Saturday, August 18, 2012

An African Woman's Open Letter to Melinda Gates

by Obianuju Ekeocha

Growing up in a remote town in Africa, I have always known that a new life is welcomed with much mirth and joy. In fact we have a special "clarion" call (or song) in our village reserved for births and another special one for marriages. 

The first day of every baby's life is celebrated by the entire village with dancing (real dancing!) and clapping and singing - a sort of "Gloria in excelsis Deo." 

All I can say with certainty is that we, as a society, LOVE and welcome babies. 

With all the challenges and difficulties of Africa, people complain and lament their problems openly. I have grown up in this environment and I have heard women (just as much as men) complain about all sorts of things. But I have NEVER heard a woman complain about her baby (born or unborn). 

Even with substandard medical care in most places, women are valiant in pregnancy. And once the baby arrives, they gracefully and heroically rise into the maternal mode. 

I trained and worked for almost five years in a medical setting in Africa, yet I never heard of the clinical term "postpartum depression" until I came to live in Europe. I never heard it because I never experienced or witnessed it, even with the relatively high birth rate around me. (I would estimate that I had at least one family member or close friend give birth every single month. So I saw at least 12 babies born in my life every year.)  

Amidst all our African afflictions and difficulties, amidst all the socioeconomic and political instabilities, our babies are always a firm symbol of hope, a promise of life, a reason to strive for the legacy of a bright future. 

So a few weeks ago I stumbled upon the plan and promise of Melinda Gates to implant the seeds of her "legacy" in 69 of the poorest countries in the world (most of which are in Sub-Saharan Africa). 

Her pledge is to collect pledges for almost $5 billion in order to ensure that the African woman is less fertile, less encumbered and, yes, she says, more "liberated." With her incredible wealth she wants to replace the legacy of an African woman ( is her child with the legacy of "child-free sex."  

Many of the 69 targeted countries are Catholic countries with millions of Catholic women of child-bearing age.  These Catholic women have been rightly taught by the Church that the contraceptive drug and device is inherently divisive.

Unlike what we see in the developed Western world, there is actually very high compliance with Pope Paul VI's "Humanae Vitae." For these African women, in all humility, have heard, understood and accepted the precious words of the prophetic pope. Funny how people with a much lower literacy level could clearly understand that which the average Vogue- and Cosmo-reading-high-class woman has refused to understand. I guess humility makes all the difference.

With most African women faithfully practicing and adhering to a faith (mainly Christian or in some cases Muslim), there is a high regard for sex in society, especially among the women. Sex is sacred and private.

The moment these huge amounts of contraceptive drugs and devices are injected into the roots of our society, they will undoubtedly start to erode and poison the moral sexual ethics that have been woven into our societal DNA by our faith, not unlike the erosion that befell the Western world after the 1930 Lambeth conference!  In one fell swoop and one "clean" slice, the faithful could be severed from their professed faith. 

Both the frontline healthcare worker dispensing Melinda's legacy gift and the women ....

read more here.


  1. Thank you for this- extraordinarily well said. God have mercy on us.

  2. Please fix the formatting. It is so hard to read when it looks like this

  3. Then why does Africa had such a high STD rate and some of the highest rate of medical birth complications in the world?

  4. Oh, so wonderful! Thank you for posting this!

  5. Wow, no post partum depression? Amazing. Granted her evidence is anecdotal, but still... Thanks for sharing this.

  6. This comment is to respond to Salt. I am Ugandan, Mutooro by tribe and Catholic by faith with a degree in development Studies. To understand development issues, is to look through multiple lenses. Our situation of poverty that includes health challenges is caused by a set of multiple problems and situations. These are historical, social, political, economic. The writer had spoken from the perspective of who we Africans are not what we have become because of these challenges. Our problems will not be fixed by pills, condoms but a holistic development strategy that takes into consideration our authentic cultural make-up (not the distortions that currently exist). The writer is speaking about our authentic identity. We are a people that have and do understand sacredness and value of life, society and God. This has been our culture right from our Traditional African beliefs to out growth into main stream religion; Christianity and Islam.

    Do not sum up Africa from statistical figures. We are not STDs and birth complications. We are human beings striving to hold on to precious cultural values while developing into the individuals, societies that Our Creature desires us to be. We are not going to be that by simply picking up solutions pills developed (although well intentioned) from a glance at statics. I can state without doubt, Africans today survive through dire situations BECAUSE of our social ties. Majoirity of our children would not got school if it was not for our extended family system. New business models have developed in the telecom industry BECAUSE of a extended family system. Take that away, we will die, both physically and spiritually.

  7. Thank you for sharing this letter. I shared it on FB, and hope that someone takes the time to read it.

    Reading about a Catholic country that welcomes children is refreshing. I pray that Mrs. Gates realizes that people need a helping hand up, and better healthcare and schools, not something that ruins families and stops births.

    Africa will just end up like the USA and Europe. I pray that does not happen.

  8. Very beautiful. I wish Americans welcomed babies so joyfully - especially those that might be the third, fourth, etc, of their family.

  9. I have friends in South Africa, and they are the nicest people.

  10. I have a different opinion. This lovely woman articulated something beautiful and something I agree with. I read Abigail's Blog because she is such a strong and inspiring Catholic. I am less "obedient" than I should be and I'm not saying that in a proud way. Abigail inspires me. Ofcourse any child is a blessing. But can we also acknowledge that Africa has a high rate of rape, genital mutilation, and domestic violence? If many cultures in Africa oppose birth control so strongly, they should also take just as seriously the commandment to love thy neighbor..especially women. In other words, we should be just as adamant that African women live in a culture that promotes not only childrens' lives, but their mothers' lives as well. Are these children being raised in a society that will respect their mothers and offer them options in other parts of their lives (education, jobs) or will they be forced to live in poverty, watch their children suffer, and be treated as inferior beings because of their gender. I think what Melinda Gates sees is not so much that children are burdens but that women tend to carry way too much of the child-rearing workload. In other words, I think painting a picture of African women having baby after baby and loving life is distorted. Also, while I understand her perspective, post-partum depression is real. Bashing mothers after going through stressful and painful childbirth isn't going to make them affirm life any more.

  11. Olivia,
    The things you listed are definitely problems, but throwing bc at them will NOT solve these problems. Providing the things Ms. Ekeocha outlined in her letter will do more to help women climb out of poverty.

    NFP is easy and practically free. Mother Theresa's nuns teach NFP to women all over the world. How about teaching NFP to African women to help avoid pregnancy when necessary, without the expense and the horrible side effects of bc (which would be devastating without access to medical care.)?

  12. Oliva, I really encourage you to check out the "Servants of Matara" website

    This order of Nuns is following Pope John Paul II direction "to lift up all cultures to Christ." Every culture, American and African, --has naturally holy parts and naturally sinful parts. We can rejoice in cultural differences, but we also need to "purify" all cultures to affirm the Truth in Faith.

    I don't think anyone in the Magisterm is arguing that rape, genital mutilation or domestic violence in Africa isn't a horrible evil that should be stopped. Those go against our Church's commitment to human dignity.

    The problem is that Africa is AHEAD of the US in rejoicing in large families and the birth of children in general. In our desire to stop evil in Africa, we shouldn't bring "new evils of the First World" like a culture that promotes birth control and abortion as "good".

    Have some humility, Ms. Gates. We have a lot to learn and respect from our dear Catholic Sisters in Africa!