Danica May Camacho was born this morning in Manila, the Philippines. She was welcomed as the world’s 7 billionth person.

As the global population hits this new milestone, just 12 years after reaching 6 billion, much of the conversation has played off of fears of resource scarcity and an unsustainable future. These are real threats that we all face, but as myMADRE’s previous “7 billion” blog entries explored, the focus should revolve around balance, commitment to sustainable futures and accountability among rich, industrialized nations, gender equality and the impacts of population growth on the most vulnerable populations.

And while a world of 7 billion people certainly presents challenges, it also presents a wealth of opportunity. 7 billion means there are more people than ever to contribute to and champion a call for sustainable futures, for equitable access to food, clean water and more, for gender equality and unhindered access to reproductive health services and for binding commitments to halt climate change.

Across every one of these demands, MADRE and our sister organizations around the globe are taking the lead. In Sudan, Nicaragua and Guatemala, women are utilizing sustainable farming methods to feed their families and protect their environment. In Kenya and Palestine, woman are bringing clean water to their communities. In Nicaragua, Colombia and Guatemala, women are defending their right to reproductive health and abortion services. In Kenya, girls are demanding their right to education, the first step in building a better future. And internationally, women are calling for rich, industrialized nations to stop the detrimental practices that disproportionately harm poor communities.

7 billion may seem like a scary number. It’s a lot of people. But that many people can do a lot of good.

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With more people than ever occupying our world, it becomes all the more essential that we meet people’s needs for food, water, energy and more in ways that are sustainable. So far, the practices of rich, industrialized countries have done a lot of harm, polluting ecologies and undermining the livelihoods of people in the Global South.

When we talk about reaching a global population of 7 billion, it’s not necessarily that more people will make climate change worse. Those responsible for the worst effects of climate change are in the minority. But the dangers of climate change will disproportionately affect those who are least to blame–the majority of the 7 billion.

As Ian Angus, co-author of the book Too Many People states, “Most of the 7 billion are not endangering the earth. The majority of the world’s people don’t destroy forests, don’t wipe out endangered species, don’t pollute rivers and oceans, and emit essentially no greenhouse gases.” To counter the unsustainable and polluting practices of rich, industrialized nations, more people need to be empowered with sustainable alternatives. And with more people than ever on our planet, that opens a world of opportunity.

Those that are most affected by climate change are women and girls. Around the world, their responsibilities, which include collecting fuel and water and playing key roles in the agricultural sector, put them at the center of this issue. It is women and girls that must walk farther to find water, or who must go without food as crops fail.

If we invest in sustainable solutions to resource demand, we can begin to halt the effects of climate change.  And just as women are disproportionately affected by climate change, they also hold the key to viable solutions. MADRE’s partners around the world are demonstrating these solutions; in Sudan, the first women farmers union is feeding families with environmentally-friendly farming methods; in Nicaragua, Indigenous women are practicing organic farming as a way to feed communities and build their economic self-sufficiency; and in Guatemala, women are charting a sustainable way forward with organic farming and small chicken farms.

More people does not necessarily have to mean increased carbon emissions and worsened effects of climate change. As we approach this population milestone, we must ensure that sustainable methods are more widely used to meet the needs of 7 billion people. This will mean a healthy and sustainable future for generations to come.

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Since the capture of Gilad Shalit by Hamas in July, 2006, the Israeli government has used the young soldier’s detention as a justification for its siege on the Gaza Strip and for the collective punishment of Palestinian civilians living in Gaza. After Shalit’s capture, travel from Gaza was restricted even further to cases of humanitarian emergency, and in 2007 the Israeli government began limiting the movement of goods to and from Gaza. These policies have been justified by the Israeli government as an expression of national anger over Shalit’s capture.

Gilad Shalit was released last week in a prisoner exchange for 1,027 Palestinian detainees. Shalit’s release presents the Israeli government with an opportunity to change its policy towards Gaza.

The siege of the last four years has had a devastating economic and humanitarian effect on the 1.5 million civilians living in Gaza. With food traders unable to import raw materials or export their products to outside markets, factories and plants have closed and unemployment remains at a staggering 45.2 percent. Travel restrictions have limited students’ access to education and have kept professionals from attending trainings and seeking employment in the West Bank. This has created a reliance on jobs with the Hamas government and increased donor dependency in the strip. Two thirds of Gazan families lack food security, and Israeli military policies place full or partial restriction on Palestinian access to one third of the arable land in Gaza and 85 percent of its fishing waters.

Israel’s siege has also impacted health conditions in Gaza. Those in need of advanced healthcare from Israel or the West bank are often unable to access treatment. The blockades also make it impossible for Gazans to build infrastructure to ensure safe drinking water for the population, with water often becoming contaminated from broken pipes that leak sewage into the groundwater supply, putting the population at risk for waterborne diseases. MADRE’s partnership with the Zakher Association for the Development of Palestinian Women’s Capacity has built water filtration systems throughout Gaza City. Zakher also provides women and families in Gaza with free healthcare as well as workshops on reproductive, sexual and mental health.

