Holy Hormones Honey! Beware of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Although this appears on the surface to be a noble effort on the part of the Gates Foundation – many feminists and reproductive rights activists are quite concerned about the hidden agenda – as well as forcing women into taking injections and implants that drip synthetic hormones into their bodies. This ‘Gatesway’ may indeed be the end to reproductive freedom and the beginning of coercive contraception and forced sterilization.
Will World Population Day Open the Gates to Coercive Contraception?
by Betsy Hartmann
July 9, 2012
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.
Betsy Hartmann is the Director of the Population and Development Program and Professor of Development Studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. A longstanding activist in the international women’s health movement, she writes and speaks on the intersection of reproductive rights, environmental and climate justice, and peace. See http://www.BetsyHartmann.com and http://popdev.hampshire.edu.