Donald Trump has stated that he is very strongly (or bigly?) against the right to abortion, and the empowered right wing Republicans in many states are pushing some awful new legislation. And Trump has issued an executive order that blocks Federal funding of any non-profit organization that pays for or even mentions abortion, effectively “gagging” these organizations from providing health services to women across the world. Lucky for these women, the Gates Foundation birth control funding may replace a lot of Federal funding, and for that we should be thankful.
Bill Gates, and his family foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has stated four simple goals for transforming our world:
- Ensure more young people survive and thrive.
- Empower the poorest, especially women and girls, to transform their lives.
- Combat infectious diseases, especially those that affect the poorest.
- Inspire people to take action to change the world.
As opposed to Trump, a pseudo-billionaire who thinks he’s entitled and has no particular interest in those who have to fight for their lives every day, Bill Gates is a real billionaire, whose products revolutionized our world, and who has made it his life’s mission to help those who need his support – the poor, especially women and children. Setting aside jokes about Windows or Microsoft, if we are to judge a person by what they do for those who suffer every day just trying to live another day, then they pass with flying colors.
There is much to admire about Bill and Melinda Gates and their foundation. He and his wife are firm supporters of vaccines, providing free vaccines and syringes to countries throughout the world. They persevere, despite withering attacks from the vaccine deniers, because they believe that they are doing the right thing in saving children’s lives in areas of the world which sometimes feels ignored by many.
Gates is a strong supporter of the scientific foundation of GMOs – not because he’s a shill for Monsanto, but because he understands that GMO crops can feed more people in areas of the world where that matters. He refuses to buy into the pseudoscience and outright anti-science of the GMO haters, because he’s in a position where he wants to find better ways to feed those who are lacking decent supplies of basic food stocks.
But it’s more than just vaccines and GMOs. The foundation supports research and development of new technology that can help these people live better lives. His foundation sponsors boatloads of scientific research into vaccines, devices, water technology, and dozens of other fields to make the world better. Yeah, I sound like a fanboy, but the facts are these – he and Melinda care about the world in which they live. Almost makes me want to like Microsoft (which is so difficult for me, who is really an Apple fanboy).
So Gates is the anti-Trump billionaire – someone who is humble enough to realize he was given a gift of Microsoft, and he can change the world. Some of us can only change the world a few dollars at a time, but he can change the world in much bigger chunks. By the way, the Gates Foundations will receive almost $30 billion in donations from another billionaire who cares about his country and the people of the world – Warren Buffet.
In response to Trump’s anti-women initiatives, by blocking Planned Parenthood (oops, donations have skyrocketed in response) and by instituting the gag rule about abortions, Melinda Gates discussed some of the future plans of their foundation:
In the decade and a half since Bill and I started our foundation, I’ve heard from women all over the world about how important contraceptives are to their ability to take charge of their futures. When women are able to plan their pregnancies around their goals for themselves and their families, they are also better able to finish their education, earn an income, and fully participate in their communities.
If that wasn’t clear, let me paraphrase – women have an absolute right to plan their own pregnancies so that they are better able to achieve their own goals in life without barriers. Why on earth should white men in the US Congress have a right to control what a woman receives in Africa?
None, would be my answer. Of course, I don’t think these old white men in the US Congress have a right to control what a woman does in the USA, just to be perfectly clear!
The Gates Foundation, the government of the United Kingdom, the United Nations, and, at the time, the USAID (United States Agency for International Development) made a pledge in 2012 to provide birth control (including abortion if necessary) to 120 million women across the world by 2020. Obviously the governments of the UK and USA have become considerably more right wing over the past year, so cooperation between these groups are probably going to be challenging.
And it isn’t just continued access to contraception that worries Gates, who’s been a champion of greater investments in family planning. She also noted that the expanded rule could affect health organizations that provide drugs to combat HIV, malaria, and other diseases. She pointed to its possible effects on the work of the Global Fund, supported by a wide range of governments (including the U.S.) and many private donors, which she said had saved 20 million lives, in part by setting up health clinics around poor countries that distributed HIV/AIDS drugs. “And because we’re implementing a policy, all of sudden a clinic’s going to be shut down?” Gates asked, in disbelief. She slammed the new policy as out of step both with America values (including a belief in “life”) and its national security.
Like many of us who are watching the manic activities of the Trump administration, we cannot reconcile the official “pro-life” policy of the right wing since it threatens to kill so many people in any quantifiable analyses. The hypocrisy of the right wing anti-women politicians is beyond my ability to grasp.
Real billionaire Bill Gates, with a lot of help from Warren Buffet, have decided that they can help the world. And the Gates Foundation birth control initiatives should help partially ameliorate the damage done by Donald Trump. Partially.
Let me close with a letter I found that Melinda Gates wrote to Warren Buffet:
“You cannot go out and be in the developing world and then come back and look at the data and turn away from the importance of women in the developing world.
Whether they breastfeed and take their children to be vaccinated makes a profound difference to how the child grows and his or her life chances, and men are not always there. So you have to look at the woman’s role and when you look at it you realise it can be an accelerator to every single thing you want to have happen in the world for global health and global development and social change.
The poorer the society, the less power women have. Men decide if a woman is allowed to go outside, talk to other women, earn income. Men decide if it’s acceptable to strike a woman. The male dominance in the poorest societies is mind-blowing.
It’s also crippling. Limiting women’s power keeps everyone poor.
Warren, if Melinda and I could take you anywhere in the world so you could see your investment at work, we probably would take you to meet sex workers. I met with a group in Bangalore, and when they talked about their lives, they had me in tears.
One woman told us she turned to sex work after her husband left her – it was the only way to feed her children. When people in the community found out, they forced her daughter out of school, which made the girl turn against her mother and threaten to commit suicide.
That mother faced the scorn of society, the resentment of her daughter, the risks of sex work, and the humiliation of going to the hospital for an HIV test and finding that no one would look at her, touch her, or talk to her. Yet there she was, telling me her story with dignity.”
I won’t deify anyone, especially multi-billionaires who have little in common with me. But the one thing they do have in common with this feathery dinosaur is simple – empower women and protect children. After that, everything else about Bill and Melinda Gates (and Warren Buffet, for that matter) is irrelevant.