Shalit’s release was welcomed with celebrations by Israeli government officials and civilians alike. In light of this current development, and no longer fueled by the national anger it cited as a reason for the collective punishment of its Palestinian neighbors, it is time for the Israeli government to end the siege on Gaza. Opening Gaza to trade and travel will help restore the rights of Gaza’s civilian population, the safety of both Israelis and Palestinians and the prospects for peace.

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On October 31, the United Nations projects that the global population will reach 7 billion. But we aren’t just talking about numbers. As with any discussion of population growth, we’re also talking about women and their reproductive health.

Talking about women’s reproductive health in the context of population growth is a touchy subject. Historically, fears of population growth have led to attempts at population control that prevent women from making free, informed and un-coerced decisions about their bodies. We must counter fears surrounding population growth that lead to human rights violations like forced sterilization. Our conversations must be grounded in discussions of balance, sustainability, equality and rights.

When it comes to reproductive health, we have seen time and again that a woman’s ability to make autonomous choices about her own body leads to her educational, economic and political empowerment, and to the strengthening of her community. Currently, some 215 million women in developing countries want to plan and space their births but do not have access to modern contraception.

When a woman can chose when and where to have children, she also has the freedom to determine her future, obtain an education, achieve economic independence and demand her rights. She lays out a path for future generations, as educated women are more likely to have healthier, better educated children.

Empowering women and improving their access to contraceptives and reproductive health, allowing them to make decisions about their fertility, is a major step toward eradicating poverty, guiding development and achieving gender parity. As we approach the 7 billion mark, it is important that we focus our discussions and efforts on ensuring that every woman worldwide has the capacity to make informed and autonomous decisions about her own body.

Watch the video below with stories of family planning and climate change from women around the world, via Feministing:

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Today, the United Nations General Assembly voted, for the 20th consecutive year, to condemn the United States’ economic embargo on Cuba. This year, 186 votes were counted against the embargo. Only 2 nations, the United States and Israel, voted in favor of the embargo.

MADRE joins this overwhelming group of nations in condemning the US embargo on Cuba. For half a century now, this embargo has prevented Cuba from purchasing necessities like food and medicine. Even in the aftermath of disasters like Hurricane Ike, which hit Cuba hard in 2008, the US refused to lift the embargo to allow life-saving aid to enter the country.

In January of this year, President Obama announced changes to US foreign policy towards Cuba, particularly impacting longstanding barriers to travel and remittances to that country. While significant changes have been made, much remains to be done. Despite Obama calling for “a new beginning with Cuba,” harmful economic sanctions against the country remain in place. MADRE joins with the United Nations General Assembly in calling for an end to this embargo, and calls on President Obama to bring about a new beginning between the US and Cuba.

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Next week, the world population will reach 7 billion. In just 12 years, the population grew by one billion, and experts predict the world will reach its next milestone – 8 billion – in a mere 14 years.

As the global population continues to grow, the media is abuzz with questions of resource scarcity. Can the world really sustain 7 billion people? The answer is yes, but the world’s resources are so unevenly distributed that necessities like food and water do not reach the poorest communities. Already, only 5% of us consume 23% of the world’s energy; 13% of the world population does not have access to clean drinking water; 38% lack adequate sanitation; and an estimated 925 million people suffer from chronic hunger.

In communities that lack access to clean drinking water, or food, we  see time and again that the risk of conflict increases.  The people of Sudan experienced years of violence, and often at the root of it all was the fight to access water as a vital resource.

But as a global community of 7 billion, we have in our reach the ability to make access to resources more equitable, and to reduce conflict. Increasing our commitments to sustainability and environmental justice will cut down on carbon emissions and help combat climate change, lessening the incidence of natural disasters that threaten lives and diminish access to vital resources.

In addition, supporting policies that enhance the capacities of local communities suffering from lack of resources (for example, providing local farmers with the tools and seeds they need to grow food, as opposed to only flying in food aid) can reduce the long-term effects of resource inequality and help build resilience.

MADRE is working toward a sustainable and equitable future by working with partner organizations around the globe. Read more about our projects by clicking here.

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According to the United Nations, in one week from today, on October 31, the world population will hit 7 billion.

As we approach this population milestone, every day this week the myMADRE blog will be posting about a particular issue, or opportunity, that a global population of 7 billion poses. These include sustainability and competition for resources, reproductive health, climate change and others. So visit the myMADRE blog every day this week as we count down to 7 billion.

Click on the links below for more information on the population reaching 7 billion:

7 Billion Actions, United Nations Initiative

World must welcome 7 billionth citizen with sustainable future, says Ban, UN News Centre (October 11)

7 Billion (Video), National Geographic

Finding Opportunity in a World of Seven Billion, IPS News (September 15)

What a population of 7 billion people means for the planet, The Guardian (July 18)

World Population to Hit Seven Billion by October, IPS News (July 7)

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Last Friday, President Obama announced that all US troops will be returning home from Iraq by the end of this year. But the war is far from over—especially for women and girls.

