START A PETITION 25,136,189 members: the world's largest community for good
START A PETITION
x
912,144 people care about Women's Rights

Will World Population Day Open the Gates to Coercive Contraception?

Will World Population Day Open the Gates to Coercive Contraception?

 

Written by Betsy Hartmann

On July 11, World Population Day, the British government and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are hosting an international Family Planning Summit in London to launch an ambitious $4 billion contraceptive program initiated by Melinda Gates. Its aim is to get 120 million poor women, mainly in Africa and South Asia, access to modern contraception as well as to stimulate research into new birth control methods.

On the surface it all sounds good, wrapped in the language of saving and empowering women. But many reproductive health and human rights activists worry that the summit represents a serious backslide to the bad old days of population control when contraception was deployed as a technical fix to reduce birthrates. Indeed, the Gates Foundation’s family planning strategy blames population growth for exacerbating all matter of social ills, from stressing government budgets to contributing significantly to “the global burden of disease, environmental degradation, poverty and conflict.” It as if the fertility of poor women causes these problems, and not the exploitative policies and practices of the rich and powerful.

A recent critical statement issued by the Center for Reproductive Rights, Amnesty International, and three international women’s networks calls for human rights to be at the center of the forthcoming summit. Signed by over 320 women’s groups and activists from around the globe, the statement points to the danger of a return to coercive contraception and forced sterilization. “The Family Planning Summit must ensure that the clocks are not put back on women’s human rights: women’s autonomy and agency to decide freely on matters related to sexual and reproductive health without any discrimination, coercion or violence must be protected under all circumstances.”

These fears are justified. The Gates initiative focuses on India, for example, where the government’s family planning program, supported by international donors including the U.K. government, is forcibly sterilizing poor women from disadvantaged communities, especially in the states of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. An April 15 expose in the London Observer describes cases of pregnant women being sterilized and bleeding to death after miscarrying. While donors are not directly implicated in these practices, their failure to adequately monitor how their funds are used contributes to the abuse.

A certain political blindness is at work in the Gates initiative. The assumption is that you can just pour in money and contraceptives to health and family programs that already discriminate against the poor and miraculously they will turn around and help women. Add to this the imperative to drive down birthrates and you get a recipe for coercion.

But coercion is not the only problem. Another serious concern is which contraceptives Gates and its associates are pushing, and why. Even when population programs don’t employ force, they often limit contraceptive choice to long-acting methods like injectables and implants that are viewed as more effective in preventing pregnancy and hence reducing population growth. What is the safest and most appropriate method for the individual woman is simply not the priority.

The hormonal injectable Depo Provera is a case in point. For over a decade now, studies have pointed to a possible link between Depo Provera use and increased risk of acquiring HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS. In October 2011 the British medical journal, The Lancet, published the results of a study which found that Depo may double the risk of women and their male partners acquiring HIV. The study sent shock waves through the international population community, since Depo Provera is their method of choice for Africa.

Precaution would dictate that Depo be phased out in populations at high risk of AIDS, but instead the World Health Organization has thrown caution to the wind. At a meeting in February the WHO decided to continue its “no restrictions” policy on the use of hormonal contraception, only adding the stipulation that women on injectables like Depo also use condoms to prevent HIV infection. Present at the meeting was only one HIV-positive woman from Africa.

At a time when Depo Provera should be under intense scrutiny, the Gates initiative is vigorously promoting it, along with a Chinese hormonal implant, as the two main contraceptive technical fixes for sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The foundation is enthusiastic about a new version of Depo that can be injected under the skin instead of intramuscularly. This will allow it to be delivered by nonmedical providers and maybe even by women themselves. In other words, little or no health screening and counseling, or concern for a possible heightened risk of acquiring HIV.

There is no doubt that women and girls should have the right to safe and affordable contraception and abortion as part of, not a substitute for, broader programs that address the full range of their reproductive and sexual health needs. That broader agenda is what feminists fought so hard to achieve at the UN’s 1994 population in Cairo. Women’s health activists have also fought long and hard to direct contraceptive development away from dangerous methods like high-dose estrogen pills and the Dalkon Shield IUD and to ensure that health and safety, not corporate profits and population control, motivate research in the field. All these gains are now under threat as a dark cloud hangs over World Population Day.

This post was originally published by Common Dreams.

 

Related Stories:

Melinda Gates Investing Billions In Contraception

Contraception Can Change the World — And It Has

New Jersey Man Denied Emergency Contraception Because He’s A Man

 

Read more: , , , ,

Photo: Gates Foundation/flickr

have you shared this story yet?

some of the best people we know are doing it

74 comments

+ add your own
6:05AM PDT on Jul 17, 2012

This is a real "double-edged"sword.There is no doubt that the world's population is out of control,and needs to be stabilised.I have heard that the Gates Foundation is working also to slip contraceptives into vaccines,which one has to say is a little unethical?!However,there is nothing more tragic than the media images of thousands of starving women in Africa,lining up for food aid,with about ten starving children each!These women need empowering and access to contraception,especially those who under Islamic law,apparently can't say NO if their husband demands sex?!Even China's one child policy hasn't worked very well,as now they have an imbalance of too many boys!Kidnapping of girls to become forced brides actually happens in China!Abortions are rife there too,a very dangerous form of contraception!

