A Serendipitous Media Happening for 34 Million Friends of UNFPA

I play golf on Thursday mornings and on Thursday, September 23, I was driving home with my radio tuned to Talk of the Nation with Neal Conan on NPR. Lo and behold, he announced that in conjunction with the MDG Summit, a major theme of the week would be “Improve the Lives of Women”. My ears perked up. The first guest was Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. She said what gave her hope for instance was that in Sierra Leone, where one in eight women die in childbirth, that the government  had just announced free health care for pregnant women, for lactating mothers, and for children under five. On the down side, the clinics and hospitals were now nearly overwhelmed with patients. She also spoke of the tragedy of child marriage and of a lack of family planning and of reproductive rights.

I knew this was a “call-in” program and I began to go a little bit crazy.

The next guest was Ms. Okonjo-Iweala, Managing Director of the World Bank. She    cited a World Bank study which showed that women farmers in Kenya got forty percent more yield with the same seeds, fertilizer, and advice than men farmers.  Shades of Women Deliver, right?

Neal announced that people should call in who had visited a third world country where things were changing. And he gave out the number. My head was spinning so I stopped the car by the curb and wrote down the number then continued on my way.

The next guest was , oh my heavens, Nicholas Kristof whose book with his wife Sheryl Wudunn , Half the Sky, contains Jane Roberts and Her 34 Million Friends as part of Chapter 8.   I started to wonder if my cell phone was in my purse. I was sure that if I called, there would be NO chance of getting through as there were no doubt lots of callers already in line.

Nick said “Yeah, I mean, if you  think about very poor countries, and in most cases, the greatest unexploited economic resource they have is not some kind of natural resource.  It’s not gold, and it’s not diamonds. It’s the female halves of their population”

“Yes Nick, I say to myself, but you have to mention that women can’t be empowered economically if they can’t control their fertility, if they can’t access family planning.  Please say that Nick. ” 

By this time I am frantic and only 3 blocks from my house. I pull over to the curb, locate my cell phone, which is miraculously turned on, and dial the number. Busy! No chance I say to myself.  I dial again.  Oh my God, someone answers. Very brusque conversation. Who’s this? Jane Roberts, I’m Chapter 8 in Nick’s book. Where are you from? Redlands, CA. What do you want to say? That family planning is the key to economic empowerment, to reiterate what Mary Robinson said about that. Where have you visited?  Mali and Senegal with the United Nations Population Fund. OK, hold on. I couldn’t believe it, was I actually going to be able to talk on Talk of the Nation?

Neal Conan: Let’s next go to Jane, Jane with us from Redlands in California. 

Wow, I actually come up with an articulate paragrah.  “I wanted to reiterate what Mary Robinson said, that if you really want to empower women, they honestly have to be able to control their own fertility. Family planning is such a gift.  I mean, Americans use family planning.  There a huge unmet demand for family planing in the world.  They say 210 million women lack access to modern methods of contraception.  When I was in Mali and Senegal as a guest of the United Nations Population Fund, the clinics were just crowded with women, just begging for family planning, and most of them had four and five kids already.  And they looked exhausted.  So anyway, to me, reproductive health is really, has to be part and parcel with education for empowering women.”  

Nick and Mary both support this and Nick out of the blue adds: “Jane Roberts, the caller, has a sort of extraordinary history herself. She read about President Bush defunding the U.N. Population Fund” and he goes on to give the essence of 34 Million Friends and that we’ve raised an “awful lot of money”. I pipe in that “it’s still going” and that “I think every American could take a stand for the women of the world with a lousy dollar: www.34millionfriends.org everybody.”

They say good-bye and I am giddy driving the last 3 blocks to my house. When I log on to the computer five minutes later, I have two requests for my book. Over the next 5 days, viewership of my 34 Million Friends 2009 YOUTUBE video goes up by 150.

The credit card gifts are off the charts (at least the charts as they have been trending) (I love to hyperbolize a bit) and today, there is a pile of mail in the P.O Box.  What fun! Over the past week I have heard from many friends who heard the program.  Media attention is the key to our issues making it to the fore.  34 Million Friends actually improves the lives of real women. The Talk of the Nation web site says that over 4 million people hear Talk of the Nation every week.  Maybe our little segment played to 100,000. Wild guess. Who knows? I know for sure that I was able to communicate 34 Million Friends to a bigger audience than ever before. If you want to hear the entire half hour you can visit:

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  • mechashiva

    Ha, that’s great. Sounds like an NPR-nerd’s dream come true.

  • andenakker

    This comment has been removed.


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  • beenthere72


  • jane-roberts

    I wish everyone would be an NPR and a Public Television nerd.  People would be more informed and our democracy would be better off.  

    Access to family planning whether in Europe or in all parts of the world, is a wonderful thing promised in human rights documents. The people themselves make the choice. I think if you had been to Mali and/or Senegal, you might be more appreciative of their need (indeed their demand) for reproductive health care including family planning.

  • beenthere72

    I listen to NPR every time I’m in the car.   It drives my husband and step daughter crazy.  


    I commend you for your work with these programs and huge kudos for scoring some air time on NPR too, Jane! 

  • forced-birth-rape

    “I wonder how exhausted they would be if, like many contraceptive-loving Europeans, they turned 75 or 80 and had few to no children to help care for them (or contribute part of their wages to the social programs they’re led to depend on) in their old age.”

    ~You know hateful losser, who are you to tell a woman it is her bodies and vaginas job to do that! You are no one to tell a woman, or try to force any woman to do that for any reason. You taliban thinking creep! You obviously think of vaginas as something that needs to be treated in a totalitarian manner. You should move to Afghanistan to be with like minded men.~

  • crowepps

    I suppose those Europeans could use the large amount of money they had in the bank to fund their old age instead of depending on their children to do so, or, for that matter, would tax a portion of the wages of the recent immigrants who had come to Europe because they were desperate to escape the poverty and misery in overcrowded Mali and Senegal.


    Having children as an old-age insurance policy has got to be one of the worst reasons I’ve ever heard of to have children.

  • ahunt

    they turned 75 or 80 and had few to no children to help care for them (or contribute part of their wages to the social programs they’re led to depend on) in their old age.”

    Ah yes…the welfare of the world depends on the slave labor of women.

  • arekushieru

    And I wonder how sad, lonely, isolated, neglected, unloved and unwanted they would feel if, like many NFP-loving USians, they turned 75 or 80 and had many children but no one to help care for them (or contribute part of their wages to the social programs they’re led to depend on) in their old age, because their children had turned their backs on them.  After all, number of births still outstrip population numbers, so the only reason you brought up THAT point was because you thought only FAMily members contributed their wages, since they don’t, it’s irrelevant.  “Led to depend on”?  Nice.  You complain about people not having enough children, then go on to complain about these very same social programs that benefit seniors?  Either you do or don’t care whether these individuals are cared for.  You can’t have it both ways, as you obviously would like.  SO sorry. 

  • jane-roberts

    It’s nice to get an NPR fan!   What does troll mean? Just curious.

  • beenthere72



    In Internet slang, a troll is someone who posts inflammatory, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum, chat room, or blog, with the primary intent of provoking other users into a desired emotional response[1] or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.

  • jane-roberts

    Well, I’ll be darned!  Thanks.  Jane