An African Woman’s Plea to Melinda Gates

Dear friends ~

I found this article to be both enlightening and touching, and wanted to share it with all of you. The article details a Nigerian woman’s reaction to Melinda Gates’ recent announcement that her foundation would be allocating $4.6 billion dollars to providing contraceptives in poor countries. If Bill and Melinda Gates were to spend some time talking with the women of Africa, they might find that that these funds are quite unwelcome. Unlike some Western societies, which fall into the trap of viewing children as problems rather than gifts, 32 year-old Obianuju Ekeocha of Nigeria says that her fellow Africans “love and welcome babies. The first day of every baby’s life is celebrated by the entire village.”

Ekeocha goes on to explain that with all of the daily sufferings that the African people endure, “our babies are always a firm symbol of hope, a promise of life, a reason to strive for the legacy of a bright future.” Although Africans generally talk openly about their trials, she says, “‘I have never heard a woman complain about her baby,’ either before or after birth.” What a far cry this is from Western societies, where many married couples proudly proclaim that they “don’t want children,” and where TV shows glamorize life pre-children and make parenthood seem like a chaotic mess of dirty diapers, temper tantrums, and strained marriages.

While philanthropists like Melinda Gates might be well-intentioned, they are missing the mark. What the women of Africa really need, says Ekeocha, is proper medical care during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period; in other words, women “are not dying because they are having ‘too many’ babies but because they are not getting even the most basic postpartum care.” Furthermore, Ekeocha believes that the introduction of contraceptives will do great harm to African society.

“‘I see this $4.6 billion buying us misery,” Ekeocha said. ‘I see it buying us unfaithful husbands. I see it buying us streets devoid of the innocent chatter of children. I see it buying us disease and untimely death,’ she added. ‘I see it buying us a retirement without the tender loving care of our children.’” We have only to look at the crisis of shrinking birth rates in many European countries, and the epidemic of unfaithfulness and divorce in our own, to know that she is right.

I think that we Americans have come to take the birth of a healthy child for granted, and that in the process we have lost much of the joy that comes with being a parent. I think that we love our children, but that a contraceptive mentality has warped our mentality and damaged the fabric of the American family. I think that before we try to impose contraceptives on the people of Africa, we should take a look at what they have done in our own country over the past 50 years and re-evaluate. What do you think?

God bless you all as we begin this new week!

Katrina

  • Bethany “B-mama”

    Kat, this is such an interesting topic to discuss. Thanks for posting it and drawing attention to such a poignant article! I find Obianuju’s perspective absolutely beautiful. If only Americans could look upon the life of a child as something to celebrate!

    • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com Katrina

      Me too, Bethany. I loved the part in the article where it said that Africans are much happier to embrace the Catholic church’s teaching on sexuality than Westerners – beautiful.

  • Kellie “Red”

    I think this is a great post with many great points. It makes me sad that Bill and Melinda Gates are giving their money to this type of cause.

  • Bethany “B-mama”

    A huge issue here is that the increase in sexual promiscuity (a logical effect of more widespread birth control) will continue to perpetuate the African AIDS epidemic. Obianuju alluded to the rise of sexually-transmitted diseases, but the incidence of AIDS is already well-established and will only get worse.

  • http://motheringspirit.wordpress.com/ mothering spirit

    Fascinating perspective! I can’t wait to read the full article – thanks for sharing.

  • Texas Mommy

    This is a great, thoughtful post, Kat! Thank you for sharing Obianuju’s perspective.

  • Katherine

    I applaud the women in local communities who might be affected by the Gates Foundation’s initiative to speak up about their preferences, but I’m worried about what is implicit in the argument being made. First, it suggests – perhaps unintentionally – that families who use birth control do not see children as a gift and/or are regulating their fertility for their own convenience. It makes me wonder for what other reasons, beyond the landscape with which I am familiar (the U.S.), women in other countries might choose contraceptives? What other voices and stories might be heard? One would hope that Obianuju and those who share her commitments would regularly elect not to utilize available contraceptives so as to honor their sexual moral ethic and faith tradition. If they don’t have that choice (if they are forced to use them), then there are other societal and patriarchal issues at play. I take for granted that I am in a marriage that seeks to mutually honor and protect, and I weep for women – and children – who do not experience that safety day by day.

    • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com Katrina

      Katherine ~
      I’ve been meaning to reply and am just getting around to it now, my apologies! I think that Obianuju was saying that women in Africa would be better served by learning natural methods of birth spacing (Natural Family Planning), because these methods require a commitment on the part of two committed partners. She worries that men will take advantage of contraceptives and that infidelity, STD’s , etc. will become even more prevalent in Africa.

