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Melinda Gates: Way to go, Melinda

Sudha Menon / 21 July 2012

An otherwise media shy Melinda Gates has stepped 
out on a limb to take up the cause of women


MELINDA GATES is a woman who is charged up about her mission and is in no mood to mince her words about it. No matter if the powerful catholic church to which she belongs and the Vatican, might take offence at her insistence on taking up the cause of making contraception available to the world’s women.

The soft-spoken Gates, who was in London last week for a conference on contraception and women, organised in collaboration with the British government, categorically stated that giving voice to the concerns of women all over the world, who struggle continuously between pregnancies and to raise, indeed keep her children alive, would be her life’s work from now on.

Gates’ mission is a humungous task: giving modern tools of contraception to some 120 million women in the next 8 years. Gates is spearheading research and projects to raise funds for the effort so that women in developing countries in Africa, Asia and other parts of the world get contraception easily, not just so that world population can be controlled but so that they are able to better raise their children, kept them fed and educate them, by spacing out their pregnancies.

For a practicing Catholic, it can’t be an easy thing to do but Gates’ resolve to take on a project that might rankle with the folks in the Vatican comes , she says, largely from her experiences travelling to places in Africa, Bangladesh and India where she has seen women die during childbirth because there was little space between two deliveries. She has also seen women struggle to keep themselves and their children alive and many have questioned her why they are not able to have control over their own life.

“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 babies die, and to me that’s more important than arguing about what method of contraception [is right],” she said . The Catholic church believes in the natural method of contraception but the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is working toward making modern methods of contraception available for women.

Gates was very firm on her stand last week when she said she would work to “put back on the global health agenda,” even if it means going against the Catholic church. Her work will focus on contraceptive availability for women in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia which has a large population of practicing Catholics.

Already, her bold stand is bringing in response from rather important people. New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg has put his buck down, announcing he will contribute $50 million to the cause. “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.”

Already, people are talking about the otherwise media shy Gates who has stepped out on a limb to take up the cause of women. But look at the facts and it is easy to know where her conviction comes from . Just a day before the summit took off in London, the British medical journal, The Lancet carried a new report that showed that better access to contraception could cut the maternal death rate in developing countries by a third. Now , if that is not a good enough reason for a woman to take a stand, we don’t know what is.


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