By Bonnie Erbe, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Washington D.C. is the focal point starting today for a three-day gathering of United Nations and NGO officials all dedicated to the improvement of maternal health. There are many, many topics on the agenda including elimination of fistula and the use of microbicides (in the form of vaginal spray or gel) to prevent the transmission of AIDS. According to France 24:
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was expected to address the gathering later Monday by video, and Melinda Gates, wife of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, was due to announce major funding for women's and children's health initiatives from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Over three days, some 3,500 conference participants from 140 countries will look at progress that has been made in improving global maternal health and assess the challenges that remain.
Supporters plan to use the conference as a launching-pad to raise 12 billion for women's and children's health worldwide. I wish them nothing but good luck in that venture. But at the same time, I hope the United Nations has not been cowed by the United States religious right into decreasing its support for family planning education and provision of birth control pills.
Of course we want to prevent the suffering and death that women and children endure in developing nations. At the same time, we want to educate uneducated women so they are no longer dependent on outside support for their family planning and health care needs. I have produced a lot of coverage of family planning in countries such as Morocco, Peru, Mexico, and Egypt. The story is always the same. Women with no education produce, on average, more children because, A) Their children are more likely to die of childhood diseases; B) they have no skills to earn a living outside the home; and C) their children are their Social Security--their kids support these women in old age.
This is not the case for educated women in developing nations. And the sooner we work to spread education, the sooner poverty will be eradicated, both at home and worldwide.