Today is World Contraception Day, and the planet’s richest birth control advocates are in high gear. Bill and Melinda Gates suggest in the Wall Street Journal that governments should continue to spend billions of dollars providing “family planning” to developing nations. The U.S. government’s early international “family planning” programs were essentially intended as population control. Today, governments and foundations instead use the language of “reproductive freedom” and “unmet need.”
Many women overseas don’t want this kind of “help.” In fact, Bill and Melinda Gates acknowledge that part of the problem is low demand for modern contraceptives. Public and Gates money is therefore regularly used to build demand through expensive and massive public-awareness campaigns, including televised debates and training religious and community leaders.
Why Women In Developing Countries Don’t Want BC
Women in more than a few countries resist Western family planning overtures. According to the Guttmacher Institute, approximately 85 percent of married Nigerian women do not use birth control, but only 16 percent report an unmet need for it. As mentioned in The Economist, rural Nigerians value the fact that larger families enable greater productivity in farming communities. About 50 percent of married Indian women and even fewer African women use contraception, because they do not feel the need for it. Many women in Nepal and the Philippines do not feel a need for contraception because their partners are working abroad much of the time.
According to a report by the Population Council (with contributions from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), women in developing countries are uncomfortable with long-term use of contraception. More than 50 percent of women who started a birth control method stopped within two years due to method-related concerns such as prolonged bleeding, headaches, pain, severe vaginal dryness, dizziness, and stomachaches.
While the study laments that women from developing countries stop contraception because “beliefs about contraceptive use may make women more promiscuous, may make women sterile, or may cause cancer or other diseases,” some of these “superstitions” are right on the money. Reliable studies have shown that contraceptive use can lead to serious health concerns such as cancer, blood clots, strokes, and sterility.
A Sexual Revolution Could Make Social Problems Worse
The potential problems that come with a long-term, money-backed birth control push can be even broader and more devastating to a developing nation than individual health consequences. If a community is already experiencing instability, why instigate a sexual revolution?
Widespread use of hormonal birth control drugs and devices separates the idea of sex from marriage and family. The corresponding increase in non-marital sex can result in more out-of-wedlock pregnancies, absent fathers, and family brokenness. The price of non-marital sex, now the “new normal” due to birth control access, can be physical, emotional, and economic insecurity for women and kids.
Bill and Melinda Gates claim that birth control contributes to “maternal and child survival, education, prosperity…when women can plan their pregnancies so that they have children only when they are physically and economically ready.” Yet the Gateses do not mention the importance of keeping families intact, nor promote the presence of husbands and fathers, who are vital to their goals. Women and children are less likely to experience poverty and more likely to experience greater health, security, and safety when husbands and fathers are present and contributing to their families.
There Is a Better Option to Help Women In Poverty
There is a better and potentially less expensive way to help women manage their fertility, even in cultures that shun contraceptives; a way that honors the health and preferences of women, and supports keeping families intact.
Scientifically proven fertility awareness based methods (FABMs) are just as effective in spacing pregnancies as hormonal birth control is. Unlike birth control, they are natural and free of side effects. Once educated about FABMs, there is no outside cost to those who use them.
FABMs are beneficial to building intimacy, fostering communication, and supporting family life as they help couples have a greater awareness of the woman’s fertility cycles. When taught early, they promote healthy attitudes toward sexuality and abstinence among teenagers.
Bill and Melinda Gates would have a more positive impact on world poverty if they shifted their focus from population control via contraception, sterilization, and abortion to what women in developing countries actually care about. By increasing the stability and well-being of women, children and families, they could dramatically affect entire communities and nations. There are many wonderful organizations helping families thrive who could use their millions and platform.