Give teenage girls access to contraceptives and help them escape the poverty trap, says Melinda Gates

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Increasing poorer women’s access to contraception would help reduce the flow of migrants heading for Europe, Melinda Gates claimed today.

Mrs Gates, who is a trustee of the world’s largest private philanthropic organisation and is married to Microsoft founder Bill, said societies where women have control of family planning are more likely to enjoy “peace and stability”.

Speaking before today’s Family Planning Summit in London, Mrs Gates also said that teenagers having contraception was the difference between an “on-ramp to life or an exit ramp”, with adolescent girls never able to leave a “cycle of poverty” if they have a baby.

She told the Standard: “If you invest in family planning, fewer people in developing countries will risk their family’s lives on the high seas to come to Europe. [Contraception] helps women stay in education and get jobs, which helps create peace and stability and means people are more likely to stay where they are.”

It came as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged an additional $375 million (£291 million) over the next four years for global family planning efforts, while the Government said it would increase its annual spending by £45 million for five years.

This is alongside a number of policy and financial commitments from developing nations, donor countries, the private sector and charities to reach the 214 million women and girls in developing countries with an unmet need for contraceptives. 

Reaching these women would stop an estimated 67 million unintended pregnancies each year and prevent  the deaths of 76,000 women from pregnancy-related complications.

Mrs Gates, a Roman Catholic, said she had been convinced of the need for more funding for contraception after talking to women in developing countries: “They would tell me the difference it would make in their lives if they could space the births of their children. 

“I know the difference contraceptives made in my own life — they allowed me to go to college, to get a great job, allowed me to decide after I got married how long before I had a child.”

Today’s summit, hosted by the UK Government, the United Nations Population Fund and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will focus particularly on how to help teenage girls access contraceptives. “When you talk to girls, they’ll tell you: for me, this isn’t family planning, it’s future planning. It gives them what they want to reach their potential,” said Mrs Gates. 

The money will be used to gather data on adolescents’ contraceptive needs, to employ technology including mobile phones to improve the quality of information available for women, and to address the bias young people face from healthcare providers.

Mrs Gates also hailed Sayana Press — a device which allows women to give themselves a contraceptive jab — as a gamechanger for women worldwide, and said the Foundation will invest in finding other new contraceptives. 

Research suggests that for every £1 invested in family planning, governments save up to £6, and that universal access to reproductive health services would lead to economic benefits globally of more than $430 billion (£334 million) each year. Mrs Gates said: “This is smart aid.”

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