Monday, April 22, 2013

Women: At the Center of a Sustainable World

by Beka Olsen

Crossposted on the Huffington Post

Last February, I had a daughter. It changed the way I view the world entirely, in ways I’d never expected. Suddenly, I spend a lot more time thinking about the world in which my daughter will grow up, and what I’d like that world to look like. This Earth Day, I’m also thinking about how women – like the one my daughter will grow up to be – can change the face of the world.

My viewpoint has always been shaped by my relationship with the church and my family. My father was a Methodist minister. My mother is a Methodist minister, as is my stepfather. I believe that we all have a responsibility to help those less fortunate than us.

My daughter will grow up lucky, compared to millions of children around the world. She’ll have good food, safe places to live and learn. She won’t have to walk for miles to find clean water – she’ll turn on the faucet anytime she gets thirsty. She won’t have to spend hours gathering enough firewood to cook her dinner.

But many women, here in the U.S. and around the globe, aren’t as lucky. I was thinking about those women, and their daughters, during a long drive across Texas last year with my husband, my mother and my newborn daughter. We were playing one of those “what if?” games that people play to while away the hours. What would you do if you could do any work you wanted? I’d help women, I said.  I’d help make sure their daughters could have the same opportunities as mine.

My mother then encouraged me to get involved with the “Healthy Families, Healthy Planet” project at the United Methodist Church. Through the project, I learned that one of the best ways to help women and girls thrive is to give them the education and options they need to plan their families. More than 220 million women around the world want to delay or avoid a pregnancy, but aren’t using modern family planning. Sometimes it’s a question of access, sometimes a question of cultural barriers. But always, it’s a question of choice – a choice I had, a choice I want my daughter to have, regarding when and whether to bear a child. I want all women to have that choice.

What does this have to do with Earth Day? I believe that healthy, thriving women both create and depend on healthy, thriving communities. Without clean air, healthy forests, abundant fish and  wildlife, we cannot have healthy cities and towns. But a healthy environment depends on people, families and communities that are empowered to make decisions that work for them about how fast to grow.

Last June, then- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a powerful speech at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, noted that “to reach our goals in sustainable development we also have to ensure women’s reproductive rights. Women must be empowered to make decisions about whether and when to have children.”

My daughter will grow up healthy and empowered to plan her family. But the world she will live in depends on the decisions we make now about how to empower the rest of the world’s women. By giving women choices and education regarding family planning, women will have access to the tools they need to make decisions about their family’s future. We can help build a world in which every woman and girl – and everyone man and boy – can grow up as blessed as you and me.


Beka Olson is a “Healthy Families, Healthy Planet” Ambassador for the United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society. She lives in Manhattan.

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