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Intro: "The billionaire philanthropist Melinda Gates, a practicing Catholic, has thrown down the gauntlet to the Vatican and vowed to dedicate the rest of her life to improving access to contraception across the globe."

Melinda Gates listens to women participating in a project to promote maternal and newborn health at Kathghara village, Uttar Pradesh, India, 2010. (photo: Gates Foundation)
Melinda Gates listens to women participating in a project to promote maternal and newborn health at Kathghara village, Uttar Pradesh, India, 2010. (photo: Gates Foundation)

Melinda Gates Challenges Vatican by Vowing to Improve Contraception

By Joanna Moorhead, Guardian UK

12 July 12


he billionaire philanthropist Melinda Gates, a practising Catholic, has thrown down the gauntlet to the Vatican and vowed to dedicate the rest of her life to improving access to contraception across the globe.

Gates, who with her husband, Bill, the founder of Microsoft, is one of the world's biggest players on development issues, predicted that women in Africa and Asia would soon be "voting with their feet", as women in the west have done, and would ignore the church's ban on artificial birth control.

Gates, who was a speaker at the London Summit on Family Planning organised by her foundation in conjunction with the UK government and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said that since she announced her new direction a few weeks ago she had been inundated with messages of support from Catholic women, including nuns.

"A church is made up of its members, and one of the things this campaign might do is help women speak out. I've had thousands of women come on to websites and say" 'I'm a Catholic, but I believe in contraception.' It's going to be women voting with their feet."

Gates said that in the west the bishops said one thing, but ordinary Catholics did another. "In my country 82% of Catholics say contraception is morally acceptable. So let the women in Africa decide. The choice is up to them."

She admitted, though, that she had agonised over whether to speak out in defiance of the church hierarchy. "Of course I wrestled with this. As a Catholic I believe in this religion, there are amazing things about this religion, amazing moral teachings that I do believe in, but I also have to think about how we keep women alive. I believe in not letting women die, I believe in not letting babies die, and to me that's more important than arguing about what method of contraception [is right]."

Being a woman and a mother were at the heart of her decision to focus on family planning, said Gates, who has three children aged 16, 13 and 10. "It would have been nice to stay as a private citizen but part of the reason why I'm so public is that it does take a woman to speak out about these issues.

"Why have women not been at the heart of the global health agenda? It's because we've not had enough women speaking out. We need to give a voice to women all over the planet.

"This will be my life's work."

Wednesday's conference, which brings together 250 delegates from around the world including Jakaya Kikwete, the president of Tanzania, Chantal Compaoré, first lady of Burkina Faso, and the Bangladeshi minister of health, AFM Ruhal Haque, is the launch of what the Gates Foundation is billing "a groundbreaking effort to make affordable, lifesaving contraceptive, information, services and supplies available to an additional 120 million girls and women in the world's poorest countries by 2020". Gates announced on Wednesday that her foundation was pouring $560m over the next eight years into improving access to birth control. The UK government is pledging to double its efforts on family planning, up from its current £90m a year to £180m a year.

In her interview with the Guardian, Gates said the moment had now come to push contraception back to the top of the development agenda. "The reason it fell off the agenda was because we made it controversial – people backed away because of fear. But today there are 200 million women who want to have access to contraception, and if we're not serving them that's not right."

She said that when she and her husband first set up their foundation 18 years ago, they had originally focused on family planning but had then shifted their agenda to providing vaccines after realising that childhood mortality was the top issue, and that women would not choose to have fewer children until they were sure their children would survive childhood. "But once we saw that was happening, we could take family planning back on," she said.

It was meeting women in Africa and Asia on her travels through the developing world, said Gates, that made her determined to push contraception back on to the agenda. "Over and over again women have told me that all they want is to be able to put time between one child and another child. It's a universal thing to want to feed your children and to educate your children, and women know that the only way they can do that is not have so many. And this campaign could give them the tools to make sure they can do that."

The campaign would include research to look at developing better methods of contraception, said Gates – and these methods could, in time, benefit women in the west as well as women in Africa and Asia.