1:31PM PDT on Jul 15, 2012

Democracy calls for reproductive freedom, but many places where family planning has not been availble need this service. One thing women do not need is more children who they cannot take care of.

1:54PM PDT on Jul 13, 2012

Over population IS a BIG problem and isnt The Gates Foundation trying to help with that? Did it say they were offering forced sterilization to EVERY woman? ANY woman? Alot of or most of these woman have NO type of birth control available to them. I don't think we are returning to Nazi Times here.

1:47PM PDT on Jul 13, 2012

Wow. Let's just put Mrs. Gates down, shall we? This article is NOT very nice about her at all. I respect her for what she is doing. I don't think she is going to be standing over anyone forcing them to do anything. Just my opinion.

6:23AM PDT on Jul 13, 2012

This article is misleading, and makes me wonder if there is another agenda. Finally, after years of ignoring the problems wrought by overpopulation and lack of access to contraception, something is being done about it: the Gates Foundation is publicizing the issue, and the UN is also addressing it -- and this writer is undermining these efforts by suggesting that access to contraception somehow leads to coerced sterilization???

So under what circumstances, if any, is it appropriate to talk about limiting family sizes? To provide birth control to women who don't want their existing children to face more hunger and deprivation because their mother is unable to stop adding to the size of the family? To protect the health of women who unwillingly get pregnant every year, rather than being able to space out their pregnancies to no more frequent than one every three years? We don't get to even have those important conversations, because they might lead to coerced sterilization? Are you kidding???

8:32AM PDT on Jul 12, 2012

coercion does not make it eugenics. if they go through and select individuals who are deemed less desirable-ugly, stupid, weak, whatever-and only sterilize those, then it is eugenics, otherwise it is not. and if they allow one or two children before sterilization, then it absolutely is NOT eugenics, it is (much needed) population control. this significantly raises my opinion of the Gates foundation.

9:07AM PDT on Jul 11, 2012

When women have access to the means to get out of poverty, they have fewer children. When women are loaned the money and taught how to run their own businesses, they have fewer children. Women can learn to prevent pregnancy naturally in an egalitarian relationship. Invest in poor women not forced sterilization.

7:10AM PDT on Jul 11, 2012

I love the Big Bang Theory and I watch it whenever it is on. One of the character's who is from India uttered this line. "We do not allow our poor to have dreams."
This made me stop, a sentence like this was said on a light hearted comedy? Then it really made me think. If writers are using an international tragedy like the social inequity and the horrendous poverty to write comedy lines, what the hell is going on with the world? Have we become so used to seeing children starve or women being abused and murdered that we can laugh at it? And now the solution, contraceptives.
It would be a great solution if they would be used in a fair and equitable, giving women the choice to be able to control their fertility and better their lives. The trouble is, these countries are not fair and they won't better anyone's live. They will be used to stop the poor from reproducing in order to find a so called solution to the problem of poverty. It will be used not as an aid to women, but as a blunt instrument to reduce troublesome numbers, and those numbers nearly always come from the very poor and the most socially and economically vulnerable. I am a huge fan of birth control, but to women who are willing participants, not women who will be forced to take it whether they want to or not.
This is one step away from eugenics and that was a huge social failure that affected thousands of people in the countries that practiced it. And lets not forget Nazi Germany.
I hope that if this progra

4:10AM PDT on Jul 11, 2012

Controlling population is good and all, but do you know who last really liked to use forced sterilization? The Nazis! As soon as you start getting into eugenics you approach a slippery slope...

A person is a person. Just because they're poor or uneducated doesn't mean their genes are worse, or that they deserve to be sterilized. There are plenty of better ways to go about things like this. However, I still applaud Ms. Gates, and I don't believe that she is condoning actions like forced sterilization. I'm sure she finds it just as hard to believe as I do that things like that still happen.

4:10AM PDT on Jul 11, 2012

Controlling population is good and all, but do you know who last really liked to use forced sterilization? The Nazis! As soon as you start getting into eugenics you approach a slippery slope...

A person is a person. Just because they're poor or uneducated doesn't mean their genes are worse, or that they deserve to be sterilized. There are plenty of better ways to go about things like this. However, I still applaud Ms. Gates, and I don't believe that she is condoning actions like forced sterilization. I'm sure she finds it just as hard to believe as I do that things like that still happen.

add your comment



Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

ads keep care2 free
Story idea? Want to blog? Contact the editors!
ads keep care2 free



Select names from your address book   |   Help
   

We hate spam. We do not sell or share the email addresses you provide.