Skip to main content

Melinda Gates: Give women the power to determine their future

By Melinda Gates, Special to CNN
July 9, 2012 -- Updated 1710 GMT (0110 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Melinda Gates: Women throughout the world deserve access to birth control
  • She says women in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia often lack sufficient access
  • Women who have contraception can plan their lives and make intelligent choices, she says
  • Gates: A new initiative aims to provide birth control to 120 million additional women, girls

Editor's note: Melinda Gates is co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

(CNN) -- The vast majority of women in the United States use birth control. Some of us may even consider it a minor annoyance. Sometimes we forget to take our pills. The side effects can be painful. But we put up with it because it's so important to have the power to determine our future.

I didn't fully appreciate how much contraceptives changed my life because I never lacked access to them.

That is, I didn't fully appreciate them until I got involved in global health and learned that hundreds of millions of women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia don't have access to contraceptives. The lack of birth control is more than a minor annoyance. It can be a significant barrier to a better life. When I learned what many women in poor countries faced, I asked myself: What would my life have been like if I hadn't been able to use birth control?

Melinda Gates
Melinda Gates

This week at the London Summit on Family Planning, a partnership of national governments from developing and developed countries, foundations, the private sector and NGOs is launching a groundbreaking effort to make sure no woman has to ask herself that question. Our goal is to make modern contraceptives and family planning information and services available to an additional 120 million women and girls in the world's poorest countries over the next eight years.

I'm passionate about family planning because when I travel and talk to women in developing countries, what's universally clear is that they demand access to contraceptives. They want the power to determine their future. They know that when they can decide when they have children, they are healthier, their children are healthier, their families are more successful and their communities are more prosperous.

Tragically, there are too many places where this virtuous cycle of social and economic development isn't happening. Nearly 13 million adolescent girls give birth each year in developing countries, typically before they are physically, emotionally or economically prepared. And when girls delay childbearing until their 20s, they are more likely to stay in school. Women who have been educated are likely to marry later, have healthier families and be able to invest in their children's education.

Gates' candid thoughts on contraception

Simply giving women the means to space the births of their children three years apart would decrease deaths of children 4 and younger by 25%.

Already, there are a number of efforts underway that promise to give more women access to the lifesaving contraceptives they demand. In Senegal, we are investing in a pilot project to ensure that health clinics are always stocked with the full range of modern contraceptives, including implants, injectables and IUDs that put the power in the hands of women. Imagine what it would be like to travel for hours to a clinic for contraceptives, only to find that they are out of stock.

I am excited to see that developing countries such as Senegal are investing in innovative programs to ensure that women will always have options when they go to the clinic.

There is also important research underway on new health products that offer women even more options. I am enthusiastic about a new injectable device that women can administer themselves, so they don't have to travel to the clinic. In the United States, we administer our own birth control. It's hard to picture what it would be like if we had to see our doctor constantly to plan our families effectively. This new device will empower women in countries where the pill isn't popular to plan for themselves.

Last year, I met with a group of women in Nairobi's Korogocho slum who talked openly about their family life and why they use birth control. After two hours, a woman named Mary Ann summed up the conversation with something I will never forget. She said: "I want to bring every good thing to one child before I have another."

That single phrase captures the reason I am so deeply committed to family planning and why I am so enthusiastic about the London Summit. Bringing every good thing to our children starts with women everywhere being empowered to plan their family. On July 11, I hope you can tune in to witness the unprecedented commitments of all our partners and pledge your support for every woman and girl to have the opportunity to determine her own future.

Melinda Gates responds to contraception program controversy

Overheard: Contraceptives and Catholicism

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Melinda Gates.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT