Birth control might “unlock the cycle of poverty” for future generations of women, if it is readily available, that is.

Melinda Gates has made it her mission to get women all over the world access to birth control. Voluntary family planning is one of the pillars of the Gates Foundation, run by her and her husband, Microsoft Co-Founder Bill Gates.

“If you allow a woman — if you counsel her so it’s truly voluntary — to have a contraceptive tool and she can space those births, it unlocks the cycle of poverty for her,” she recently told The New York Times.

Melinda Gates with her husband, Bill.
Melinda Gates with her husband, Bill.

As such, she’s spearheading efforts to help the more than 220 million women in developing countries who don’t want to get pregnant. And while providing contraception is important for public health concerns, it’s also a vital part of giving women autonomy over their bodies and helping them break free from a generational cycle of poverty.

When it comes to talking about family planning, it’s largely presented through the lens of public health. The Gates Foundation found that 80 million women had unintended pregnancies and a fourth of those women ended up going through an unsafe abortion.

Giving women the biological ability to prevent unwanted pregnancies would help keep women out of poverty. The World Health Organization reports that about 16 million girls aged 15 to 19 and around 1 million girls under 15 give birth every year. Having children causes these young women to drop out of school. Contraception would keep girls from becoming pregnant while still in school, which means they could finish their education and eventually join the workforce.

Gates also told the Times, “We know that when a girl or woman has economic means in her own hands, it shifts the whole power dynamic in the family, whether it’s with her mother-in-law or her husband. It’s the beginning thing that unlocks a woman’s potential.”

While free birth control is beneficial for countries as they address public health concerns such as overpopulation and childbirth death rates, what’s also crucial to consider is what economical effects it will have on these women. And by addressing these issues when it comes to the family planning level, it’ll only help fix a systemic problem like poverty from the ground up.

Photos via Getty Images / Justin Sullivan, Flickr / spentpenny

Gabe is an Associate Culture Editor with a deep love for the internet and memes. He's written for the Daily Dot, Mashable, Mic, and the Daily Beast. Originally from California and now living in Brooklyn, he's always craving Taco Bell.