How can anyone disagree with Melinda Gates? She walks onto the stage and she’s instantly likeable. She’s confident, but not threatening. She’s pretty, but not a supermodel. She’s well-dressed, but not flashy. She’s smart and articulate, but down to earth. She’s America’s billionaire soccer mom.
And, the wife of Microsoft founder Bill Gates is no slacker to sit back at the lake and watch the sunset. What she wants to do with her fortune is to help the poorest women in the world have what the rest of us take for granted: birth control.
So she and her friends at the UK’s state department organized the London Summit on Family Planning this Wednesday, dedicated to bringing contraceptive services to an additional 120 million women and girls by the year 2020.
It was slick. Nice venue. Great location. Even the London rain stopped as the parade of delegates from the world over poured in. The morning marathon session was like a global family planning telethon. One after another, the delegates pledged their commitment – and their country’s money– to the cause.
In the afternoon, Prime Minster David Cameron nipped in from Westminster to deliver a passionate speech – and to announce the UK’s doubling its family planning budget to $800 million over the next 8 years. Everyone stood to applaud.
Then Melinda graciously announced that she and Bill had talked, and they decided to increase their spending on family planning to over $1billion. They tallied the day’s take and, “Guess what?” they announced jubilantly, they had exceeded their $4billion goal.
But wasn’t this a little surreal? No one disagreed. Everyone was breathless with success and brimming with enthusiasm. Family planning was cool again, and it was driving a BMW. Where were the usual right-wing zealots who bog these meetings down fretting about the “the full range of reproductive health services” including abortion? Was there not a single evangelical in London? No dour Catholic to throw cold theology on this? No cranky American politician to
No cranky American politician to protest taxpayers’ money being spent abroad when people at home are struggling? Not even a political objector in Britain where the day’s headlines were public money is running out so fast that nanas will have to sell their houses before they collect social security, and the vaporizing healthcare budget.
It was just PR perfection. Well, there were a few minor gaffes. The President of Uganda said he was pledging only $5 million because his country was investing heavily in electricity and roads. Not in line with the party sentiment that reducing birth rates is the only way to improve a country’s economy. And there was the President of Korea’s little slip-up. When Korea was introduced as a “model for the world,” because it brought its “contraceptive prevalence rate” to 100% from something dismal 50 years ago, he said they were actually now struggling with a low birth rate and “perhaps we overdid it.” Yikes. But then he gave his money and it was forgotten.
The whole thing was magnificently orchestrated. The supporting research, funded by the Gates Foundation or its affiliates, was published in a special edition of the prestigious Lancet just before the summit. The media was kind, highlighting how Melinda was valiantly pitching herself against the patriarchal Catholic Church, even though she said she is a practicing Catholic.
“This is not about abortion. This is not about population control,” she said. It might all be funded by the Super Wealthy white like it used to be, but this has nothing to do with those rotten old plans of forcing vasectomies on railway platforms in the 70s. So no one mentioned that by chance on the very same day as the summit, the government of Jaipur, the largest city in Rajasthan, launched its drive to sterilize 100,000 women in just two weeks. there was no mention of the complaint to the Supreme Court of Indian women being maimed and killed, bleeding to death on straw mats following “
There was no mention of the complaint to the Supreme Court of Indian women being maimed and killed, bleeding to death on straw mats following “sterilization camps” throughout India which receives UK and US family planning funding – today.
China was not even whispered. Nothing about the black market for babies or female infanticide and sex-selective abortion that has skewed the births of boys to girls to 137:100 in some places.
It was politely ignored that most of the “civil society organizations” attending were also the biggest abortion providers (International Planned Parenthood Federation, Population Services International and Marie Stopes International).
And no one asked why Merck, Pfizer and other pharmaceutical giants at the summit, whose contraceptive profits will soar to an estimated $17 billion by 2015 because of the “expanding market,” need governments subsidizing their drugs. Or if their testing of new injectable contraceptives on Senegalese and Ugandan women isn’t just a tad exploitative.
Melinda, the First Lady of Family Planning, has launched an upgraded version of family planning that is rolling out across the globe and who, but the most raving lunatic, would oppose it?
This article was first published in the Calgary Herald in July, 2012