“Before the war, they were negative. Now they are positive.”
“Do they want children?” I clarified.
“Yes, they want children. They need to learn their rights. When they learn their rights, they won’t want children.”
He was among the select invited to London to witness the parade of African presidents, Asian and European leaders and drug companies make promises at the Summit on Family Planning that concluded in London last Wednesday.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, along with International Planned Parenthood Federation and the UN Population Fund convened the Summit as a platform for government leaders and pharmaceutical companies to commit to supply funds and access to contraception.
Much of the audience was those who stand to benefit richly from the multi-billion dollar windfall. Family planning groups were partners in organizing the event and will implement Melinda Gates’ vision. Many of the groups have a sordid association with abortion and population control.
Gates opened the conference with a video of her recent visit with women in Senegal. Family planning groups organized the visits and provided translation in the meetings. “Hundreds of millions of women demand our action,” she stated. This campaign “will be a new beginning to bring far more resources than ever before” to family planning and establish new efforts from the private sector, such as drug companies and local leaders. She said another goal is to “increase demand” for contraception.
The Gates Foundation has targeted Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia for its contraception campaign because they note these regions have the highest maternal mortality rates. This region also has the highest fertility rates in the world.
Ethiopia’s Minister of Health told the Summit of his country’s need to increase education, skilled birth attendants, and improve obstetrical care – the proven measures for reducing maternal mortality – and to improve child survival.
Ethiopia will accelerate access to contraception, he stated. “Free modern contraception is the key to fueling demand for contraception.”
Pledges from other countries echoed each other: provide information on contraception, train health care providers, provide different methods of modern contraception, improve supply chains so clinics are fully stocked with contraceptives, and universal access. Each new pledge was met with applause from the crowd.
South Korea has a 100% contraception prevalence rate, stated its ambassador to Britain. The nation began reducing birth rates in the 1960s and is “a model for the world.” Now we suffer from a very low birth rate, he conceded. “There is some expert opinion that we overdid it.”
A few speakers mentioned religious and cultural concerns about family planning as barriers to overcome. One key element of this new effort is engaging religious and local leaders, people that women will trust and believe.
Norway’s Minister of Development Heikki Holmas, and UK Prime Minister David Cameron, spoke about opposition to the conference and the program.
Holmas gets “angry at conservative voices that work against sexual and reproductive rights.” Norway was once a poor country, but now it is rich, he noted. Developing countries should follow its example. “And if you don’t have oil,” he advised, “your future lies in family planning.”
“We have the moral argument,” said Cameron. His advice to dealing with opponents: those who question if this is proper use of aid or is offensive to cultural and religious beliefs is to “rely on the force of our arguments.”
Summit organizers hoped to raise $4 billion. In the end, $4.6 billion was pledged. The Gates Foundation increased its total amount on contraception programs to $1 billion over the next eight years.
Melinda Gates has declared that access to contraception is her signature issue, her lifetime work.