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Robin Duke on Population 11MAY 1993

THE EARTH TIMES

MAY 11, 1993

PROFILE : ROBIN CHANDLER DUKE

Building bridges between people for people

BY ASHALI VARMA

The non-governmental organization that Robin Chandler Duke heads, Population Action International, focuses on getting information worldwide and putting together reports on how grave the problems of population and poverty are — and making governments react.

“We know so much in the developed world about health care that if we shared what we knew with poor women think of what it would do for their lives, how it would enhance their lives, “Duke said Monday in an interview with The Earth Times.

Two reports published by Population Action International, “Poor, Powerless and Pregnant” and the “Human Suffering Index” show the depth of misery of people in impoverished areas.  The organization also helps to get financing for projects in developing countries.

Duke is a member of the US delegation to PrepCom2. An heiress in her own right she married the wealthy Angier Biddle Duke, a diplomat during the Kennedy administration.

When Robin Chandler Duke was growing up, her mother who was one of the longest serving volunteers in the health field at Johns Hopkins University used to talk a lot about the importance of good health care for all.

She also made it a point to tell her children that although they were fortunate to be privileged, with those privileges came certain responsibilities.

She also made it a point to tell her children that although they were fortunate to be privileged, with those privileges came certain responsibilities.

She turned her attention to population issues, influenced by General William Draper, who did a postwar study on the effect of foreign assistance after World War II.  Draper realized that not enough was being spent in the field of population control.  He warned that population pressures would have a critical effect on the economies of developing countries.  He encouraged Duke to attend conferences on food, hunger and Third World poverty and to try and make a difference in whatever way she could.  Draper’s son, William H. Draper II, later became the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme.

In 1971, Duke worked in the camps in Bangladesh during its war for independence from Pakistan.  It was then that the full impact of the meaning of women’s rights struck her, “We had a lot of young girls who had been raped by the West Pakistan army and they were pregnant and we wanted to help them and I thought the best idea to help them would be to get them abortions, because they were just young, 12-,13-, 14 year-old girls and Sheikh Mujibur (Rahman), the leader of the Bangladesh Government in exile in Calcutta, said, I will declare them heroines of the revolution you get in these doctors to do the procedures,’ and that’s what we did.”

Duke feels that women must have the right to choose and abortions should be safe and legal.

She said that one of the major priorities of the US delegation “is to keep ourselves well-focused on population and how it relates to environment, human rights, the rights of women and sustainable development.”

Population Action International works “very closely with the UN,” Duke said, “to try to encourage out own government and other developed nations to put forward money to support population projects worldwide so that, in fact, you will begin to see a change.  We feel if you could, today take the 50 percent, roughly, of the fertile couples who have access to family planning if we could raise that number 70 to 75 percent you could see a difference in terms of population changing and we are fearful that if you don’t see these differences we are going to have a population that will not ever have the benefits of an education, decent health care access to a job and roof over their heads.”

She feels strongly that women all over the world should have access to family planning and these facilities should be free or inexpensive and that developed nations have a responsibility to help the developing world achieve this.

“As developed nations we have to reduce our consumption and recognize what the future holds if we don’t,” Duke said, Adding, “immigration is an issue.  People don’t just leave for political reasons but because of no jobs, housing or economic opportunity.”

“If the developed nations don’t help their poor neighbors, their poor neighbors are going to overrun them.  If they are not altruistic about it they’d better be for their best self-interest.”