Statement on Poverty, Development, and Population Activities

Author(s): The U.S. Women of Color Delegation to The International Conference on Population and Development
Date Published: July 20, 2006


As poverty has intensified in the United States and throughout the world, especially in the "Third World", the widespread yet mistaken belief that "population size" is the problem is becoming entrenched. However, there is significant evidence that having babies doesn't cause poverty, lopsided, inequitable economic development strategies and policies do. The present U.S. women of color position statement1 reflects a people of color (Indigenous/Natives, Latinas, Africans, and Asians in the U.S.) perspective on issues of population as they interact with institutional policies of racism, political and economic oppression, classism and gender bias to entrench poverty and "underdevelopment" within our society. Our document conveys a human development and social justice agenda. As we understand it, U.S. policies on issues of population and development have far reaching implications not only abroad but also at home.

We, the U.S. Women of Color, who wrote this statement have a diverse background, both culturally and occupationally, but we are all activists in our respective communities. We work on various issues which include: struggling against women of color being targeted for sterilization and/or use of certain contraceptives; the sexual enslavement of women to perform involuntary labor; punitive reproductive health policies such as the Hyde Amendment; and the targeting of indigenous and other people of color communities for toxic waste dumping. We advocate to protect sexually exploited immigrant women, victims of the international sex trade industry (mail order brides). We work to improve access to quality health services and information as well as to debunk myths regarding poor women as the cause of all social ills. This document is offered as a contribution to the exchange of ideas in the on-going debates on the issues of population and development in the national and international fora relative to the upcoming 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, ICPD, in Cairo Egypt.


Shaping the present and future size of the population of developing communities worldwide has become a major concern of the industrial powers. The U.S. and other industrial countries have asserted that women's reproductive capacity is to blame for poverty. The thinking is that poverty remains undiminished because women are having too many babies and that "sustainable development" would be more readily accomplished with control of women's fertility. The history of the world, however, dictates caution in pursuing this simplistic line of reasoning; so far every paradigm contrived to address adversity in society has invariable entrenched the political and economic domination of the poor by rich. A review of historical trends shows that indigenous and peoples of color, though spread over diverse regions, have been on the whole adversely impacted by European and American "development objectives" in similar ways. Poverty and environmental degradation throughout the world inform us that European style "economic development" is unsustainable; and that approaches to sustainable development cannot simply target "population growth" alone, while overlooking critical issues of racism, sexism, bad development policies, resource overexploitation for the few, inequitable distribution of wealth, unbridled consumption, and environmentally harmful technologies, as factors impeding sustainable development for all people.

The call for a "new world order" in 1990 raised optimism among people worldwide; but for the poor, the majority of whom are people of color and indigenous people, the "new" seems to be very much like the old. Changes in the global economy continue to favor the few, the elites. Economic policies within the United States continue to distort the "American dream" of the good life; the Population control entities continue to disregard the poverty growth rate and the ever widening gap between wealth and poverty in favor of a single factor, the population growth rate. Even under our new administration, government policies still advance corporate interests as opposed to "putting people first" as President Clinton himself affirmed during his campaign for office. The promised peace dividend which was to ensue from arms-buildup reduction is not forthcoming; and rather than diminishing the militarization of the planet, as was generally expected, the end of the cold war and Operation Desert Storm have reinforced it. Enormous resources are still expended on the military to defend corporate interests worldwide.

What is "new" is the globalization of the economy by free trade deals which means international capital and U.S. transnationals can freely migrate anywhere on the globe to access markets but the world's workers, mainly people of color and indigenous people, are barred by old, racist immigration policies that openly favor people of European descent e.g. Russians but not the Haitians, Asians and Latinos who are generally exploited as cheap labor. The jobless economic recovery means unemployment has become chronic. Household incomes have continued to dwindle, and work performed primarily by poor women and women of color -- childcare, housekeeping, cooking, subsistence food production, clerical work -- is undercompensated; meanwhile social services are drastically cut (producing results comparable to that of structural adjustment programs in "third world countries"); homelessness has increased, and health care is increasingly not accessible or too costly for many citizens, particularly women of color and indigenous women, many of whom are heads of households.

