Melinda Gates Wants to Give 100 Million More Women Access to Contraception by 2020
In a recent editorial in National Geographic, Melinda Gates recommitted to a 2012 goal to increase access to contraception worldwide. “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.”
Gates originally launched Family Planning 2020 (FP2020) in 2012, with the stated goal of delivering birth control access to 120 million women by 2020. It is described as a “global partnership that supports the rights of women and girls to decide, freely, and for themselves, whether, when, and how many children they want to have.”
However, as she noted in her editorial, Family Planning 2020 is not on track to meet its goal. “We are now more than halfway to the 2020 deadline, but not yet on track to reach 120 million women by the promised date. As of the halfway point in July 2016, we had reached 24 million additional women with family planning services.”
While this initiative has been ongoing since 2012, it’s hard not to trace the timing of Gates’ editorial to Trump’s reinstatement of the “global gag rule” and the renewed Republican war on women’s reproductive rights. The gag rule, which cuts off federal international aid to any family planning service that mentions abortion as an option to its clients, puts clinics in the developing world in a terrible situation. It punishes organizations which give their clients comprehensive medical information, and puts those organizations’ non-abortion services, such as contraception or cancer screenings, at risk.
In a 2012 TED talk about the importance of contraception, Gates called increased access to birth control “one of the simplest and most transformative things we can do [for global development].” Her speech did lean a bit into respectability politics, emphasizing the fact that her own use of birth control for family planning “had nothing to do with promiscuity.” (So what if it had?) But it’s also true that in countries like the United States, where an estimated 60-something percent of women use some form of contraception, monogamous couples with children must comprise a significant portion of that user base. They therefore deserve to be part of the conversation.
As the Republicans’ regressive agenda begins to attack affordable, easy access to contraception, it will be interesting to see if the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation turns its eye inward. Many women in the United States will struggle to pay for birth control if the Affordable Care Act is rolled back, and the defunding of Planned Parenthood could leave many counties and states without accessible family planning services. The Gates Foundation has typically focused on those countries whose governments cannot provide necessary resources. If Republicans succeed in downgrading and debilitating U.S. family planning services, as a government that instead will not provide resources, how will the Gates Foundation respond?
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