The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World, by Michelle Goldberg (****)  – This is an excellent overview of the global struggle for reproductive rights covering the past fifty years of history in the U.S., as well as on-the-scene descriptions of the reproductive struggles in Central America, Africa, India, and Europe. Goldberg shows how in each case, governments trying to control reproduction aren’t able to meet their goals unless women themselves are given the freedom and means to make their own choices.
The U.S. first got interested in the politics of reproduction when conservatives feared that large unplanned families in the third world made a country particularly vulnerable to communism. Many on the right companioned birth control as a way to fight communism, but they were not able to make much difference until women became a part of the movement and stressed that the rights of third world women be considered a part of the process. At one point, the program was so popular with conservatives that the senior George Bush was then known by the nickname, "Rubbers". Once globalization began challenging traditional social arrangements and women had a more prominent role in birth control policy, conservatives fought against birth control.
As Goldberg explores the issues of underpopulation in Europe, sex imbalances in India, and the AIDS pandemic and poverty in Africa, she notes the connection between women’s rights and the success in solving each of these difficult problems. For example, in Europe, she describes how the countries with the highest birth rates (at replacement level) also are the countries with the most programs designed to help women both work and have children. Whereas the countries with the lowest birth rates (below replacement level) still have systems that force childbearing women into a second-class citizen status.
The book has excellent sections on how women in Africa are helping to change genital mutilation rituals in their own villages, how in Central America, even women who want to be pregnant can end up dying because of the harsh abortions rules there, and how women in India and Africa are working to improve the economic status of their people by fighting for more reproductive rights. Goldberg gives example after example of how harsh abstract abortion laws and conservative gag rules on U.S. money hurt women, children, and families– even women who wish to be pregnant.
According to Goldberg, "it’s fascinating how much research there is showing the connection between women’s rights and economic development. Giving women more control over their bodies and their lives is one of the most important things you can do to fight poverty. One of the things I hope this book does is show how that works." [Adult non-fiction read on Kindle for Droid]
The True Size of Africa – Check out this cool graphic I found at Tree Hugger showing just how large Africa really is. Since most flat maps exaggerate the poles, it’s easy to underestimate Africa’s actual size. (Click on the link for a larger, clearer image and more details.)