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The United Nation's Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo last September produced an accord that is, in my view, nothing less than historic because it affirms women's central role in promoting international economic and social change. Capitalists, Communists and even Catholics - though, alas, still quibbling over artificial methods of birth control and still opposing abortion on moral grounds - signed on to a document that endorses the desirability of worldwide population stabilization and demands guaranteed access to at least some variety of voluntary family planning as a universal human right. Even more extraordinary, perhaps, is the acknowledgement that conventional investment in either economic development or contraceptive technology alone will not ensure a continued decline in birthrates or an overall improvement in the general well-being.
Instead, we are now instructed - as though no indignant feminist ever breathed a word of such stuff - that international policy should focus on improving the health, education and welfare of the world's women. Investing in the education and empowerment of women is the surest way to reduce fertility, stimulate economic growth and improve the quality of life. The very survival of the planet depends on this.
By recognizing that gender and family relationships must be understood as central determinants of economic development, with important implications for sustainable growth and social welfare, the Cairo Conference echoes the thesis of this often profound and intriguing, if not altogether coherent or satisfying, book. Despite its misleading title, it is not about child care in any narrow or conventional sense. Instead, Who Pays for the Kids?, by University of Massachusetts …