How Melinda Gates' own history helped shape the billionaire's philanthropy.
Improved access to contraceptives has lasting benefits.
One of the wealthiest women on earth, Melinda Gates, recently opened up about an unexpected secret to her success: contraceptives.
The 52-year-old billionaire businesswoman and philanthropist detailed her intersection of personal and professional success in a blog post for Fortune. In it, she talks about the importance of making contraception available to women around the world, one of the core issues being addressed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. In doing so, she touches on how important family planning resources were in her own success.
"It’s no accident that my three kids were born three years apart — or that I didn’t have my first child until I'd finished graduate school and devoted a decade to my career at Microsoft," she wrote. "My family, my career, my life as I know it are all the direct result of contraceptives. And now, I realize how lucky that makes me."
In 2012, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged to bring contraception to 120 million women around the world.
The bold strategy, part of the group's Family Planning 2020 initiative, highlights the role that access to birth control has in lifting developing countries out of poverty. In July 2012, the foundation committed to spending more than $1 billion toward contraception access and information. In November 2015, the group committed an additional $120 million to the program.
The 2015 boost was intended to focus on three specific priorities: improving the quality of services and increasing the number of contraceptive options, reaching marginalized committees, and investing in local advocates around the globe to make the case for using family planning services.
In the foundation's most recent annual letter, they recommitted themselves to meeting 2012's ambitious goal. That matters.
While an additional 30.2 million women have access to contraception because of the Gates Foundation's work, they're a little behind the pace needed to hit the 120 million goal.
But they've got a plan, and it involves making the most of emerging technologies and long-term birth control solutions, as well as increasing their public advocacy. Overall, the family planning aspect of the Gates Foundation's work is just part of their overall campaign, which also includes improving access to vaccines, reducing infant mortality, and reducing malnutrition in developing countries.
Access to family planning is an essential component of any anti-poverty program.
"When a country sends a generation of healthy, well-educated young people into the workforce, it’s on its way out of poverty," Melinda explained in the foundation's letter. "But this doesn’t happen by accident. No country in the last 50 years has emerged from poverty without expanding access to contraceptives."
On Twitter, she posted a short video explaining how family planning triggers a "virtuous cycle."
With President Trump's reinstatement of the global gag rule, the Gates Foundation's renewed commitment to making contraception accessible is more important than ever.
In one of his first acts as president, Trump reinstated the so-called "global gag rule," a Reagan-era policy that restricts U.S. funding to organizations that so much as mention abortion as part of their family planning services. At risk is roughly $9.5 billion in global health funding. In a move that is ostensibly meant to reduce abortion, the likely result is a decrease in overall family planning services for women around the world, meaning more unplanned pregnancies, which means, yes, more abortions.
In recent years, the U.S. has seen its teen pregnancy rate drop by 25% for two really simple reasons: increasing access to contraception and improved sex education. After making access to long-term birth control available for free, Colorado saw its own teen pregnancy rate drop by 40%!
In her letter, Gates explained how she came to understand the global need for contraceptive access beyond her own personal experience.
"Most of the women I talk to in the field bring up contraceptives. I remember visiting the home of a mother in Niger named Sadi, whose six children were competing for her attention as we talked. She told me, 'It wouldn’t be fair for me to have another child. I can’t afford to feed the ones I have,'" Gates wrote.
"In a Kenyan slum, I met a young mother named Mary who had a business selling backpacks from scraps of blue-jean fabric. She invited me into her home, where she was sewing and watching her two small children. She used contraceptives because, she said, 'Life is tough.' I asked if her husband supported her decision. She said, 'He knows life is tough, too.'"
For more information on the Gates Foundation's work getting contraceptives to women in developing countries, check out the video below.
While Upworthy has a proud partnership with The Gates Foundation, I was not paid by the foundation to write this article.