      • Katherine

        Katrina,
        Thanks for taking the time to reply, and my apologies for the delay in responding! I hope you know how much I respect you and the choices that stem from a deeply lived faith. That’s why I felt safe pushing back a little on this piece. I agree with you that many, many women would benefit from NFP, and certainly from general education about fertility, high-risk behaviors, and prenatal care. On the other hand, there are some women – like me – for whom NFP isn’t a viable option; who actually depend on medical intervention (and sometimes even contraceptive drugs) to regulate cycles in a way that could enable conception. I also wonder whether there is statistical evidence to back-up the correlation between contraceptive availability, promiscuity, and STDs. I have no idea if African men are more, less, or equally promiscuous to American men, but there does seem to be lots of evidence that, amidst the realities of the cultural climate, the massive spread of HIV/AIDS is closely tied to the lack of protection for sexual partners. So, my hope is that there could be a both/and solution, instead of an either/or solution; one that privileges and promotes committed, strong partnerships while recognizing that not all couples enjoy that reality. Thanks for letting this be a space for conversation! I’ll be keeping all these things in prayer.

        • Kellie “Red”

          Katherine,

          I’m interested to know how contraceptive drugs can regulate cycles in a way that could enable conception? I’ve never heard of this. In my experience as an NFP counselor, I never met a couple who was helped to conceive by contraceptive drugs? In fact, use of those drugs for years prior to an attempt to achieve pregnancy only masked an underlying medical disorder and hurt the chances of conception.

  • Megan

    I completely agree with all of your thoughts! And I love how well-spoken Ekeocha is. Such wisdom!

  • pagansister

    Well done article. Tend to agree—the community should be asked if indeed they want birth control methods, or better health care for the women before and after the birth as well as care for the babies. Also give consideration to other things many of us Americans take for granted—clean water etc.

  • Doug Piero Carey

    The original post appears to be full of falsehoods. While I do find record of the Gates Foundation making large contributions to contraception (hundreds of millions), the $4B figure appears nowhere in the world’s news. The implication that Ms. Gates has not spoken with the women of Africa about this is a falsehood. I just found multiple interviews about her discussions with African women who all requesting help with contraception. The implication that the Gates Foundation does nothing for the health of pregnant or post-partum women or their children is a falsehood. I easily found a 2010 about Gates’ $1.5B donation to Save The Children and Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition to address exactly these issues. May I suggest the original poster learn to Google before she writes? That’s assuming truth and falsehood matter to this writer.

    • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com Katrina

      Doug ~
      Thanks for your comment, I’ll do some further research and get back to you. I do find your suggestion that truth and falsehood do not matter to me to be quite uncharitable and unnecessary. Also, I did not imply that the Gates foundation does nothing to help women and children post-partum, simply that their funds for contraception would be better used in this direction. What the women and men of Africa need is to learn natural methods of birth spacing (Natural Family Planning), which are easy to learn and require a strong commitment on the part of two partners. Indeed, I have heard great success stories of teaching NFP in Africa – the teachers report that African couples are happy to learn a way to space the birth of their children if they so desire, and that these natural methods mesh very well with their mindset and traditions.

      • Brian Westley

        I agree with doug; you didn’t even make a minimal check into what the Gates foundation does with its money. I also agree with him (and disagree with you) about how your article implies that the Gates foundation does nothing for the health of pregnant women:

        “While philanthropists like Melinda Gates might be well-intentioned, they are missing the mark. What the women of Africa really need, says Ekeocha, is proper medical care during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period”

        By saying Melinda Gates is “missing the mark,” the above strongly implies that no money is going towards “proper medical care during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period.”

      • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com Katrina

        Brian, I appreciate your comment, but I think that everyone is well aware that the Gates foundation gives large sums of money to Save the Children and other such charities. I apologize for implying that they give solely to contraception, but I doubt that anyone walked away thinking that Bill and Melinda Gates give no money to charities benefiting women and children’s health.
        Truly, though, Melinda Gates feels very strongly about making artificial contraception available to all women – you can read below:
        http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/09/opinion/gates-contraception-families/index.html
        What I find so striking is that she doesn’t mention Natural Family Planning, which honors and respects women so much more profoundly than any artificial contraceptive. It requires a firm commitment on the part of both husband and wife, and decreases the likelihood of infidelity and STD’s dramatically.

      • Doug Piero Carey

        @Katrina (the original poster) you are correct, my suggestion that truth and falsehood did not matter to you was uncharitable and unnecessary. I do not know you at all, let alone well enough to be judgmental towards you. I wish I could take those words back, unsaid, but I can’t. May I ask you please forgive me instead.

        • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com Katrina

          Thanks, Doug, yes of course I forgive you and appreciate your apology very much. Thank you for pointing out that my mistakes and for prompting me to dig a bit deeper for the true figures. I appreciate your readership and hope you continue to comment on our blog!

