Melinda Gates speaks to Women’s Issues on Book TV

(Thanks to Beverly Hammons (Ecuador 71-73) for this video reference)

Melinda Gates, wife of Bill Gates, has written a book, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World, on her life and work with women around the world.  She discusses the book and her experiences working in the Developing World.  Empowering women and girls is a continuing program focus for Peace Corps.  For so many RPCVs, especially women, Gates’ experience and the concerns of the women with whom she talked and worked, will seem very familiar.

More than fifty years ago, as a Peace Corps Health Education Volunteer, I would give “charlas”, little talks about health to women in my rural community.  After the talk, I would always ask what would they like to know.  The question varied, but always the same concern.  As one woman said, so eloquently,:  “I want to keep the children I have, alive, and I do not want to have any more children.” Sadly, there were few resources, then, to help.

Her wish echos through time.  Melinda Gates in the video shows how the Gates Foundation began to help.  I am so glad the Foundation has the resources that I only wish were available so long ago.




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  • Yes, I was a volunteer in Ecuador, and yes, women then as now, wanted to determine the number of children they reproduced.
    Women who could afford the expense secretly paid the doctor in Puyo, Ecuador, to buy their birth control pills when he traveled to the capital city, Quito. The doctor and his women patients had to keep this secret from the women’s family members, often including husband and always the mother-in-law and the Catholic priest. Some husbands were in silent agreement, knowing it was best to be able to plead ignorance of the wife’s “sin.”

    Most poor women had little to no medical care and many felt unfairly subjected to numerous pregnancies which often slowly ruined their lives. A poor mother’s health was seriously compromised in many ways. It was common wisdom that every baby resulted in the loss of another tooth. Prolapsed uteruses worsened and as a result, poor women endured a life of multiple kinds of pain as they toiled to support a large family.

    Without contraception, an illegal abortion was the only way to end a nightmare of more children than a family could feed, clothe, educate, and house. In the early 1970s, a woman in the upper class directed my attention to the building in Quito where she said the affluent went for medical abortions. Poor indigenous women told me they used herbs and/or hiked up a steep mountainside to cause a needed abortion, a method not often successful.

    During the clinical practise section of training for a group of young women who would become midwives in their remote communities, the obstetrician/gynecologist on the faculty revealed to the students the life-saving medical care he offered free-of-charge in the hospital every Wednesday morning. A queue of poor women formed outside the door to his medical office on the third floor and ended on the ground floor. Informed only by word-of-mouth, they came for the secret they hoped would improve their lives and those of their children: an IUD or intrauterine device.

    Some medical students of the ob/gyn told me they opposed his work because it delayed the leftist revolution they believed necessary for their country. They argued that only when more mouths were born than could be fed would the people revolt.
    When I asked if they would want their wives to use contraception when they married, they declared yes, of course! They patiently explained that they were of the elite, thus above the necessary suffering of the uneducated poor.

    At the same time, the ob/gyn told me that the medical students refused his instruction on contraception including IUDs for the same reasons they gave me. Then he smiled and said they would probably change their minds and ideas after a few weeks of practice in rural health centers, where they would experience firsthand the misery of endless pregnancies and births among the many, many poor women who would seek care for themselves and their families from these same medical students completing the requirement of one year of clinical work in rural Ecuador.

    Today, contraception is legal and much more available in Ecuador. Abortion is illegal even in cases of incest and rape. In desperate situations, Ecuadorian women still resort to abortion, legal or not, as happens in the rest of the world.

    Beverly Hammons
    RPCV Ecuador 1970-73

  • Thank you so much, Beverly, for this comprehensive description of the state of women’s lives, in regard to their fertility, in Ecuador in the 70s.

  • Joanne, you are welcome. No doubt, countless Returned Peace Corps Volunteer women have this same knowledge as a result of
    of similar experiences as ours.

    Empathy and acceptance of the reality of these problems and their consequences for women and their husbands and families are required for the lives of all of those concerned to truly improve. This matter applies worldwide, whether poor or not.

    By the way, an interview of Melinda Gates was published in the May 2019 issue of O,The Oprah Magazine beginning on page 114.

    Beverly Hammons
    RPCV Ecuador 1970-73

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