The Moment of Lift (2019) relates the journey that Melinda Gates embarked upon to help empower women all around the world. Whether through stories of people she met via her charitable work or from experiences recounted by others, this part-memoir, part-call-to-action explores the myriad social and economic issues women and girls face on a daily basis. But while many of these hurdles seem insurmountable, only by overcoming them can humanity as a whole move forward to a more egalitarian and just future.
After founding the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000, the author and her husband made it their mission to widen access to healthcare and reduce poverty around the world. One of the areas on which they have focused is providing free vaccinations to children in developing nations.
During a visit to one of the foundation’s vaccination drives in Malawi, Africa, the author had countless conversations with women who’d brought their children long distances to get vaccinated. However, there was a theme other than vaccinations that often came up during these conversations. Many of the women were very concerned about a different kind of medication – female contraception. Many complained that even if their children were vaccinated, what would it matter? If impoverished women were destined to continue having more and more children, how would they be able to provide for their families?
These women’s concerns correlate directly to the available data on the subject. In 2012, for example, 260 million women were using contraceptives in the world’s 69 least wealthy nations. But in the same nations, more than 200 million women wanted to use contraceptives – but didn’t have access to them.
The benefits of increasing access to contraception are clear. For example, in an ongoing Bangladeshi study dating from the 1970s, half of the women in a grouping of villages were provided contraceptives, and the other half not. Two decades after the study began, the mothers who were provided contraceptives were healthier, as were their children. Additionally, their families were better off, and their children were more likely to go to school.
These benefits stem from the fact that if women are allowed to choose when to become pregnant, they can better plan their careers and education. They can also better raise the children they already have, meaning that the next generation is more likely to be better off. For poorer families, contraception often contributes to breaking vicious cycles of poverty.
All over the world, access to contraceptives is helping to empower women and their families. This is even true in the United States, where the Affordable Care Act has allowed women access to free contraceptives. The ACA and similar legislation have resulted in a 30-year low for unintended pregnancy.
Unfortunately, the current administration is attempting to undo much of this progress by reversing legislation, reducing funding for family planning organizations and promoting abstinence-only sex education. This is not a step in the right direction, as contraception is arguably the most important innovation in history for empowering women.