London — One reason I am so optimistic about global development is that I see proof of what's possible everywhere I go. Developing countries are doing innovative work that is changing the lives of their people.
I recently travelled to Malawi to learn about its system of frontline health workers that provides universal access to high-quality maternal and child care. When I talked to a group of women in a village on the outskirts of Dowa, they were excited about the services they now receive, but they all had the same question for me. "We used to have contraceptive injections," they said, "but now we can't get them. What can you do to help us?" Almost everywhere I go, I hear a version of this question. Life is getting better by so many measures. Child mortality is coming down fast.
To take full advantage of these improvements, women tell me they need access to contraceptives. As far as they're concerned, being able to decide when to have children is a key part of being a good parent--because it makes it possible to provide their children with food, basic health care, and education. This makes a lot of sense to me, because it is the same basic reason I used contraceptives to plan my family. However, tens of millions of women in Africa don't have access to the contraceptives they demand.
This is about to change. It is about to change because African governments and civil society organizations are working together to lead a new movement in family planning--one that is led by Africans, for Africans.
This new movement is being kicked off with the London Summit on Family Planning, where thousands of partners will come together around a shared goal: to provide an additional 120 million women in the world's poorest countries with lifesaving contraceptives, information, and services by 2020. The event is co-hosted by our foundation and the UK government's Department for International Development, with additional leadership from other donor governments and charitable foundations that are putting in new funding. Private companies are contributing their capacity to innovate. Most importantly, developing countries are offering up ambitious new national plans that will anchor a global effort.
This same process has been happening across the continent for several months. Groups of stakeholders have been meeting to review the current data about women's access to contraceptives, pinpointing the weaknesses in their national programs, and devising solutions that fill those gaps.
Family planning is not new, but having African countries driving it is new--and it will change the lives of women and girls and the trajectory of development in countries throughout the continent.
Women want the power to determine their future. They want to maintain their own health and bear healthy children, which means spacing their births a safe distance apart. And they want to be able to give their children the best chance to fulfill their potential, which means having the resources to invest in their upbringing.
The amazing thing about family planning programs is that, by giving women the power to determine their future, they also lead to economic and social development at the national level. When parents can plan for their children, keep them healthy, and send them to school, their children are more likely to contribute to a prosperous economy and a thriving society. When you multiply this effect times millions of families, you have sweeping trends that can help change the prospects for an entire country, or an entire continent.
In the past, some well-intentioned people in donor countries tried to impose family planning programs. They understood many of the benefits of family planning, but they skipped some key steps. They didn't always put the power in the hands of women and girls, and they didn't always rely on the expertise and leadership of people in the countries where the work is being done. At the same time, many governments in developing countries didn't invest as heavily as necessary to provide women and girls with access to the contraceptives they demand. But this is about to change.
Smart policies and sound investments can make a huge difference in people's lives. I am excited to see the impact that African policies and investments related to family planning will have over the coming decade.
By Melinda Gates
Source: All Africa
Pic: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation