I am an advocate for women’s and girls’ rights. I am a Nobel Laureate. I am a fighter for peace. I am a woman.
In these roles, I am honored to join the global chorus of voices with Melinda Gates and family planning advocates around the world to change the conversation on contraception. I am a mother of six children.
How can we possibly be sincere about women’s empowerment if family planning is taken out of the discourse?
People who’ve heard me speak before, read my books, or read about me know how hard I’ve fought for peace in Liberia, and on behalf of women and girls, and throughout Africa. They know how strong my belief is in women’s empowerment. Here’s what I know to be true: if you’re talking about true peace building and you leave out women, you haven’t done peace building. If you talk about the empowerment of women without looking at their reproductive rights – including their ability to plan for when or whether they will have a child, you will not empower women or girls.
This is why I feel so strongly about family planning.
In communities where women suffer from extreme poverty, family planning is so important. It’s not hard to understand that it’s this lack of access to family planning which is a major source of poverty for women. In very poor communities, the burden of caring for the children lies on the shoulder of the mother. The more children a woman has, the less opportunity she has for economic empowerment. Also, the second largest threat to girls’ empowerment, in developing countries, is teen pregnancy. So if we are to talk about empowerment, we must talk about how to start the family planning conversation for girls and women.
But how do we do this if family planning is so politicized around the world? No one seems to want to discuss it. It’s why I support Melinda Gates’ and the Gates Foundation’s family planning initiative.
One of the most disappointing issues for me, as an activist, has been that this topic is called “too controversial.” But how can we possibly be sincere about women’s empowerment if family planning is taken out of the discourse? How can we nurture the next generation of girls to be world leaders if we are not providing sex education, reproductive health care and access to contraception?
It simply does not work. We must be practical and understand what’s happening when it comes to the women we hope to empower. I’ll tell you why.
What you see in our communities, is that when girls leave their villages and come to urban areas to go to school, the biggest threat to their lives is not rape, but figuring out how to stay in school. They have no education about their reproductive health or information about family planning so they find a man to provide for them. The dream to go to school ends after they have their first child. There are many determined young women who have the potential to be Nobel Laureates like me but, without access to family planning, including sex education, they cannot fulfill this promise.
I will continue to work for women’s and girls’ empowerment in my communities and around the world because I know that’s the right thing to do. It’s been a long journey and it will certainly be longer still.
Access to family planning and women’s empowerment cannot be separated. Therefore I will stand with Melinda Gates and the Gates Foundation as we tell the world that this issue is not too controversial to discuss but, rather, not to discuss it is what should be considered controversial.
I invite you all – I urge you all – to stand with us as we continue to pave the way forward towards empowerment for women through access to family planning.
Watch the #TEDxChange conversation Thursday, April 5 at 8:30am PST/11:30am EST/5:30pm CET!