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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For Hillary Clinton, abortion access trumps religious liberty

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By Dustin Siggins

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 1, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- For Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, apparently abortion trumps religious liberty.

It may have gotten bipartisan support in the House of Representatives last night, but a spokesperson for the Democratic Party's leading presidential candidate says a resolution protecting religious liberty in the District of Columbia "overrule[s] the democratic process" and hurts women.

The vote, which saw three Democrats join the GOP majority and 13 Republicans stand with Democrats, was meant to protect pro-life and religious organizations in the District from the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act (RHNDA).

RHNDA was signed by the mayor of the District of Columbia, Muriel Bowser, in January, and makes it illegal for any employer, including religious and pro-life organizations, to use a person's belief or actions about abortion in employment considerations. It also requires employers to provide abortion coverage.

The resolution now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to fail due to the Senate being on recess. Under existing federal law, the measure has 30 legislative days to be disapproved by Congress and President Obama. If this does not happen, it becomes law.

The 30-day window ends on Saturday. President Obama promised a veto of the resolution on Thursday, even though RHNDA was opposed by former District mayor Vincent Gray. According to Gray, while he "applaud[s] the goals of this legislation," the former mayor believes RHNDA could violate the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal treatment under the law.

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The statement by the Clinton campaign left no doubt that she stood with Obama and a majority of Democratic legislators. Spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri told CNN, "Hillary Clinton has fought for women and families and their right to access the full range of reproductive health care without interference from politicians or employers."

"Hillary will fight to make it easier, not more difficult, for women and families to get ahead and ensure that women are not discriminated against for personal medical decisions."

The remarks come a week after Clinton took criticism for saying that "religious beliefs" critical of "reproductive rights" must "be changed."

“Yes, we've cut the maternal mortality rate in half, but far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health,” she told the Women in the World Summit on April 23.

“Rights have to exist in practice, not just on paper," said Clinton in her speech. "Laws have to be backed up with resources, and political will."

“Deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed,” said the candidate.

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Social conservatives may be funding the destruction of marriage: corporate watchdog

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By Dustin Siggins

May 1, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) -- With over $55 million in annual revenue, the Human Rights Campaign may be America's most powerful LGBT activist group. And according to a conservative corporate watchdog, that's in part because social conservatives are funding it.

"Conservatives would be surprised to know that many of the dollars they spend every day are helping fund an agenda that seeks to destroy traditional marriage and undermine religious freedoms," said 2nd Vote National Outreach Director Robert Kuykendall. "Even when they purchase a beverage from a company like Coca-cola or Starbucks, their dollar is going to support HRC's liberal agenda to redefine marriage."

Less than 18 months old, 2nd Vote has graded hundreds of corporations on six issues -- corporate welfare, the environment, education, support for the Second Amendment, abortion, and as of two weeks ago, same-sex "marriage." Using their "scoring" system, 2nd Vote ranks corporations on their direct or indirect involvement with these hot-button public policy and cultural issues.

And according to them, some of America's favorite corporations are making the radical HRC agenda possible.

"HRC is the largest LGBT lobbying organization in the United States with reported revenues of over $55 million," Kuykendall told LifeSiteNews. "The redefinition of marriage and the undermining of religious freedom are major components of HRC’s policy agenda. To fund their policy goals, HRC has enlisted the help of many major corporations that we do business with every day to help fund. Over a third of the contributions received by HRC are listed as 'Corporate/Foundation Grants.'" 

Why should conservatives care about corporate donors to HRC? Kuykendall says the organization is both politically influential and publicly deceptive. "Last election cycle, HRC spent around a million dollars on electioneering activities and in support of liberal candidates willing to push their legislative agenda. HRC is responsible for spreading much of the misinformation regarding [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] laws and has also mischaracterized the protections provided by these laws."

"HRC organized a massive grassroots campaign in support of the legal battle to overturn state laws protecting marriage and influence the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges," said Kuykendall.

Marriage isn't the only issue on which conservatives may be at odds with HRC's corporate backers. "2nd Vote’s research into other issues such as life, the environment, and the 2nd Amendment shows that many of the companies supporting HRC have taken liberal stands on other issues as well,” he said. “For example, Apple, Citigroup, Microsoft, and Coca-Cola are Platinum Partners, the highest level of HRC’s National Corporate Partners, that have also funded the liberal Center for American Progress [CAP]."

