By Harry Keaney
On Oct. 12, the world’s population reached 6 billion. Most people didn’t care.
But not Corrie Shanahan.
That’s because the 31-year-old Dublin native is senior information officer, based in New York, for the United Nations Population Fund, an agency striving to ensure universal access to reproductive healthcare, including family planning, to all couples and individuals on or before the year 2015.
Although the UN Population Fund is the world’s largest purchaser of contraceptives, Shanahan declines to use the word "control" in relation to the UN Population Fund’s effort to reduce the world’s birth rate.
"We do not care how many children people have; it’s not our business," she said. "What we are concerned about is giving women choice so they can plan."
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And that, she said, concerns not just women but men as well. "Male responsibility also comes into all aspects of this."
The UN Population Fund focuses not only on birth rate but on women’s reproductive health in general, including sexually transmitted diseases, prenatal care, maternity care, safe deliveries and healthy babies.
The Population Fund does not advocate abortion, Shanahan pointed out. "It’s not a method of family planning because its not contraception," she said. "If you are anti-abortion, you should support us because we are for family planning which reduces the incidence of abortion."
A watershed in the way the world thinks about population was a 1994 conference in Cairo attended by representatives of 177 countries, according to Shanahan.
"The conference agreed that where there is high population growth it holds back economic development," she said. "The only way to stabilize population growth is to approach it from a human rights point of view. I think there is this myth that poor people like to have children. At the moment, 350 million women around the world do not have access to family planning."
Shanahan was working for Delta Airlines, in London, when she became interested in the work of the UN Population Fund. As a public relations executive, she was impressed by what she thought was the Fund’s shrewd decision to use an attractive Somalia model, Waris Dirie, who had undergone genital mutilation in a campaign against the cruel practice. "I thought these people must be really switched on," she said. "And I thought if I went to work for them I would be doing some of the same work as I was doing for Delta, but instead of about putting bums on seats, it would be about improving people’s health."
Prior to that, Shanahan worked for Reuters and NBC News in Moscow and the Middle East after graduating from Trinity College, in Dublin, with a degree in the Russian language and history. Working as a journalist, Shanahan, who speaks six languages, covered such historic events as the disintegration of the Soviet Union, a war in Tajikistan, the assassination of Isr’li premier Yitzhak Rabin, and the first Palestinian elections.
But, after six years, she became tired of the frenzied world of television journalism. "I was not able to plan my life," she said. "I would work my back off, maybe nonstop for 48 hours, for a 45-second piece on the evening news. And sometimes you got pre-empted because of basketball."
Shanahan is not the only Irish woman who works for the UN Population Fund. Last October, the fund appointed Mary Banotti, a member of the European Parliament from Dublin, as its goodwill ambassador. Banotti was an unsuccessful candidate in the 1997 Irish presidential election. Also, Ireland is represented on the board of the Fund by Anne Barrington, who is based at Ireland’s mission to the United Nations in New York.