We would like to thank CNN for reaching out and providing an interview with Melinda Gates at the London Summit on Family Planning with Christiane Amanpour.
The Wednesday, July 12th edition of CNN International’s Amanpour featured an interview with Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Jane Otai, senior community advisor of the Kenya Urban Reproductive from the London Summit on Family Planning about why family planning education is so important for women and families in developing countries.
Transcript courtesy of “CNN International’s Amanpour”.
Please watch the video interview here.
You can also read the full transcript below.
AMANPOUR: Melinda Gates, thank you so much for joining me from that conference in London.
MELINDA GATES, CO-CHAIR, BILL & MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION: Thanks for having me.
AMANPOUR: Why is it that family planning, reproductive health rights, have sort of fallen off the map? I mean, we used to hear a lot about population control, about birth control, and yet not so much anymore.
GATES: And I think that’s because it became a very controversial issue because we were doing it as a world from the top down. And that is absolutely the wrong way to do it. What we need to do is put the access in women’s hands, give women options, let them decide how they want to plan their families. And when you do that and you have the courage to do that, you will change the world. But it has to be driven by the desires of women.
AMANPOUR: I’m going to get to those controversies, because they’re also — I mean, amazingly, in a health issue, there are political and religious controversies over this. But first, I want to play a report from our David McKenzie, who went to one of the slums in Kenya — I know you’ve visited many women around the world — and he brought us back this report of what’s going on on this issue. Let’s take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lucia Akinyi is hiding something from her husband, and she wants to share her secret.
LUCIA AKINYI (through translator): He wanted all these kids so he can name them after the mother, other family members, who knows who else. It’s like he married me just to be pregnant. It’s a secret. It’s a total secret.
MCKENZIE: After five children, Lucia took the risk of upsetting him, sneaking off to a clinic for a contraceptive injection. Every three months, she sneaks off again. The little she earns washing clothes, barely enough to feed her children.
AKINYI (through translator): Now, I am the one who has the problem. It is my body that has deteriorated. He doesn’t know what the kids eat. He doesn’t know what they wear. And this house isn’t a house that should be having seven people. I am the one who worries about the kids.
MCKENZIE: Lucia says she’s up against the community, not just her husband. In Korogocho slum, many believe that contraceptives can lead to deformities or to cancer, and are only for prostitutes. And then there’s the local church.
FATHER JOHN WEBOOSTA: I tell my congregation that contraceptives are dangerous. They are dangerous to them and also to the generation that they bring home. They need to bring children in the world whom they can afford to take care.
MCKENZIE (voice-over): He says that means couples should practice self-restraint. But Lucia and the women here will tell you, it’s not that simple. They say the power relationship between men and women isn’t equal. So they band together to learn about contraceptives and gain the courage to use them. But often that isn’t enough. Government clinics hampered by underfunding and logistical problems frequently run out of contraceptives.
JANE OTAI, SENIOR COMMUNITY ADVISOR, KENYA URBAN REPRODUCTIVE: So that really becomes a tragedy, because here she is. She has decided I only want five children and I have the number of children now I want, or even have more than what I would have loved. Actually got (inaudible) and there is no (inaudible). There is no contraceptive. There is no family planning method that she would like to use.
MCKENZIE: The shacks in Korogocho are completely crammed together like this, sometimes six, seven, even eight people of a family living together in just one room, and mothers say they can’t cope.
MCKENZIE (voice-over): In the daytime, it’s OK, but at night the children come back from school or day care. This is Lucia’s worst time. It’s when she feels overwhelmed.
All she wants is the best for her children, she says. But she’s willing to risk everything for that — David McKenzie, CNN, Korogocho, Kenya.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Jane Otai, let me turn to you for a moment. You appeared in that report. So let me ask you, how difficult is it for these women, these poor women who appear to want it and need it to actually get the contraceptive?
OTAI: Women in the urban slum communities have difficulties in accepting contraceptives. Many times when they get to the health facilities, the health facilities do not have the method of family planning that they would like to have.
And therefore they have either to go and buy these commodities in the shops or just do without them for a few days until the health facility has some of these commodities. And this is quite tragic for them, because they want to space their children —
AMANPOUR: Yes, they want to space their children. I want to ask you what —
OTAI: — (inaudible).
AMANPOUR: — you — what you thought of what the young woman in that report said that, you know, her husband does not give her the option for spacing the children. How do you deal with that if they’re meant to rely just on self-restraint? How do they convince their husbands, in the absence of birth control, that they should be spacing their pregnancies?
