Good morning, Broadsheet readers! We have special treat for you this Valentine’s (or should I say Galentine’s) Day: Today’s newsletter is guest edited by Melinda Gates (@melindagates), co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. I think you’ll enjoy her essay—on the life-transforming power of access to contraception—and news story picks, all of which take on even greater resonance in light of the Foundation’s annual letter, which was just released this morning. Enjoy your Tuesday.
A WORD FROM MELINDA GATES
• The power of planning. Growing up in a Catholic household in Texas, I never would have guessed that I would one day travel around the world talking about the benefits of contraceptives. I certainly never imagined that I’d speak out publicly about my own experience with family planning. But these days, I’m doing a lot of both.
Everything changed when Bill and I started our foundation. I started traveling to places where women were getting pregnant too young, too old, and too often for their bodies to handle. I visited communities where everyone I met knew a woman who had died in childbirth. I visited communities where every woman I met had lost a child. I met still more mothers who were desperate not to get pregnant again because they couldn’t afford to feed and take care of the children they already had. And I began to understand why, even though I wasn’t there to talk about contraceptives, women kept bringing them up anyway.
After spending time with these women, I found it impossible to turn my back on them. I thought about them all the time. I also started reflecting on just how transformative contraceptives have been in my own life.
It’s no accident that my three kids were born three years apart—or that I didn’t have my first child until I’d finished graduate school and devoted a decade to my career at Microsoft. My family, my career, my life as I know it are all the direct result of contraceptives. And now, I realize how lucky that makes me.
Even as I write this, there are 225 million women in the world who do not want to get pregnant but do not have access to modern contraceptives. A recent change to U.S. global health policy will soon drive that number up even higher. And as we continue to debate this issue, I think it’s important that all of us understand its stakes from the perspective of the women whose families and futures hang in the balance.
For many of these women, the ability to plan their pregnancies is nothing less than a matter of life and death. Last year alone, family planning tools helped avert the deaths of 124,000 women. Healthier women have healthier children, so the impact of contraceptives ripples across generations. When women space the births of their children by at least three years, their babies are twice as likely to survive their first year of life—and 35% more likely to live to see their fifth birthday.
What’s more, contraceptives are often a key determining factor in whether a woman is able to lift her family out of poverty. Research shows that women with access to family planning tools not only tend to have fewer children, they also tend to have higher individual and household incomes. Their kids spend more time in school, increasing the economic potential of the next generation, too.
The stories behind these statistics are powerful and personal. A few years ago, I met a woman in Kenya who had just started a small business sewing backpacks out of denim scraps. She hoped this new income would help her give her three kids a better life, but she was very aware that her ability to keep the business at all depended on her ability to delay her next pregnancy.
A woman I met in India last spring told me a similar story. She was planning to go back to work as soon as her youngest daughter was old enough to start school. And while she was excited about what the extra income would mean for her family, she was also excited simply because she loved her job as a teacher. Contraceptives not only empowered her economically—they empowered her to be who she wanted to be in the world.
These days, when I meet with leaders who still aren’t convinced that contraceptives deserve a place on the agenda, here’s what I tell them: If you care about giving children a chance at a healthy future, if you care about giving women a chance to take their families from poverty to prosperity, and if you care about giving poor countries the chance to become rich ones, then you must care about contraceptives.
Both evidence and experience show that empowered women are drivers of progress, creators of wealth, and the world’s greatest force for transforming societies. The women I met overseas are ready and willing to contribute to a better future for all of us. We should take it on ourselves to make sure they have that chance. —Melinda Gates
MELINDA’S NEWS PICKS
• Tech’s the ticket. Ellevest CEO Sallie Krawcheck provides a refreshing perspective on how technology is empowering working women. Easy access to information about compensation and company culture is helping women find opportunities that are right for them—and advocate for themselves once they do. And online professional women’s networks are making it easier than ever for women to support one another and unite around shared values. These trends bode well for professional women eager for equality. Harvard Business Review
• Aid for AIDS. Around the world, the number of new HIV infections is going down—but because progress hasn’t yet reached everyone equally, infection rates are significantly higher for young women than young men. Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist makes a smart and compassionate case for Pepfar (The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), which provides AIDS medication to over 11 million people around the world. As the new administration sets its priorities, Sen. Frist reminds us that humanitarian efforts like Pepfar stabilize poor countries, save millions of lives, and reinforce America’s image around the world. New York Times
• Crunching the data. Data is reshaping our world—and that’s especially good news for women, according to Recode’s Daphne Kis. Not only will data science create career opportunities for women across a number of industries, but as it goes mainstream, these women will be armed with tools that help them make a bigger impact. Best of all, better data helps companies make decisions based on facts, instead of the biases that so often hold women back. The result? “Better-performing businesses, accelerated social change and a global economy that works better for all of us.” Recode
• Me-time manifesto. Here’s a great reminder for parents that “self-care is not selfish.” This piece describes parents as “the generals of their households,” and argues that self-care is one of the most important things they can do for their kids. (Of course, for many parents, this is easier said than done—and if you’re anything like me, you’ll read this piece as yet another reminder why policies like paid family and medical leave are so important.) Washington Post
• Ciao, cholera. Two centuries ago, the world’s first cholera outbreak emerged from the “tiger-infested mangrove swamps” of Bangladesh. This beautiful multimedia feature with stunning photos and video tells a moving story about the fight against this deadly disease, the development of an effective cholera vaccine, and the amazing work happening at a research center in Dhaka. I’ve spent time in villages where every woman has lost a child to a diarrheal disease—so I can’t help but cheer when I read a story like this. I promise it’s the most inspiring, uplifting piece you’ll read about diarrhea all week. New York Times
ALSO IN THE HEADLINES
• Sally told you so. National security advisor Michael Flynn resigned from his national security post late last night after it was revealed that he had misled VP Mike Pence about a conversation with a Russian diplomat weeks before President Trump’s inauguration. Another recently departed official, Sally Yates—yes, the same Sally Yates who was fired a few weeks ago for refusing to enforce Trump’s travel ban—reportedly got the ball rolling on Flynn’s exit. The former acting AG had informed the White House late last month that she believed Flynn had misled administration officials about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador and warned that he was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail. Washington Post
• One, two, trend? Fortune‘s Valentina Zarya reports that Elaine Wynn, the billionaire co-founder of Mirage Resorts and Wynn Resorts, has donated $1 million to Planned Parenthood. Her hefty gift matches the one Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg gave to the organization earlier this year. Fortune
• All hail, Hopper! Yale University says it will change the name of Calhoun College, giving the honor once awarded to an alumnus who defended slavery to Grace Murray Hopper, a trailblazing mathematician and computer scientist who received a PhD from the Ivy in 1934. Fortune
• Century mark. The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team won its 100th straight game last night. It’s the only squad in NCAA history—male or female—to record that many consecutive wins. Sports Illustrated
• Vegging out. Squashing (ahem) speculation that Melania Trump might remove the White House vegetable garden started by Michelle Obama, the current first lady’s senior advisor Stephanie Winston Wolkoff says that her boss is dedicated to the “preservation and continuation” of the veggie patch. Washington Post
MOVERS AND SHAKERS: The Engine, MIT’s new startup accelerator, named Katie Rae as its president and CEO and as managing partner of its first investment fund. Rae is co-founder and managing director of Project 11 Ventures, a pre-seed venture fund headquartered in Boston that invests in tech-driven startups. Zillow Group has appointed April Underwood, VP of Product at Slack, to its board.
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