  • http://www.twitter.com/beliefbeat Nicole Neroulias

    If women doesn’t want contraception, they don’t have to use it! Doesn’t mean that there aren’t others who will gladly – if perhaps quietly, given the judgment that they’ll receive from posters like this – benefit from the option to space their blessings apart by more years, resulting in healthier pregnancies and children.

    • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com Katrina

      Hi Nicole ~
      I just responded to Katherine with a similar comment…Obianuju feels that the women of Africa would be better served in learning natural methods of birth spacing (Natural Family Planning), because this requires a commitment on the part of two committed partners. There is nothing wrong with spacing the birth of children, and NFP allows couples to have regular conversations about how their family is doing, what is prudent, etc.

      • http://www.twitter.com/beliefbeat Nicole Neroulias

        The Gates Foundation supports whatever method women want to use. Melinda Gates has specifically included cycle beads in her speeches on this initiative. But NFP doesn’t work for everyone, for various reasons, just as condoms or birth control pills or hormone shots are not a one-size-fits-all solution for anyone. Let’s give women equal access to all the safe, legal options and trust that they can decide what’s best for their own families and belief systems.

  • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com Katrina

    Okay, so it looks like the $4.6 billion dollar figure was actually a pledge that was made by global leaders at the London Summit on Family Planning, and the Gates Foundation only donated $560 million. The summit itself was hosted by the Gates Foundation and the Department for International Development (DFID). I apologize for saying that Bill and Melinda Gates donated the $4.6 billion dollars entirely from their own funds. Their goal had been to raise $4 billion for contraceptives, and they exceeded their goal to raise $4.6 billion. See below:
    http://allafrica.com/stories/201207130063.html

  • Nico

    Please take a couple of hours and review the several talks that Global Health professor Hans Rosling has made with his innovative gapminder software that clearly demonstrates how the disparity of Africa and the rest of the world occurs. The numbers make a clear argument that Obianuju’s opinion, while certainly traditional, is actually the reason that they have been held back developmentally. While she is certainly in her right to hold that opinion for herself, asking the rest of the continent to reject what they prefer based on her sentiments is simple minded.

  • http://atlantarofters.blogspot.com The Sanity Inspector

    The African woman is right. Rich First World secularists view children as mouths and stomachs, a drain on resources. Many Asian countries in mid-century, in their drive to modernize, imported this attitude, to their enduring cost. An extraordinarily timely book, Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men, by Mara Hvistendahl, documents how Asia wound up with its famous sex-imbalance. Western NGOs of decades past, possessed with fear of overpopulation, pushed large scale birth control efforts onto the developing world. Couple access to modern medicine, traditional preferences for boys, and lack of respect for human rights, and you get abominations like China’s one child policy, and worse abominations like female-specific abortion. The resulting demographic bulge of males is the mother, so to speak, of all unintended consequences. The Africans will be wise to stay away from any further such programs.

  • John Worden

    The lady brings up a great point. Doing good doesn’t begin with simply ‘doing good’. Asking those people you’re attempting to help would be an excellent place to start. And, not just those you know who already agree with you. Broaden your horizon.

  • Katherine Harms

    I think this whole conversation reveals that when it comes to talking about people as if they were not present, the advocates of free contraception as a universal preventive for the disease of pregnancy take the cake. The original post related the feelings of an African woman. Hardly anyone really took account of that, other than the original poster. Everybody wanted to be sure to get in a word for the agenda of people other than the women in Africa. Please! Stop and listen. Pregnancy is not a disease, and many people rejoice in both pregnancy and children. The creation of some universal human right to free contraception is a political idea. There is no such right, and in many places, there is no such expectation. The world needs many things, but universal free contraception is not one of them.

  • nnmns

    Obianuju Ekeocha speaks for herself and, who knows, maybe for people paying her or urging her to say what she does. She certainly does not speak for the women and families of Africa any more than any other one person could. But if people thought she did, she could do a great deal of harm to the women and families of Africa by managing to deny them access to effective contraception they could all profitably use and many would choose to use. And you, Katrina, are trying to do that very thing. I encourage you to think hard before you try to deny rights, or the access to use those rights, to other people.

  • idea1013

    While the birth of every child is a beautiful things and should be celebrated, the reality of the situation is that infant and child mortality rates continue to rise on the continent as a whole. Tens of thousands of children are dying in Africa every year because they do not have access to appropriate amounts of food, clean water and medical care. Giving the women of Africa a choice to access contraceptives that will allow for better family planning is a blessing. Not to focus on the dark side of the issue, but 1 in 3 women in South Africa suffer at least one rape in their life time, often without recourse. Again, contraceptives could prove to be a blessing in these conditions. Natural family planning, while great for some, certainly doesn’t protect those women.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X