Prince William's overpopulation remarks will do women no favors
Updated 9:57 AM ET, Fri November 26, 2021
(CNN)When it comes to overpopulation as the cause of wildlife loss in Africa, Prince William just won't let it go.
As I was looking for reactions to the speech the second in line to the British throne gave at an awards ceremony on Monday where he said: "The increasing pressure on Africa's wildlife and wild spaces, as a result of human population, presents a huge challenge for conservationists," I stumbled upon near-identical remarks he made four years prior.
"In my lifetime we have seen global wildlife populations decline by over half," the Prince is reported as having said in 2017 at a gala for the same charity, The Tusk Trust. "Africa's rapidly growing human population is predicted to more than double by 2050 -- a staggering increase of three and a half million people per month. There is no question that this increase puts wildlife and habitat under enormous pressure."
Then, as now, people have been quick to point out two things: the first is the Duke of Cambridge's hypocrisy. Here is a man who's determined his own family size, travels frequently by air and lives a lavish lifestyle (read: has a high carbon footprint) in one of the world's top 15 energy-consuming countries. (Mind you, energy consumption is a limited measure of the UK's environmental impact as Britain largely imports its goods. Someone else -- China -- is accounting for the energy used to produce those goods.)
The second challenge to the Prince's statements centers on the inaccurate conclusions drawn about Africa's rising population. While Africa's population is indeed growing, it remains more sparsely populated than Europe or Asia; indigenous communities that live closest to wildlife are typically excellent custodians of the environment as their survival depends on it; and again, it is human behaviors not human numbers that more directly harm the biosphere.
But there is more that is wrong with what Prince William said: identifying population growth as the problem, logically presents population control as the solution. This automatically transforms wombs into legitimate sites for climate policy. In other words, women's rights to contraception and education are weaponized: they are no longer tools that help women access greater choice, but instead this gender equality goal is hijacked to impose someone else's agenda.
Let's imagine for one minute that we accept that population growth -- and specifically, population growth in Africa -- leads to greater pressure on wildlife, an argument that Prince William believes is undeniable. How should this be addressed? A one-child policy as a condition for development aid? How will the impact of that reduction in population be measured? Who is to say if it is going far enough to mitigate environmental damage? If it isn't, what then?
Prince William seems to have avoided speculating on how to fix his problem. His grandfather, the Duke of Edinburgh, was not so wise and was known to have called for "voluntary family limitation" to address a growing human population.
This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that women's bodies are implicated in policy games. In 2017 Denmark, which regularly tops best-country-to-be-a-woman rankings, pledged additional funds to help women access family planning because "part of the solution to reducing migratory pressures on Europe is to reduce the very high population growth in many African countries."
It should be obvious to all that panic about population growth in Black, brown and Indigenous parts of the world is underpinned by race and class prejudice. It should be equally obvious that what every woman needs is the freedom to choose for herself if, when and how many children she will have. If despite years of talking about conservation Prince William has not considered that his concern for Africa's wildlife could stigmatize Africa's women, perhaps now is the time for him to do so.
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Read or listen to the opening investigation from the new As Equals series, White Lies, on how the misuse of topical corticosteroids as a skin lightening agent is leading to drug dependencies for millions of people in India. The story by Pallabi Munsi also explores how "the deep-seated belief that lighter skin tones are better than darker ones" is manifest in India's marriage culture.
Women behaving badly: Kanno Sugako
Written by Vanessa Offiong
Kanno Sugako (1881 -- 1911) was one of Japan's first female journalists and notable feminists, famous for her writing which explored the countless oppressions women faced in a modernizing society.
She often condemned society's praising of "feminine virtues" such as chastity: "Where do all of these depraved men get the right to emphasize chastity? Before they begin stressing women's chastity, they ought to perfect their own male chastity, and concentrate on becoming wise fathers and good husbands!" But Sugako was also opposed to sex work, seeing geishas at first as "morally corrupt individuals" and later as "fallen women."
Born into hardship (she reportedly lost her mother at 10, was raised by a stepmother and raped at 15) Sugako became a central figure in the early Japanese anarchist and socialist movements and urged women to develop self-awareness.
"For us women, the most urgent task is to develop our own self-awareness ... women with some education and some degree of social knowledge must surely be discontented and angry about their status," she wrote.
In 1910, she was accused by the Japanese government for her alleged role in the High Treason Incident, to assassinate Emperor Meiji. This led to her death by hanging at age 29, making her the first woman political prisoner to be executed in the history of modern Japan.