An Open Letter to Melinda Gates

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https://theguidingstarproject.com

The timing of your recent article, “Keeping Our Promise to 120 Million Women and Girls,” and the Global Family Planning Summit in London could not be better in light of the upcoming Natural Family Planning (NFP) Awareness Week. We are in agreement that, “the conversation around contraceptives is one of the most important conversations the world will have this year.” However we disagree on a fundamental level that the answer to a global epidemic of unplanned pregnancies is contraception.

While generally the Gates’ endeavors can be deemed admirable the tone and content of this most recent article outlining the Gates Foundation’s additional $375 million dollar contribution over the next three years to make family planning a global priority through the use of contraceptives leaves much to be desired—especially considering that $250 million or almost 70% of this money will be used to fund services for teenagers as recently noted in an article published in The Guardian.

Flippant distribution of contraceptives is a superficial Band-Aid which masks a social pandemic of responsibility free sex and poor education without curing the disease. What the teenagers of this world need is not free condoms or a pill that remove accountability—they need a society that does not commodify them. They need a world that does not tolerate sexual exploitation and violence, which does not ostracize the teen mother, and that does not paint the picture of the mother of many as the antagonist to a flourishing world.

You state in your article that, “contraceptives are an essential part of the healthier, more prosperous world we’re all working toward. When a woman has access to contraceptives, she tends to have fewer children. Families can devote more resources to each child’s nutrition, health, and education, setting them up for a better future.” How different would the conversation be if were instead concerned for the struggling mother and partnered with her to ensure her success campaigning for a social structure that empowers her to provide her children with nutrition, healthcare and equal opportunity for education? Within this article childbearing and rearing are portrayed as an inexplicable burden that limit a woman’s freedom to work, ability to earn an income, and contribute to the economy. In the United States the majority or 70% of mothers with children under the age of 18 participate in the labor force, working, and contributing to both their families and the economy according to the 2013 data published by the Department of Labor. Arguably stay at home mothers are also working and contributing to the economy as they painstakingly invest their time and energy in raising the next generation. Motherhood does not limit a woman’s capacity to contribute; it magnifies it in ways that she may never have realized.

The Center for Disease Control reported in 2013 Contraceptive Methods Women Have Ever Used: United States, 1982–2010 that, “Overall, 47% of women who have used at least one method of contraception have discontinued using a method due to dissatisfaction.” This is a sobering statistic considering the amount of money being raised in order to distribute contraceptives. Will women be able to receive follow-up care if their prescribed birth control sends them into a spiral of depression and they need to switch? It seems that distribution of contraceptives as propagated by the Global Family Planning Summit is not a wholistic approach for women. If it was wholistic the goal would extend beyond distribution, it would involve at a minimum fertility education. NFP methods allow for family planning in a way that honor the mind, body, spirit, and as an added bonus even the environment. Could we be so bold instead to consider that the answer to family planning is not in a prescription it is in education?

Fertility Awareness-Based Methods of Family Planning (FABM) are an excellent option for women in rural situations and under developed countries—it just takes a little investment of time and education. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists FAQ 024 published in April 2015, “when used properly, fewer than 1–5 women out of 100 will become pregnant during the first year,” using FABM.

We are in agreement that the 1.2 billion adolescents in the world today, do need to be empowered with the right tools —  but it seems unlikely that passing out contraceptives like candy to teenagers to prevent pregnancy will, “unlock unprecedented growth in the world’s poorest countries.” We need to change the conversation from treating the symptoms to attacking the disease. By promoting awareness of physiology, equipping our world’s mothers, and holding each individual responsible for the consequences of their decisions perhaps we all will have a chance at a brighter future.

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