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‘Really good quality sex education starts very, very early’: Melinda Gates

“Children are curious about their bodies and it’s natural for them to ask questions. My girls were seven-10 years old when I, and Bill with our son, went to sex education classes with them”: Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, businesswomen and mother on how information on reproductive health empowers, youth, communities and countries.

health Updated: Jul 11, 2017 10:32 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
world population day,Melinda Gates,London Family Planning Summit
Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation one of the world's most powerful philanthropic organisations which is working in the battle against a raft of diseases, attends a press conference on the sidelines of the World Health Assembly, on May 20, 2014, in Geneva. (AFP/Getty Images File Photo)

“Children are curious about their bodies and it’s natural for them to ask questions,” says Melinda Gates, 52, who describes herself as the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, business and mother. “My girls were seven-10 years old when me, and Bill with our son, went to sex education classes with them. Really good quality sex education starts very, very early.”

As policy-makers influencers, donors and advocates from around the world meet for the Family Planning Summit in London on Tuesday, Gates explains why family planning is the best buy in global development.

“A young girl needs to understand her body and understand reproductive health and as a parent, we need to have that conversation. You have to start very young and have ongoing dialogues -- kids need parents, school, relatives, older sister, community self-help worker for good quality information so they can make decision about their bodies and get empowered about their bodies,” she said..

The Family Planning Summit 2012 set a goal to give an additional 120 million women in the world’s poorest countries access to lifesaving family planning services and supplies. Since then, modern contraceptives being used by 300 million women across the 69 of the world’s poorest countries averted 82 million unintended pregnancies, 25 million unsafe abortions, and 124,000 maternal deaths.

“We’ve made some great progress… 30 million additional women and girls are using the contraceptives of their choice (since FP2012),” said Melinda. “By 2020, we want to move closer to reach the goal of universal access and to contraceptives to ensure every woman can plan her family and future. I’d like to see a little more, but a lot of groundwork has been done.”

Reaching adolescents is a priority, she says. “Adolescents are not being served by the family planning community. With 500 million girls in the world very soon, if we don’t give them family planning options and information about their bodies, they will get trapped in cycles of poverty,” she says.

India is doing the right things. “You have Mission Parivar Vikas (accelerated access to family planning methods in 146 high fertility districts)…. “Youth seeks information and we must use texts, messages on radio, soap operas on TV and Bollywood actors talking about contraceptives… that kind of campaigns have worked wide.”

Melinda’s not unduly worried about US President Donald Trump’s proposal to withhold funding from abortion providers. “He’s proposed the cuts, we have to wait for Congress to decide. In the past we’ve had bipartisan support for funding, we’ll know by Fall. We are talking to a lot of people in Congress on how important this money is,” said Melinda.

What’s next is using data to track demand and uptake. “We have to keep the momentum up between now and 2020, get data country-by-country and keep up funding at global level,” said Melinda. ”In 2012, data on contraceptives was very scattershot. Now we have district to district data that shows us how to act, where to go… and for me that is progress. Transparency of data is huge progress,”’ she said.

First Published: Jul 11, 2017 10:32 IST