How many times have you heard it: the debate about 'having it all', the 'career or babies' dilemma? And how well rehearsed is your, 'God, no - I don't want kids until I'm at least 35' speech? Thought so. But what if it wasn't so simple? For millions of women across the globe, the luxury of choice doesn't come into it.
Like Sessay, from Sierra Leone, who was forced to marry a 50-year-old man when she was just 14. She bore her first child at 15. Two years later, she fell pregnant with twins, and suffered a fatal haemorrhage during the birth, her body too underdeveloped to handle the pregnancy. She was just 18 when she died.
With little or no access to contraception along with poor facilities, in Sierra Leone, a woman dies in childbirth every two minutes, and the infant death rate is amongst the highest in the world. Worse, even if they survive, families are left with less access to basic necessities - like food, or education, creating a never-ending cycle of poverty.
This year, 100,000 women will die in childbirth from unintended pregnancies, and 600,000 babies born to women who didn’t want to be pregnant die in their first month of life.
Ahead of the Family Planning Summit held in London last night, co-hosted by the British Government, Melinda Gates – wife of Microsoft boss Bill Gates – spoke to Grazia about her determination to stop these needless deaths.
‘Most Western women don’t understand just how fortunate they are when it comes to deciding if and when to have children’, says mother-of-three Melinda. ‘When I thought about having children, it never occurred to me that if I had been born elsewhere I might not have a say in one of the most important decisions of my life. Many women in the poorest countries are still denied this basic right. More than 200 million women don’t have access to contraceptives.’
To date, Melinda and Bill have donated more than £17billion to their charity, The Gates Foundation, which helps people in over 100 countries around the world. Now, the foundation, which co-sponsored last week’s summit, is launching a multi-billion pound family planning initiative intended to bring services to 120 million more women in developing countries by 2020.
‘Bill and I have always believed that all lives have equal value, and that all people should have the chance to lead a healthy, productive life’, says Melinda, 47. ‘But, as we travelled and talked to more and more people it became clear to us that most don’t have this opportunity.’
And it’s a situation that needs desperate attention. ‘Last year, I visited a slum in Nairobi to learn more about family planning in Africa’, says Melinda. ‘The women were taking turns explaining why they use birth control. At the end, one woman said, “I want to bring every good thing to one child before I have another.” This surely is what every mother wants.’
Sadly for Sessay, the help she so desperately needed was too late. But as a result of the summit held last night, 120 million more women and girls who want to plan their families will have access to contraceptives by 2020 - 24 million as a result of British aid.
Why not join Melinda in making sure the future is not so bleak for other women…
To help raise awareness and donate to Melinda’s cause, please visit www.no-controversy.org.