Population control policies are targeted at people in the so called "Third World", all of whom are people of color. Substantial emphasis is placed on contraceptive distribution as the key to improving the quality of life for people, "family planning" and not "farming" they say. Within industrial countries like the U.S., the targets are indigenous peoples, and other marginalized, poor communities, the majority of whom are peoples of color. The U.S. women of color are very concerned about the aggressive contraceptive distribution that is at the core of policies aiming to reduce poverty via population control. There is an increased likelihood of human rights abuse such as coercion and violation of the personal rights of women. For example, poor women are being targeted to use only controversial long-acting contraceptives, e.g. Norplant and Depo Provera, which are being promoted as the solution to the problem of teenage pregnancy and out of wedlock births. The side effects of these substances are quite problematic, and they do not protect women against sexually transmitted diseases, STDs, including HIV/AIDS, despite the fact that poor women and sexually exploited women are at greater risk. Pregnant poor women who abuse drugs are 10 times more likely to be prosecuted and have their children taken away than white women even when they abuse drugs at the same rate.

Furthermore, government policies are being proposed that will require poor women to accept long acting contraceptives or face losing the inadequate health and social benefits they may currently have. And while the official U.S. policy may presently be supportive of choice, poor women still have limited or no access to abortion services because of restricted funding, thus aggravating the number of unwanted pregnancies. Also millions of women have no access to basic health care nor private, voluntary, unbiased, non-directive contraceptive information that is linguistically and culturally appropriate. Despite the level of technological advancement of the United States, African-Americans still experience the highest rate of infant mortality, a condition attributable to substandard women's health care that is only experienced in the poorest Third World countries. While the numbers count, the widespread rhetoric that population growth is to blame for hunger, underdevelopment and prevailing poverty is at least, suspect. According to Oxfam America and many other development organizations, "our planet produces more than enough food to feed the world's population". In rural/urban America community organizers discuss the root causes of poverty in their communities [as] lack of access to land/housing, credit, markets, education, and training. Governments must address the problems of society rather than blame the victims of oppression for their predicament.

The agenda that is being developed for the ICPD will require the world's governments to implement a population control policy. Nevertheless, our participation in the Cairo international conference anticipates an opportunity for real global transformation, a chance to urge a thorough review of the global power and economic structures, so as to rectify the inconsistencies and inequities which have arrested development and entrenched poverty for marginalized groups in the U.S. and abroad. We are advocating a change of the present global development model that is built around wasteful consumption, economic growth pitted against social progress. We need to require a new index for measuring progress besides the economistic production and consumption of goods and services.

We, (the Women of Color for Reproductive Health and Rights, WOCCRHR, and the U.S. Women of Color Delegation to the ICPD) wanted to bring attention to the similarities between the Southern conditions of women in this Northern country and women in the Southern countries, and to urge our government to act decisively in addressing and rectifying unjust policies and power imbalances within our society and worldwide. Governments must increase the resources towards implementing more socially just economic and social development policies. At home and abroad, standards of ethics, education and meaningful employment at decent wages for everyone will check immigration, alleviate poverty, reduce birth rates and subsequently population growth.

Women's empowerment is being won through difficult and costly struggles which must not be devalued by those who recently discovered that the women's movement could be used to disguise their population control agenda. In this context initiatives for women's empowerment must not be confused with activities to control population. Governments must support community efforts that address the problem of jobs especially during this transitional global economy. Efforts to improve quality of life for poor people and women should never overlook the spectrum of problems to be addressed concurrently. We don't want to wait until the "unmet need" for contraceptives has been satisfied before realizing that we have utterly neglected to boost social and economic progress, and failed to alleviate poverty, again.

The following are guiding principles we are recommending for future policy making. We believe these recommendations will help to facilitate a more harmonious human development and social justice agenda.


  • Implement plans that mandate the participation of indigenous people and communities of color, particularly women, at all levels of decision-making.
  • Expand the meaning of reproductive health and rights to include proper nutrition, access to basic health care, and prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Eliminate the culture of systematic violence: military, social, political, economic, and implement all international protocol for the elimination of all forms of violence and discrimination against women.
  • Promote worldwide development strategies which reflect respect for both cultural and natural biodiversity.
  • Develop and enforce new policies that refrain from targeting indigenous lands and communities of color for the removal of natural resources and disposal of toxic and hazardous wastes.
  • Conduct a thorough assessment of the negative impact of rampant exploitation of the world's natural resources for some and the subsequent waste.
  • Require serious commitment from industrial countries to eliminate waste, and overexploitation of natural resources for the sole purpose of profit.


