tendentious articles of opinion about this institution and about Creationism and Christianity in general, in what looks more and more like an ideological guerrilla warfare.


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Paul Russell

Nitschke heads a suicide cult that must be stopped

Paul Russell
By Paul Russell

Following The Australian's news story today about another young life lost that was related to Philip Nitschke and the Exit organisation, senior journalist, Angela Shanahan says that Nitschke and Exit must be stopped.

Shanahan opens: 

PHILIP Nitschke, contrary to his claims as an advocate of euthanasia for the terminally ill, is the chief mover of something resembling a suicide cult.

The case histories of Lucas Taylor, 26, and Joe Waterman, 25, who committed suicide after being in contact with Nitschke’s group, Exit, leave little doubt of that.

Lucas Taylor was the subject of the other article in today's paper while Joe Waterman's story was covered earlier in the ABCs 7:30 Report that created the original furore leading to the medical board suspending Nitschke's practicing licence today.

Covering the information Judi Taylor found on her son's computer after his death the story adds: 

His heartbroken mother realised that her son was not the only young person on this site. Nor was anyone on the site interested in the motivation for his thoughts of suicide, nor in helping Lucas to overcome his feelings.

“They were only interested in the ‘endgame’,” she said, including detailed advice about where and when and how to go about it.

Again, this destroys any pretence that Nitschke and Exit are only involved in advising sick and dying people about how to commit suicide. This is a macabre and clandestine death industry. Hope joins with Angela Shanahan in calling for this organisation to be stopped and is joined now in our call for a National Inquiry into Exit and other euthanasia organisations by the mothers of both of the young men mentioned in this article.

Shanahan closes by saying: Nitschke’s claim of political persecution is risible. He and his organisation must be stopped.

Reprinted with permission from NoEuthanasia.org.au.


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Hilary White Hilary White Follow Hilary

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Leaving the Matrix: what is the cost of conversion?

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By Hilary White

What do you do when you decide to leave a sexually disordered lifestyle? What do you do, when all the people you have contact with, all your friends, even your family, have accepted and embraced a way of living and thinking about life that you have realized is harmful, psychologically and morally destructive, and which you know you must leave? What is the cost of conversion?

We can easily get caught up in the tumult of the ever-escalating legal, political, and cultural war against the traditional worldview and anthropology, so much that we forget that the “issue” is about real, individual human beings and how they should, concretely, order their lives. We culture warriors must remember that what we are asking people to do is difficult, that it can incur huge sacrifice and loss and will often require enormous upheaval and change. We are asking people to leave not only a “lifestyle” of sexual activity, but an entire world, populated with family, friends, co-workers, colleagues, and an entire global culture that embraces and aggressively promotes it.

I include not only the experience of leaving the “gay lifestyle,” but of leaving a worldview, a cultural paradigm that accepts and promotes sexual license of any kind in general. It is more than the questions surrounding the so-called “ex-gay” movement, and more than the issue of living chastely in an increasingly sexually obsessed world.

How ought a person who experiences same-sex attraction react when it begins to dawn on him that, for whatever reason, he cannot continue to live according to the world’s paradigm? We know how the homosexualist movement says he ought to react, and we know that the secular world (nearly all the world, therefore) is in more or less complete agreement. He should reject such self-negating thoughts. He should embrace his “orientation” and start to seek out same-sex sexual relationships, and carry on in the way that they tell us life is now normally lived.

He should engage in sexual encounters with various people, sometimes setting up “relationships” for varying lengths of time, breaking up, moving on, finding someone else, perhaps cohabitating, and maybe, some day, “settling down” with one person, either in “marriage,” or not, as the mood strikes. This is what the world now presents to us as normal. Nearly every television show and movie set in our times says this is just how people live nowadays. 

It is only too easy for those of us who live out here in The Real to forget how totally different our lives are from that of the majority of our fellow men. We shout, “jump!” because we see a whole other lush, green and happy world, but they see nothing but the shadows on the cave wall.

But those few of us left who think this is not a very good way to live, that it is morally and psychologically destructive, have in large part to forge our own way in life, figure out a set of rules and standards to live by alone, all the while fighting the pressure to conform. Even for those of us not plagued by sexual feelings towards people of the same sex it isn’t easy.

It is particularly not easy for those of us who have decided later in life to try to embrace a different path, but who had previously followed the world’s advice, and who had never known any other way of living. What does it take to totally change a worldview, a method of organizing one’s life and all social relationships? How hard is it to reinvent a way of life that the world has not only abandoned, but aggressively rejected and condemned?

The cost will usually be, at least, the loss of nearly all one’s friends, sometimes even very close friends. Very often it will include alienating, sometimes permanently, one’s own family. Since the Sexual Revolution’s paradigm has now been embraced by three or four or more generations, it will often mean alienation from parents and siblings.

It will sometimes mean the loss of good relations with co-workers and colleagues, and sometimes even the loss of jobs and careers. I know a man, a previously highly respected author, who was totally rejected by the entire literary establishment of his home country, a heavily secular nation, when he embraced Catholicism, including its sexual moral teachings. He told me that he expected he would never be published again outside the Catholic niche press. None of his previous friends would speak to him and for the first two years his mother had refused to take his calls.

