Although it should be a relationship we are all most concerned about, it remains under wraps. “The Link”, as we call it, is the critical connection between equal opportunities for women, overpopulation and the problem of climate change.
Let us start with demographics. The world is heavily overpopulated, and according to some estimates by as much as 300%. This not only has an impact upon things like housing availability and the level urbanization, but also – more fundamentally – on consumption of the world’s finite and barely renewable resources and its vulnerability to famine. Overcrowding on a wide scale is strongly correlated with poverty, social unrest, crime, pandemics, large scale economic migrations and, in turn, to pollution and climate change.
But what makes this subject a political “hot potato” is the fact that women, given true equal rights, will self-limit population growth and the coexistence of rapid population growth in some regions and fears of depopulation in others. Germany, Italy and China, for instance, face the prospect of reducing indigenous populations as women marry later (or not at all), have smaller families or do not have any children at all. Even though this should be an advantage to a country in the face of growing automation, it is a political crisis because governments see population numbers as correlating with their country’s status in the world.
Companies also want population growth, because more population equals more consumers and available labour. However, the biggest driving force in population growth is the cultural norm of “the family”. In many countries the pressure exists from within the extended family to conform through marriage by a certain age and the production of children. This right is also sacrosanct and even discussing it can be a tricky process. Moreover, even in the developing world it is increasingly being supported through statutory family friendly employment policies.
Back at the turn of the century books were even being published such as “The Baby Boon: How Family-Friendly America Cheats the Childless” by Elinor Burkett. There was then even the vestiges of a movement to assert the rights of single, childless (never called “child free”) workers and claim parity with those who received often generous employee benefits. But nothing truly came of it. Yet, it remains the big issue because it not only costs the employer and taxpayer a large slice of GDP to support those expanding their families, but there is also a direct link between every birth, the drain on finite global resources and other social/environmental problems.
Robin Chater, Secretary-General of the Federation of International Employers (FedEE), has addressed this issue at conferences several times, knowing that invariably the message will be seen as an attack on the family. However, because the issue is sensitive does not mean that it should be ignored. Robin reflects: “I can recall standing up at an international conference organised by ‘The Economist’ in Athens a few years ago. I produced lots of evidence to illustrate how much the world was overpopulated, then linked it directly to climate change – on many fronts, as well as more people equals more CO2 – and finally demonstrated that population growth was strongly linked to women’s rights. The more equal the society the more well balanced a society’s population will be. At the end of my talk the audience of around 200 people was momentarily silent and then up stood the vast majority of the women in the room and clapped. Not the men present, just the women.“