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed during the war and 4,482 US troops have lost their lives. In addition, gender-based violence has reached unprecedented levels. Since the US invasion in 2003, Iraqi women and girls have faced an increased risk of violence, abductions and sexual assault.

Now, as the US troops come home, Iraqi women and their families will continue to struggle with the legacy of this war. As Yanar Mohammed, President of The Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI) and MADRE’s partner has said, “We used to have a government that was almost secular. It had one dictator. Now we have almost 60 dictators—Islamists who think of women as forces of evil. This is what is called the democratization of Iraq.”

Even with US troops leaving Iraq, a substantial US presence will remain. Over 5,000 private security contractors commanded by the US State Department will be deployed to the country—a force that has been accused of grave human rights violations. In 2007, 17 Iraqi civilians were killed in Baghdad’s Nisour Square by US security contractors.

Following Obama’s announcement, MADRE Executive Director Yifat Susskind said, “We are glad that the US troops will be returning home at the end of the year. But a war on women continues to rage in Iraq. The war was sold in part as a way to protect women’s human rights, but instead women and girls experienced a rise in violence in a militarized Iraq. Despite the troop withdrawal, these threats persist. Peace in Iraq can only be achieved once women’s human rights are protected.”

Click on the links below for MADRE resources on the Iraq War:

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Guest post by Carolina Ramirez, Program Intern at MADRE

It’s been a busy week at Occupy Wall Street. The news on Oct 14 that the occupiers would not be evicted from Liberty Square was followed by a weekend of political action. Saturday, October 15 was declared the day of worldwide occupation, with over 100 US cities and 1,500 cities around the world participating in protests and occupations.

On Saturday, between the all-city wide student General Assembly at Washington Square Park and the Times Square occupation, I headed down to Liberty Square for a march to the African Burial Grounds Memorial in the financial district. Community members from Washington Heights led the march in commemoration of their ancestors, in solidarity with the occupations and as their own statement of political resistance to economic injustice, calling attention to the long history of inequality experienced by marginalized communities in New York.

The march, which began in Liberty Square, turned to complete silence as it approached the intersection of Duane Street and Broadway. We marched silently to the monument, peace signs directed at people shouting from the other side of the street in solidarity,  and the NYPD watched the mute mass of protesters in confusion.  The march was concluded with a moment of contemplation and some powerful ceremonial words by the organizers. Later, the same marchers would join the thousands of protesters that flooded Times Square.

Similarly, an increasingly diverse number of communities have begun to get involved and show solidarity with the movement: the third Spanish General Assembly was held this past Sunday, and representatives from the movement for justice in El Barrio held a bilingual speech and gathering on Wednesday evening to call attention to human rights violations of Indigenous communities. Occupations have also begun to be planned in the Bronx and Brooklyn.

For more on the increasing Latino involvement in the protests, read this article, which I was quoted in.

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October is LGBT History Month! To celebrate, 31 LGBT icons will be featured for every day of the month. Today, October 18, features David Kato, an outspoken Ugandan LGBT activist who was murdered in January 2011. Kato is considered by many to be the founder of Uganda’s LGBT civil rights movement, and his murder brought international attention to the severe discrimination faced by LGBT people in the country.

Following the tragedy of Kato’s death, his colleague and fellow LGBT right’s defender Frank Mugisha was recently announced as the recipient of this year’s Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK) Award.

Mugisha, aged 29, has been advocating for the rights and protection of Uganda’s LGBTI population since 2004 as the Executive Director of Sexual Minorities in Uganda (SMUG). An openly gay and outspoken leader for LGBTI rights in Uganda, Mugisha’s courageous work has made him a persistent target for arrest and death threats.

Mugisha’s organization, SMUG, operates as a support network for different LGBTI advocacy organizations in Uganda with the purpose of strengthening the movement. Part of SMUG’s work is focused on ending gender- and sexual orientation-based violence and empowering activists through leadership training. They also lobby and campaign for equal rights, HIV/AIDS awareness, and increasing the social visibility of sexual minorities in Uganda.

“For me, it is about standing out and speaking in an environment where you are not sure if you will survive the next day,” says Mugisha. ‘It is this fear that makes me strong, to work hard and fight on to see a better life for LGBTI persons in Uganda.”

Hostility and discrimination towards the LGBTI community within Uganda has been widely publicized recently with the proposed Anti-Homosexuality bill that went before Ugandan parliament in May of this year. The bill would have criminalized homosexuality, but it was taken off the table by President Yoweri Museveni in response to international outcry against the proposed legislation.

Learn more about Mugisha’s organization, Sexual Minorities in Uganda, by clicking here.

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