The world’s biggest foundation is boosting contraception around the developing world, putting itself at odds with the Catholic Church, but perhaps not with Islam.
Melinda Gates, co-founder and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, challenged the Vatican to alter its stance on birth control and pledged to help women in Asia and Africa gain access to family planning measures. Gates said that she wants to fund research to make birth control safer and have fewer side effects.
Gates spoke Wednesday at the London Summit on Family Planning, organized by the Gates Foundation along with the British government and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). She recently said her family foundation would focus on access to contraception and told the Guardian, “This will be my life’s work.”
Gates, a practicing Catholic, admits she is contravening church doctrines against modern forms of birth control, saying she believes that while Catholic bishops say one thing, ordinary Catholics in the U.S. think differently. “In my country, 82 percent of Catholics say contraception is morally acceptable,” she said. The issue came up in the U.S. presidential primaries after President Barack Obama’s birth control mandate.
Planning in Islam
Catholics may be angered by Gates’s stance, but her thoughts could be well received in Muslim countries.
Though seen as socially conservative, “Islam is very flexible when it comes to these issues,” said Rania Al Abbadi of Jordan’s Higher Population Council (HPC) during an interview with Latitude News.
In Jordan, HPC uses family planning as a part of its strategy to reduce the country’s high fertility rate, which is putting strains on Jordan’s limited water supplies. (Jordan is the world’s third-driest country.)
Jordan embraces the use of birth control and actively promotes family planning methods in its clinics and across its media outlets. However, family planning in the country can only go so far. “It’s against Islam to set a limit to children,” said Dr. Abdel Mahdi Al-Soudi, a sociology professor at the University of Jordan, in part because the Prophet Mohamed said pregnancy should come naturally even when contraception fails. Al Abbadi said the HPC keep’s the Prophet’s instructions in mind when creating action plans for family planning.
In an editorial published by Al Jazeera, Manuela Picq welcomed the Gates Foundation’s attempts to give poor women access to forms of modern contraception. Picq, an academic from Ecuador, a largely Catholic country, wrote that “letting women decide whether and when to have children simultaneously increases their individual freedom and benefits society.”