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The milestone of 7 billion is marked by achievements, setbacks and paradoxes.While women are on average having fewer children than they were in the 1960s,our numbers continue to rise. Globally, people are younger and older than ever before. In some of the poorest countries, high fertility rates hamper development and perpetuate poverty, while in some of the richest countries, low fertility rates and too few people entering the job market are raising concerns.

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Women rarely wage war, but they too often suffer the worst of its consequences. Gender-based violence, including rape, is a repugnant and increasingly familiar weapon of war. The immediate toll it takes extends far beyond its direct victims, insidiously tearing apart families and shattering societies for generations to come.

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“We have read the science. Global warming is real, and we are a prime cause. . . . We must set an agenda—create a roadmap to the future, coupled with a timeline that produces a deal by 2009. In this, it helps to have a vision of how the future might look if we succeed.” 

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Appeals for cultural sensitivity and engagement are sometimes wrongly interpreted as acceptance of harmful traditional practices, or a way of making excuses for noncompliance with universal human rights. This is far from the case – such relativism provides no basis for action and produces only stalemate and frustration. Values and practices that infringe upon human rights can be found in all cultures. Culturally sensitive approaches determine what makes sense to people and work with that knowledge. Embracing cultural realities can reveal the most effective ways to challenge harmful cultural practices and strengthen positive ones.

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In 2008, the world reaches an invisible but momentous milestone: For the first time in history, more than half its human population, 3.3 billion people, will be living in urban areas. By 2030, this is expected to swell to almost 5 billion. Many of the new urbanites will be poor. Their future, the future of cities in developing countries, the future of humanity itself, all depend very much on decisions made now in preparation for this growth. 

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