By Kelley Dennings
In the face of the climate crisis, young people are starting to question whether they should have kids. Many are worrying about the planet their children would inherit, and what adding to the population would do to our already-suffering environment.
Research predicts one million species could go extinct in the coming decades due to climate change, habitat loss and other human-related pressures. Meanwhile reproductive rights face a barrage of attacks at the state and federal level.
Frankly, there’s a lot to worry about. But we also have a lot that gives us hope. In March, we commemorate women who have come before us through Women’s History Month and we celebrate International Women’s Day.
The start of Women’s History Month in 1981 harkens back to a time of congressional compromise. In 1981, there were only 23 women in Congress – compared to 127 today — and fewer women in the workforce overall.
The U.S. fertility rate in 1981 is nearly identical to now. And although women have more autonomy in many ways, access to family planning is still a political chess piece.
International Women’s Day, held on March 8 annually, is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. But it’s more than a celebration – it’s a call to action.
This year’s theme, #EachforEqual, is drawn from a notion of “collective individualism.” It highlights how individual actions, conversations, behaviors and mindsets can have an impact on our larger society.
The intersection between individual family planning decisions and reproductive healthcare policies is the perfect example of how personal and collective action are intertwined. And the climate and extinction crises are bringing renewed attention to the effect of our growing population on the planet.
While individuals are at the heart of reproductive rights and justice, there are systems in place that determine whether people have access to the knowledge and healthcare they need. That’s why it’s frustrating when individual and systematic change are pitted against one another. These aren’t “either/or” issues. Our collective individualism can benefit everyone.
Not only do individuals need to feel comfortable discussing their family planning wishes with partners and health care providers, systems such as comprehensive sex education, to support knowledgeable discussions, and universal access to all forms of contraception, are equally important.
Progress has been made in understanding how individual family planning, reproductive rights and the environment work together, but more could be done.
The intersectional work around population is grounded in human rights, reproductive rights and social justice. Every individual should have access to contraception and education to plan if and when they want to have children to help prevent unintended pregnancies, improve the lives of families and protect the environment.
To achieve that, activists must cross the political aisle, partner with family planning groups and bring justice for all into the fold.
Kelley Dennings moved to Washington, D.C. ten years ago and has worked with three environmental non-profits. She currently works at the Center for Biological Diversity where she highlights how population growth and overconsumption affect habitat and wildlife. She advocates for rights-based solutions to these problems such as voluntary family planning.