  • Women of color must be equal participants in the decision-making processes on all issues concerning environment, development and population activities. Representation should reflect the proportion of African, Arab, Asian, Latina and Native Americans and indigenous peoples in the population affected by a given policy, with consideration given also to matters of physical ability, age, income, education, religion, sexual orientation and racial diversity.
  • Equal representation of women of color in the national and international bodies charged with responsibility for women's health and reproductive care. Decision- making participants must have demonstrated commitment to advancing women of color rights and have credibility within the population served.
  • Universal, comprehensive health and reproductive care and health education that is respectful of cultural pluralism must be guaranteed.
  • Facilitate access to safe, unbiased, voluntary contraception and abortion as part of a broader reproductive program of health services, which also provides infertility services and prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Demographic growth rates must cease to be the motive for reproductive health services, and family planning projects must emphasize privacy; all national, regional, and local statistics on sexual and contraceptive behavior must be confidential
  • There must be an end to the practice of conditioning loans, technical assistance, and development aid on political criteria and other coercive strategies that violate the sovereignty of aid recipients, by groups requiring the monitoring or influencing of reproductive behavior.
  • Develop and enforce specific guidelines to protect religious and spiritual views from any form of infringement which may result from the activities of government, donors or population control agencies.
  • There must be full public disclosure of any and all activities which involve the use of drugs, devices, procedures that are experimental or being used as part of research efforts.
  • Sexual and social relationships between women and men must be governed by principles of equity, non-coercion, and mutual respect and responsibility.
  • Expedite research and development of safe and effective contraceptives for males.
  • Reproductive health services and social programs, must acknowledge the sexual and parental responsibility of both females as well as males.
  • Resources should be made available to eliminate both the internal and external forces that adversely impact families, e.g. inadequate access to education and health care, shelter, as well as political, social and cultural oppression, violence, war, racism, classism, and sexism.
  • Expedite activities to diversify the economy and retrain people for improved access to jobs, education and housing.

The WOCCRHR was founded in the spring of 1992. It is comprised of Indigenous, African, Latin and Asian American women to address concerns specific to women of color which were not being addressed by the mainstream women's health movement. The U.S. Women of Color Delegation to the ICPD consists of 20 activists with equal representation from the four major ethnic/racial groups. WOCCRHR serves as the steering committee for the project to facilitate the USWOC Delegation's participation at the ICPD. Our membership is diverse, both ethnically and occupationally, and is truly multicultural, and collectively we call ourselves the U.S. Women of Color. We are all activists and most of us are employed by regional or national organizations that work to empower women and people in our respective communities.

Based on the fact that USWOC perspectives were excluded from policies made at previous world population and women's conferences, we resolved to express our position and concerns this time around. Therefore, working with, and on behalf of the Women of Color Coalition for Reproductive Health and Rights (WOCCRHR), the National Black Women's Health Project (NBWHP) sought and received a grant from the Ford Foundation to coordinate a position statement on issues of population, reproductive health, and sustainable development. This statement reflects the perspective of 20 progressive women of color activists with expertise from various fields including population dynamics, women's health, environment, and development, selected by the recommendation of activists from our communities. Our Position Statement on Poverty, Development and Population Activities was developed from a two-day meeting held in Oakland, California, in October 1993. The full statement has been sent to various women of color organizations for further review and comment. It has also been widely circulated to the broader women's health, population, environment and development groups.

The U.S. Women of Color Delegation participants are:

Byllye Y. Avery, Founding President, NBWHP, Cynthia I. Newbille, Executive Director, NBWHP; Julia R. Scott, NBWHP, Public Policy & Education Office; Luz Alvarez Martinez, National Latina Health Organization; Charon Asetoyer, Native America Women's Health Education Resource Center; Denese Shervington, Women of Color Health Forum/Institute of Women & Ethnic Studies; Mary Chung, National Asian Health Organization; C. Hope Brown, National Coalition of 100 Black Women; Ingrid Washingwatok, Indigenous Women's Network, c/o Fund of the Four Directions; Gail Small, Native Action; Mililani B. Trask, c/o Gibson Foundation; Leni Marin, Senior Program Specialist, Family Violence Prevention Fund; Giselle Aguillar Hass; Pam Kingfisher, Native Americans for a Clean Environment; Wenny Kusuma, Executive Director, La Casa de las Madres; Vernice Miller, National Resource Defense Council (West Harlem Environmental Action); Viola Plummer, December 12th Movement; Elsa A. Rios, Committee for Hispanic Children & Families; Gregoria Rodriguez, TNEEI; Eva Royale, No. California Coordinator United Farm Workers; Young Shin, Executive Director, Asian Immigrant Women Advocates; Grace Sison, ATT: T.H.E. Clinic, Asian Health Project.

We invite your support and cooperation in projecting this social justice and sustainable development agenda. All individuals and organizations who would like to endorse the U.S. Women of Color position statement on Poverty, Development and Population Activities, please contact : Cece Modupe Fadope, Coordinator, USWOC Delegation to the ICPD, National Black Women's Health Project, 1211 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Suite #310, Washington, DC 20036. Phone: 202-835-0117; Fax: 202-833-8790.