By Stephanie Jackson-Ali, LMSW
Last month, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation released their annual letter, which addresses three myths about global progress. Foundation Beyond Belief has featured a number of development–focused beneficiaries, many of whom work toward debunking these same myths.
One major focus in this year’s letter is family planning and women’s reproductive health and their effect on developing countries. In the words of Mr. Gates, the letter’s author:
“Girls who marry in their mid-teens tend to start getting pregnant earlier and therefore have more children. They usually drop out of school, which limits their opportunities to learn about their bodies, sex, and reproduction—and to gain other kinds of knowledge that helps them improve their lives.”
The first step in ensuring this knowledge is gained is giving young women and girls the opportunity to stay in school and complete an education. United Nations data shows that over the past 20 years, schools in all regions of the world, including developing regions, are trending toward gender equality.
In 1990, the ratio of girls to boys receiving primary education in developing regions was 0.86. As of 2011 it stood at 0.97. Secondary education saw an even greater jump from a 0.76 ratio to 0.96, while tertiary education saw the greatest leap—from 0.69 to 0.98.
Certainly some of that success comes from organizations such as The Citizens Foundation, Circle of Women, and Roots and Wings International, all former FBB beneficiaries that work to educate women around the world.
The next step laid out in Mr. Gates’ letter is increased health education, specifically related to family planning. The developing world has moved more slowly in this direction. The same statistics show the contraceptive prevalence rate (the number of women 15-49 who are using any form of birth control) to have grown steadily from 51.6 percent to 62.1 percent from 1990 to 2011—with lots of room still to grow. The adolescent birth rate (girls aged 15-19) fell from 59.3 to 48.6 in the same time.
Foundation Beyond Belief has also supported several organizations working to increase health education among women. MADRE, HealthRight International, and FAME bring education and health services to women and families in developing nations. Reproductive health has also been a focus for FBB in the past, as Population Connection and The Center for Reproductive Rights strive to bring not just education but access to family planning options worldwide.
Since its inception, Foundation Beyond Belief has been dedicated to supporting beneficiaries working to improve opportunities for women around the world. As conditions improve for women in developing nations, FBB will continue to find the most innovative beneficiaries addressing the needs of women and girls.