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"Bank of America, Google, Goldman Sachs, Starbucks, PepsiCo, and Morgan Stanley are also HRC Corporate Partners that have funded CAP. Furthermore, all of these companies signed the amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to overturn state marriage laws."

In Indiana, the state's religious liberty law was modified because of corporate pressure led by Tim Cook, Apple's gay CEO. Kuykendall says conservatives should not give up, though he acknowledges that "for too long, conservatives have let liberals and groups like HRC bully companies into not just going along with their agenda, but actively funding and promoting it."

"However, conservatives have also proven their ability to mobilize and use their dollars in support of traditional values as we’ve seen through the fundraising campaigns for the pizza parlor and wedding cake makers who have been attacked by liberals for their beliefs. Conservatives need to turn the tables on the left, and groups like HRC, and motivate companies to stop funding the liberal agenda through the power of their shopping habits."

Only nine companies have ranks of "five" or "four" on 2nd Vote's ranking system, indicating a pro-marriage perspective. They are outnumbered more than 10 to 1 by organizations that support redefining marriage.

Concerned citizens can download the app on 2nd Vote's website. The full list of corporation scores can be found here.

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First graders exposed to book about transgender boy—without parental notification

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By Fr. Mark Hodges

KITTERY POINT, ME, May 1, 2015, (LifeSiteNews.com) – Parents at one Maine school are upset that children as young as six were exposed to a book promoting transgender issues, in the name of "acceptance."

Parents were not only not consulted, they were never even notified of their children's exposure to transgenderism.

Horace Mitchell Primary School read the book I Am Jazz to first-grade students. The book is about a boy who identifies as a girl from the age of two, "with a boy's body and a girl's brain." He eventually finds a doctor who tells his parents, "Jazz is transgender."

Parents began to inquire about what was being taught at Horace Mitchell Primary after children came home with questions about their own sex and wondering if they, too, might be transgender.

One mother, upset that teachers would broach the subject of transgenderism with her little boy, said the primary school ignored her complaint. "I feel like my thoughts, feelings and beliefs were completely ignored...My right as a parent to allow or not allow this discussion with my child was taken from me," she told Hannity.com.

"When I spoke with the principal he was very cold about it," the mother continued. "It's amazing how thoughtless the school has been with this whole thing."

Only after Sean Hannity made national inquiries did Horace Mitchell Primary School suggest that teachers should have told parents ahead of time.

Allyn Hutton, the superintendent of the local district, said she supported reading the book but admitted that parents should have been given advance warning about the subject matter. "We have a practice of – if a topic is considered sensitive – parents should be informed. In this situation, that didn't happen," she said. "We understand that toleration is tolerating people of all opinions."

Horace Mitchell Primary School sent an e-mail, after the fact, to concerned parents, including a link to a blog post of the school's guidance counselor, explaining their motivation was "cultivating respect."

"Some may think primary school students are too young to worry about addressing issues surrounding gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) students. Not so, experts say,” the school's guidance counselor wrote. “It’s never too early to begin teaching children about respecting differences."

Homosexual activists say they support the teaching of transgenderism to first-graders, with or without parental notification. "The staff of Mitchell School is...shedding a light on [LGBTQ] issues,” said a column in Gay Star News.

The LGBT puublication goes even further, advocating homosexual propaganda be commonplace in elementary schools across the country. "LGBTQ issues should never be classified as a 'sensitive subject,' [because] there is nothing sensitive about the way we are born. Blonde hair, brown hair, gay, straight or somewhere in-between."

Brian Camenker of MassResistance commented on the infiltration of homosexual propaganda in children's schools. "We deal with parents and teachers a lot, and the idea that teachers would do this is unconscionable. It's like the people that promote this stuff are evil. It's demonic. You can't imagine adults that would do this to other people's children, and do it with such anger, and such vitrol.”

Camenker emphasized that this is “not an isolated incident with just one, rogue teacher. This happens because the whole administrative hierarchy buys into it.”

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“The new generation of educators is very, very frightening,” he said.

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