He had been asked again and again why, if he felt he had to become a Christian, he could not have become an Anglican. And why this “sudden obsession” with “outdated” and “retrograde” sexual morality? He said that, in essence, he was treated as he would have been in the 19th century had he “come out” as a homosexual. Chastity, in other words, is the new perversion.

It is a momentous decision to leave that world, and people who make that transition compare it to leaving the Matrix: a painful, shocking and revelatory experience of a totally new and previously unguessed-at world that can leave the person disoriented, feeling as though he is now living in a kind of “parallel universe” in which he is alone and alienated from friends and family and fellow citizens.

There is an increasing number of us “converts” to a more morally sane life, who often find that once we have made the transition we are alone again. And even when we find others, a new community and friends – usually in a church – we learn that we must keep the door to the past closed. It’s not that we fear rejection, far from it, and it is not even a matter of shame.

But we understand that in a civilized society, no one wants to hear about barbarity, and we learn that to keep our past life closely in mind is to allow it to continue to rule the present. Close friends will know about our past, but, outside the most intimate circles it is passed over silently. We have reinvented ourselves and moved on, but the price is sometimes to become people with no past. To be wholly remade, it is necessary to leave behind the person we were.

It works. I can say that it is possible to be radically morally rebuilt, that one can reconstruct an entire personality, consciously dismantle past habits of thought and approach to life and replace them with better ones. The damage from the previous life, whether physical or psychological, can be permanent, but it is possible to construct a way of living that is morally and psychologically and physically healthy, and reorder a life in such a way that the damage does not rule your present. 

But it’s expensive. For me, it started when I was still living in British Columbia. I felt something new beginning in my mind and felt a yearning spring up that could not be satisfied by anything I’d experienced… the usual convert’s tale.

I’d been aware all my life that the kind of world we lived in, and the kind of life we lived in it, was somehow just not right. I loved old films and television shows that depicted a totally different way of living. I was close to my grandparents and wondered why we no longer lived that way. When I moved to the mainland in my early 20s, I somehow started going to Mass again, and that was when the real struggle began. I knew full well that the way I lived and thought about life was deeply at odds with the Church.

But I was alone. None of my friends were Catholic and none of them could begin to understand what it was I had begun to talk about. And I had made no friends at the large inner city parish I attended. I had tried to join a few things, and had volunteered a bit, but I could see that I had nothing in common with them. It seemed as though these people lived in another universe, one I could not even want to enter. A priest suggested I get involved in the pro-life movement, and I rejected this idea out of hand as totally absurd.

I thought I could only ask God for help. I prayed for “Catholic friends.” This brought no change, so I scaled down and said, “All right then, just one. Just one Catholic friend.” In the end, I simply got up and left one day. I’ve written elsewhere that I just got in a car and went “on holiday” out east, and never returned. When I landed in the far-eastern Canadian town where I was to undertake my own radical conversion, I only stopped there because I had run out of continent.

And it was there I discovered a whole new world, a moral universe of whose existence I had been previously totally ignorant. I met my “Catholic friends,” and was able to start the painful task of first deconstructing and then rebuilding my entire worldview, my character, my beliefs, my total understanding of life, the universe, and everything.

“Painful”? I barely survived. It took a year but I emerged a new kind of person in a new kind of world that I had never suspected existed. I met a group of other people who had undergone the same experience and we traded war stories. We agreed that it was like living in a parallel universe, and we bonded over the loss of previous friendships and family relationships. We helped each other, this little group of Catholic refugees on the rain-washed East Coast, to figure out a way to live in a world to which we no longer belonged. 

We talk about the programs set up by various individuals and groups that propose to help people, (mainly men) leave the homosexual lifestyle. We defend the right of psychotherapists to offer healing and help for people who have been damaged by their own choices and by the violence and sins of others. We lobby our Parliaments, we write articles, we even argue in comment boxes on the internet. We sometimes get brave and give talks and engage in public debates where we confront our ideological opponents in public venues. In all this, we rightly speak against the New Paradigm that the world has embraced and we urge people to reject it. It’s a form of evangelization.

But I think we need to keep in mind, while we are doing this good work, that what we are asking people to do, concretely, is momentous. Indeed, from the point of view of heaven, it is of cosmic significance. In less exalted terms, however, we are asking something almost unimaginably difficult of people ensnared in a way of living and thinking that they may not even completely understand themselves.

So much of our anti-culture, our death-culture, has been simply absorbed unconsciously, so much of it has been fed to us with our Fruit Loops and Saturday Morning Cartoons from earliest childhood, that we often have no way of knowing anything else exists. We have become people trapped in Plato’s Cave, knowing only the vaguest shadows of reality.

It is only too easy for those of us who live out here in The Real to forget how totally different our lives are from that of the majority of our fellow men. We shout, “jump!” because we see a whole other lush, green and happy world, but they see nothing but the shadows on the cave wall.

Ultimately, the Matrix is not only unreal, it is designed to make men miserable, but in such a way that they are hardly aware of being miserable. It not only enslaves, but tortures its victims. There is a reason that suicide, divorce, drug use, violent crime, self-harm, eating disorders, depression, … misery, in short, have grown to such colossal proportions in our societies.

If I may make a suggestion, maybe we could start writing and talking about how much better it is to live in The Real. How much happier it is possible to be when living a morally integrated life of self-control, not being pushed around either by lust or by the merciless demands of a lust-worshipping culture...a life of real freedom, in other words. It might help make the jump less frightening.


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