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Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Family Planning as Everyday Conversation

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April 08, 2012

How many of you reading this right now are currently using some method of family planning?

Go ahead and raise your virtual hands, and while you do, please think about how the opportunity to plan your family has changed your life, and think about the hundreds of millions of women and men around the world who would like to raise their virtual hands but don’t have access to contraception. Together, we have an opportunity to change this situation—to envision and to create a world where all hands are held high.

In a transformation talk at TEDxChange in Berlin last week, Melinda French Gates began a movement to change the conversation and to transform the field of family planning. She pointed out that there is something each of us can do to get more hands raised for family planning. We can start talking about it. We can have frank conversations about the incredible benefits to women, families, communities, and whole nations when we increase the ability of women and men to plan their families.

We know that family planning saves lives and improves health and economic development. Using birth control helps prevent those pregnancies that are too early, too late, too many, or too soon. Girls under 18 face a higher than normal risk of death or disability from pregnancy, and their babies also have more health risks. The same is true on the other end of the age spectrum, for women over 35. Similar health risks are also faced by women who have many births, or have pregnancies that are less than two years apart.

Family planning can help women and their babies avoid these risks. And all women should have equal knowledge of and access to contraceptives in order to do that. As Melinda said, there is no controversy in that.

In recent years, family planning has been on a back burner of the global health agenda, receiving less attention and funding as priorities shifted to other pressing global health problems such as AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. Those are also extremely important diseases that need attention. But because of that shift, millions of women and men are now left without a way to plan when and how many children they want to have.

To give a concrete example, the usage rate for modern contraceptives in the United States is 73 percent; in Nigeria, the largest country in Africa, it is only 10 percent, in large part because of lack of access to or information about family planning products.

It’s time to put the spotlight again on family planning to reach universal coverage of information and access to contraceptives. And it’s time for each one of us to get involved.

TEDxChange events are organized to stimulate dialogue around “ideas worth spreading.” We like to think about the ripple effect in this situation, how a small change in one place can generate a chain of events that lead to big, powerful, and positive changes in other places. Right now, we have the opportunity to be the spark that sets off that chain of events for family planning. It begins with us starting the conversation.

Melinda inspired us to do our part to start the conversation about the outrage that hundreds of millions of families don’t have access to birth control.

Our hope is that family planning becomes an everyday conversation topic, like talking about the weather or the Kentucky Wildcats with your neighbors, people on the bus, or in the office elevator. If everyone is talking about family planning and the importance of increasing access to contraceptives around the world, there can be no controversy. It saves lives. If we start talking about it in our daily lives, the ripple effect passes the ideas to other neighbors and friends, and then to community leaders, policy makers, national leaders, and global visionaries. And that is how change happens. That is how we reach 200 million women in developing countries with increased access and information about contraceptives.

And that is how millions of women become empowered to save their lives, their children’s lives, and to give their families and their nations the best possible future.

Keep your hand up and raise your voice for family planning. Start the conversation.

Please share your story of how contraceptives have changed your life at http://nocontroversy.tedxchange.org.

 
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