Alleviating poverty is vital first step

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 September, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 September, 1994, 12:00am

THE population conference in Cairo which was held earlier this month, stands little chance of achieving its stated goal of alleviating overcrowding so long as it concentrates simply on ways of reducing absolute numbers without reference to the quality of life of individuals.

Trying to limit families without first abolishing poverty is putting the cart before the horse: there may be enough resources to go round, but at present there is a great imbalance in the distribution and control of those resources across the globe.

Not until everyone gets their fair share will we see the human race as a whole reach its optimum level - and this will require radical changes in the attitude of religious leaders as well as Western politicians.

For the movement, despite painfully slow progress on the part of so-called developing countries, it remains true that the gap between rich and poor is still getting wider. This trend must be reversed before any drop in the number of people is perceptible.

It is no good affluent Western nations lecturing the millions living in misery and squalor, on the need to practise contraception, however desirable that kind of education might be: such measures are no better than a band aid which draws media attention, but is practically ineffective as a long-term solution.

In this context, the news that population growth in urbanised countries like Japan shows signs of decreasing ought, one would think, to be a cause for relief if not celebration, and it is amazing that some commentators seem to be frothing already about imagined troubles posed by a slight comparative rise in the number of old people.

Much more important for the centre is the need to eradicate inequality - and the first giant step towards this goal will be recognition of the right of women to be treated as equal human beings.

Even in the most technically advanced parts of the world, this is still by no means universally accepted.

So long as religious leaders continue to teach the dominance of men and their superiority over womenfolk, the female of the species will be condemned to eternal servitude.

Surely the very first fundamental right of every person is the right of control over his or her body - which for a woman means the right to decide whether she has a baby or not.

The world's population is estimated to grow by two to three billion in the next 25 years.

How many of those new arrivals will come into the world unwanted and doomed to either die of starvation or live on the breadline, because their mothers were given no say in the matter? HUGH TERRY Kowloon