“Like most women I know, I have used contraceptives for many years.”
That’s how business woman and philanthropist Melinda Gates began her recent essay on the importance of birth control. Published in National Geographic, Gates described witnessing the impact that accessible contraceptives can have to women across the globe.
“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,” Gates 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.”
In 2012, Gates created a global summit called Family Planning 2020, which aimed to expand access to affordable contraception to women in need around the world. The summit pledged to give 120 million more women access to birth control by 2020, but currently the global partnership is falling short of that goal: As of July 2016, Family Planning 2020 has provided 24 million women with family planning services. While this is still very successful, it’s not even half of the summit’s 120 million goal.
“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.”
“It was an ambitious but achievable goal ― and an important promise to women in the world’s poorest places that they will not be forgotten,” Gates explained in her essay. “... Unless we begin making up for lost time, we will miss this chance to make this a turning point for women around the world.”
Gates wrote that when she thinks of what’s at stake over the next three years she remembers two women ― Anita and Sushila ― whom she met last year in an Indian village called Kamrawa.
Anita, a 40-year-old mother of five, told Gates she lived a “life of deprivation, hard work and endless worrying” because she never had access to family planning services. Sushila, a 28-year-old teacher and mother of two, had a very different experience because she had access to contraception.
“Sushila and her husband are committed to limiting the size of their family so that they’re able to give each of their children the lives they deserve,” Gates wrote.
It’s clear now, Gates explained, that contraception makes a huge difference in women’s lives. “When you think about the difference between Anita’s life and Sushila’s life, it’s clear that progress is possible,” she wrote. “The question is whether we will commit the resources and mobilize the will to ensure that this progress extends to more women in more places.”
Head over to National Geographic to read Gates’ full essay.