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I’m All in on Women

Analysis Suzanne Ehlers, Former President and CEO

Sandwiched between the State of the Union address and the anniversary of Roe v. Wade is another January tradition: the release of Bill and Melinda Gates’ Annual Letter. International development practitioners like me read the letter to learn from their projections and trend forecasting. Our community of family planning crusaders has also watched the letter carefully in recent years to monitor the foundation’s commitment to women’s access to contraception.

This year’s letter talks of “big bets” for the next 15 years, and does not mention family planning by name. It talks of access to contraception and information about spacing pregnancies safely. It speaks to the issue of child health and survival, and of making childbirth safer. And though our beloved monikers of “family planning” and “reproductive health” are nowhere to be found, I am not discouraged. I see our vital issues everywhere—and not just in the health section.

As I read the letter, I found myself visualizing the face of a woman. From climate adaptation to food security, banking and livelihoods to education, quite frankly none of it is happening without women. Or rather, none of it will happen—in a sustainable and meaningful manner—without the full participation of women. That is, the participation of women as leaders, as change agents, as educators, and as participants in the workforce.

GuatemalaWomanFace-1018x1024-300x300How do we ensure their participation? For starters, with quality care from their doctors and with multiple forms of contraception available for use at every twist and turn of their reproductive (or non-reproductive) lives.

The Gates’ describe their big bets with powerful prose, impactful statistics and meaningful stories. I’m placing my big bet on women—wherever they may be and at whatever age we reach them. I’m anteing up for:

An infant girl getting the kangaroo care she needs on one of her parents’ chests.

A toddler getting a fire truck for her birthday rather than a Frozen dress (although my little Dahlia could drive a forklift or run a Fortune 500 company in her tattered princess gowns).

An adolescent getting the education and information she needs to evolve as a human with sexual and reproductive needs and desires.

A young woman who can go on to get that Master’s degree, while living with her partner and not starting a family.

A young mother who can switch between IUDs and other relevant methods as she decides whether to have another child.

A woman who, at the end of her childbearing years, finds herself pregnant and seeks to terminate—safely, legally and with dignity.

And, finally, a wise woman of years who guides the next generation of feminists as we seek answers and solutions to the problems of gender inequality that persist year after year, decade after decade, generation after generation.

I’m betting on her, and I am confident I’ll come out winning.

This piece was originally published on the Huffington Post.

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