"What I'm most excited about is thinking about tools that will have fewer side effects and could be longer-lasting," she said. "Luckily for women in the west it's not a life-and-death situation, but for women in the developing countries it is, which is why I believe in putting them at the heart of it."

• This article was amended on 11 July 2012. The original version wrongly quoted Gates as saying 200 billion women wanted access to contraception, rather than 200 million. your social media marketing partner


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+31 # LeeBlack 2012-07-12 09:01
Talk about Giant conflict - the Billionaire vs the Vatican.

Good for Melinda. Overpopulation is one of the world's major concerns. For individuals, especially women, contraception, fewer children, the ability to decide when to have children is a blessing.
+12 # nirmalandhas 2012-07-12 09:30
...the causes of overpopulation are the same causes of the global cannot have one without the other...
+15 # bsager892 2012-07-12 09:36
Her passions seem to match mine-I really admire her fights for causes.
+10 # Valleyboy 2012-07-12 09:44
Ironic how her free market idealogue husband is forcing GMO onto Africa at the same time.

GMO has been shown to make rats infertile within 3 generations so this will serve Melinda's cause perfectly.
+1 # Texas Aggie 2012-07-12 10:21
Your statement is false. No valid studies have shown that GMO cause sterility in anything. This is a talking point that the know-nothings have picked up and are going with.
+13 # Activista 2012-07-12 15:15
"Bill Gates' support of genetically modified crops conflicts with scientific research funded by the World Bank and the United Nations, and with grass-roots agronomic movements, on what is best for Africa." Seattle Times
" experimental "drought-resist ant" corn, supported by Gates and Monsanto, is far less robust than natural maize varieties and farming methods requiring less water. Thus, Gates' GM "solutions" depend on higher-cost inputs — such as fertilizers, pest controls and the special seeds themselves — distracting attention from proven, lower-cost approaches." maximizing profit Bill and Monsanto - the same mindset ... monopoly and monoculture.
-1 # Texas Aggie 2012-07-12 10:17
Excommunication in 3 - 2 - 1
+26 # Regina 2012-07-12 10:27
It takes a woman of Melinda Gates's courage as well as wealth to stand up to the rear-view facing bishops, pontificating in the miasma of their misogyny, and tell of women's views as they look forward to a future of freedom and sanity.
+7 # jederfr7 2012-07-12 11:29
I have been wondering where the women that
are in the leadership positions were hiding
Thank you Melinda !!
+14 # Rangzen 2012-07-12 11:58
The way I look at it, the Catholic Church's stand on contraception is one of the major causes of over-population on this planet and, therefore, responsible for the poverty and suffering of billions.
-5 # Activista 2012-07-12 13:44
Population ecology 101 - having more babies compensate for high children mortality (Melinda got it right).
I am agnostic, but Catholic Church is NOT a major cause of World overpopulation. World needs systemic change/regime change from militarism/maxi mizing profit, draining resources CAPITALISM. Melinda money culture cosmetic efforts - $millions - will only perpetuate status quo.
+12 # colvictoria 2012-07-12 15:48
I am glad Mrs. Gates is putting up a fight against the Vatican's stance against birth control. The CC is an institution made up of men who have no idea of the effort it takes to raise just one child. It is at most 20 years of sacrifice even more when you consider that young people can't find jobs even after college.
Any institution which stifles women and men's access to contraception does not understand the connection between overpopulation and global warming. We need to be stewards of the earth and one way is by being responsible in how we plan our families.
+6 # 2012-07-12 20:17
Good for her....we ALL need to stand up for what we believe in...too many lives are lost and will be lost because of too many children, unwanted and abused children, HIV, general diseases, and many more. Women and men both need to be heard, especially in this election. Women need to make their own choices about their bodies and their lives.
+4 # Gevurah 2012-07-12 23:06
You go, girl!

And while you're at it, Melinda, come out in favor of the Fighting Nuns who refuse to bend over for the Bishops and their Vatican hierachy that is demanding "obedience" = stop their blessed work for the poor!

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