"I've heard from women all over the world about how important contraceptives are to their ability to take charge of their futures," she wrote in a new op-ed.
Last week, Melinda Gates penned an op-ed for National Geographic to share her views on the importance of birth control. Her argument in a nutshell? If you want to empower women worldwide, give them access to modern contraceptives. (Related: The Senate Just Voted to Stop Free Birth Control)
I’m concerned about the impact that the expansion of the Mexico City policy could have on millions of women and girls around the world. I’ve spent the past 16 years talking to women in developing countries who’ve told me—again and again—that their futures depend on the ability to use contraceptives. I’ve been to places where every woman I met has lost a child to disease. I’ve been to places where every person I talked to knows a woman who died in childbirth. And the more I learned, the more I started to appreciate the everyday battles of women like Sharmila, a mother of four who lives in Bihar. Sharmila’s family wanted her to follow tradition and have her next child right away, but a health worker explained to her that her children would be healthier and have a better chance of survival if she planned and spaced her pregnancies. Hearing that, Sharmila decided to use contraceptives and convinced her husband to support her decision. It was an act of courage—and an act of love to her four kids. For many women in the world’s poorest places, contraceptives are nothing less than a chance to keep themselves and their children alive. I became an advocate for contraceptives because I couldn’t turn my back on women like Sharmila. And I’m going to keep sharing their stories as long as I live.
In a bold statement, the notable humanitarian pledged to provide contraception access to 120 million around the world by 2020 through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Gates has been making this issue a priority since 2012 when she co-chaired the Family Planning 2020 summit with leaders from around the world. She admits that as of right now, they are not quite on track to reach their "ambitious but achievable goal" by the promised date, but intends to keep her promise no matter what it takes.
"In the decade and a half since Bill and I started our foundation, I've heard from women all over the world about how important contraceptives are to their ability to take charge of their futures," she wrote. "When women are able to plan their pregnancies around their goals for themselves and their families, they are also better able to finish their education, earn an income, and fully participate in their communities." (Related: Planned Parenthood Campaign Asks Women to Share How Birth Control Helped Them)
She also shares how important birth control has been in her own life. "I knew I wanted to work both before and after becoming a mom, so I delayed getting pregnant until Bill and I were sure we were ready to start our family. Twenty years later, we have three children, born almost exactly three years apart. None of that happened by accident," she shares.
"The decision about whether and when to get pregnant was a decision that Bill and I made based on what was right for me and what was right for our family—and that's something I feel lucky about," she continued. "There are still over 225 million women around the world who don't have access to the modern contraceptives they need to make these decisions for themselves." And that's something she's determined to change.