Melinda Gates, co-chair of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has reportedly decided to make birth control and family planning her signature issue. As part of the richest foundation in the world, it’s not unlikely that she’ll be able to make some serious progress.
She explained in her TedxChange presentation last month that the subject of birth control and contraception is not an issue that deserves controversy or dividing lines. “This is a life-and-death crisis,” Ms. Gates said. “Every year, 100,000 women who don’t want to be pregnant die in childbirth. About 600,000 women who don’t want to be pregnant give birth to a baby who dies in her first month of life. I know everybody wants to save these mothers and babies.”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has put funding toward family planning programs since the beginning of its roots in 1999, but is just now making it a major focus. Her TedxChange talk was the announcement of their new focus.
“We’re not talking about abortion,” she said. “We’re not talking about population control. What I’m talking about is giving women the power to save their lives, to save their children’s lives, and to give their families the best possible future.”
Contraception is undoubtedly a very touchy subject in the religious world, and Gates also noted she had to “wrestle with which pieces of religion do I use and believe in my life, what would I counsel my daughters to do.” In the name of social justice, she believes in the importance of promoting birth control and contraception.
The foundation is co-sponsoring a summit on family planning for world leaders in July, working with the British government and United Nations Population Fund to raise $4 billion for the cause. This would provide contraceptives to 120 million women in need of it by 2020.
One of the most significant aspects of what the foundation is doing is research on new forms of contraception. They’re reaching for a contraceptive that works without hormones, and even something as far-fetched seeming as an implantable device that is controlled by the woman using it, lasting her entire reproductive lifetime. It could be turned on and off at will, with no need for removal. Could you imagine such a revolutionary product? No doubt there would be plenty of religious controversy and the “playing God” card would be pulled, but as far as reproductive health goes, something like this could, dare I say, change the world.
Of course there probably won’t be any revolutionary, life-changing contraceptive coming onto the market anytime soon, but the foundation could definitely boost awareness and funding for existing contraceptives, and change the lives of millions of women around the world.
It sounds like Gates is the perfect woman to take the lead.