OTAI: By involving men. We are going to start talking to men and having men champion, so that men can talk to their fellow men about family planning, because we realize that men don’t listen to women. But when we use males, men who are champions in family planning, they can be able then to support their spouses, to be able to control the number of children that they can have. So we have messages for men. We are going to develop messages for men that are going to get them to be convinced that family planning is beneficial to them, even as men in these communities.
AMANPOUR: Jane Otai, thank you very much. I want to turn again to Melinda Gates. You have obviously seen, and you know the controversy that’s being raised now in the blogosphere, in certain parts of the Catholic Church. You heard the preacher in that report say that he actually tells his congregation that contraception is dangerous. How do you counter that kind of attitude?
GATES: I think you go to where the social justice mission of the church is, which is to save women’s lives and to save babies’ lives and to help families lift themselves up. And you have to give women options. And ultimately you let a woman choose. She may choose to naturally space her family, or she may choose a modern contraceptive method. But ultimately, it’s about having options.
And one of the options that women choose in Africa, a very popular method, is an injection, because they can go to a clinic and get it and not have their spouse know that, in fact, they get an injection.
AMANPOUR: You yourself, Melinda, are a practicing Catholic. You know that this goes counter to official Catholic doctrine. How have you wrestled with what you now want to take on as your life’s work?
GATES: Because I am Catholic and I — as you say, and I grew up with this beautiful mission of the church about social justice. It says all lives — all lives are important on this planet, and we should honor those lives. And when I go out and travel the past decade for the foundation, I see these beautiful lives, but I see families struggling. I say to myself, that’s the part of the mission I believe in.
And I need to make sure that all women have tools, the same tools we have access in the United States to, so that women can choose to space the birth of their children, save their own lives, feed their children and ultimately educate them. And that, too, is part of my religion, and that’s the part that I’m honoring.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you to react to this, the very influential U.K. “Catholic Herald,” says that “It’s always a disappointment when a public figure of great wealth, standing or power explains that although they are loyal Catholics, they think church teaching is wrong — predictably on moral issues.” So, Melinda, do you think you lack when it comes to moral standing?
GATES: I think I have an unbelievable moral standing and I think if a lot of these people traveled in the developing world the way we do, the way you do, Christiane, and they saw the life-and-death crisis that a woman is in every day — I was just in Niger, Senegal, the last four days before coming to this conference. And I met a woman named Sadie.
And she said to me, “I have six children. Why didn’t anybody tell me until after the birth of my third child that I could actually plan their births and space them?” She said, “It would be a whole different life for me and for my children. I don’t want this life for my children. I want to feed them and let them be educated.”
That’s what I want. That’s me giving her those options. That’s also living out incredible morality in the world.
AMANPOUR: Let me ask you to react to what I think are quite extraordinary figures. The U.K. minister for international development — and, of course, the U.K. government is partnering with you in this effort – – has said that if this program is successful, it could lead to 100 million fewer unwanted pregnancies, 200,000 lives saved and, here, 50 million abortions averted.
Is that not a figure that you can take to the Catholic hierarchy and show them, that this could actually help in that area where they are obviously so concerned?
GATES: Yes, and the — and the other figure, which is we will save the lives of 3 million babies over the next eight years. So to be able to avert 50 million abortions and be able to save — no woman wants to be in that situation. But because we haven’t offered access to contraceptives in the villages where the women live, in Nairobi, in Korogocho in the slums, we’re putting women in that situation.
We don’t need to do that. We can simply give them contraception. And that’s where I think we can built constituency around that, both inside religious organizations and with many, many women and men around the world.
AMANPOUR: So what is your next step? You’re here, you’ve promised this money. You’ve said that it’s your life’s work. You’re obviously prepared to take on the Catholic Church, the hierarchy on this. What is your next step in trying to make what you call this common-sense argument, even in the economic field? You’ve called it a virtuous economic circle if families are more sensibly planned.
GATES: Well, we know from incredible research that was done in Bangladesh in the late 1970s that if you give a community, a woman, access to contraceptives, we know that she’s healthier. We know her children stay alive and are healthier.
We know the family is wealthier and those children get educated. And what that leads to is self-sustainability, where the family can plan, feed the children, educate them and it ultimately lifts up a community and a region.
And guess what? It does lead to economic growth. And I think that’s an argument that all leaders accept. Families want to get on the path to self-sustainability. They don’t want to have aid forever, and we can offer that.
AMANPOUR: Melinda Gates, thank you so much for joining me from London. And, of course, Jane Otai as well, who does so much work on urban health care over there in Kenya. Both of you, thanks for joining me from London.
GATES: Thank you.
OTAI: Thank you very much.