Supporting women & girls with Melinda Gates

Melinda Gates Save the Children panel

Melinda Gates (centre) speaks about empowering women, while (from left) Save the Children ambassador Natasha Kaplinsky, Justine Greening and Twodros Melesse listen


Has determining when and if you want to have children been an important decision in your life?

Of course. That might seem like a silly question — after all, it’s one of the defining decisions of women’s lives. Yet it is far from recognised as a fundamental right for women around the world. For so many girls and women, being able to control their own fertility and bodies is still beyond their reach. They are married young and forced to bear children before their bodies are ready. They are denied adequate birth control. They are mutilated. They’re prevented from going to school. They don’t received adequate prenatal or postnatal care. Many women can’t ensure their children live past their first birthday.

Last Wednesday global advocates for girls and women, including Melinda Gates of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Secretary of State for International Development Justine Greening, gathered to discuss family planning and the rights of women and girls. I’ve always been passionate about these rights. We’re paying attention to the importance of them more than ever worldwide, from the kidnapped girls in Nigeria to Malala’s campaigning to the rights and services available to British women.

“Deciding when and how many children to have — it’s one of the most basic choices and rights for women.” — Justine Greening

BritMums was invited to attend by Save the Children UK, whose CEO Justin Forsyth introduced the illustrious panel, which also included:

  • Twodros Melesse, Director-General of the International Planned Parenthood Federation
  • Catherine Ojo, midwife and Chief Nursing Officer at a teaching hospital in Nigeria
  • Natasha Kaplinsky, broadcaster and Save the Children Ambassador

“Family planning” as a term is typically interpreted as one thing — forms of birth control. It can be controversial. But listening to these speakers, you come to understand how it intersects with so many parts of women’s lives and issues: the ability to attend school, health services, female genital mutilation, safe births, new mother support and so much more. And because these issues are “intrinsically linked” to successful development, as Greening says, they involve us all.

When we give girls and women the tools and ability to control their fate in this way, Gates says, “They will lift themselves out of poverty.” Our business is to help them along the way, she says.

Right now one of the ways we can help is by supporting the Save the Children First Day campaign, which is all about helping newborns survive through their first year of life. The plan for this is simple: midwives. Trained birth attendants help birth go well, spot problems for mother or baby,and educate women on babycare and issues they can spot on their own.

How can you make a difference?

Do your part now to support women taking control of their lives and save babies’ lives. Sign the Petition!

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About Jennifer Howze

Jennifer Howze is the Creative Director and co-founder of BritMums. She blogs about family travel at, tweets at @JHowze and Instagrams at @JHowze. Previously, she wrote the Alpha Mummy blog at The Times and as a journalist has contributed to The Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, Budget Travel,, Allure, SELF and Premiere, among others. She won The Maggie Award from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America for a health article in Seventeen magazine.