“Given the option, [women in developing countries] will have fewer children,” said Melinda Gates in a TEDxChange talk in April. “The question is: are we going to commit to helping them get what they want now? Or are we going to condemn them to some century-long struggle, as if this were still revolutionary France and the best method was still coitus interruptus?”
Wednesday, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation followed through on Gates’ pledge, helping to raise more than $2.6 billion at the London Summit on Family Planning as part of an ambitious goal of helping 120 million additional women in developing countries gain access to contraception by 2020. The summit was co-hosted by the UK Department for International Development and garnered support from other foundations and governments, including the United States, France, Germany, the Netherlands, South Korea, Norway, Sweden, and Australia.
Many of the challenges that we face (hunger, severe poverty, energy, food, carbon emissions) are seemingly intractable. Population growth, which is a challenge multiplier, is not intractable. Far from it. There are proven highly cost-effective means of lowering fertility rates: providing access to contraceptives, keeping girls in school, ending child marriage practices, and changing social norms (including attitudes toward women and desired family size) through entertainment media.
In the TEDxChange talk, which helped launch this year’s push, she credits her upbringing for instilling a strong sense of social justice. During her travels with the Gates Foundation, one woman from a slum in Nairobi told her, “I want to bring every good thing to this child before I have another.” That statement resonated with Gates: “We all want to bring every good thing to our children,” she said. “But what’s not universal is our ability to provide every good thing for our children.” Gates pointed to contraception as a way for families to plan for their future and manage their resources. She recognized the controversial history of family planning as population control, but argued that this new initiative is about providing choices to individuals, not imposing values.
Gates remains confident that as long as the foundation makes its mission clear, people will rally behind the cause.
“We’re not talking about abortion. We’re not talking about population control. What I’m talking about is giving women the power to save their own lives, to save their children’s lives, and to give their families the best possible future.”
Sources: BBC, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, CNN, Catholic Family and Humans Rights Institute, Catholics For Choice, Dot Earth.