06/07/2010 03:27 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

A New Vision for the Health of Women and Children

I'm speaking at the Women Deliver conference in Washington, D.C. today to highlight maternal, child, and reproductive health as a global priority.

Three months ago, I traveled to a village in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, where I met a young mother named Rukmini. Six days before, she'd given birth to a daughter she named Durga, after the Hindu goddess of power.

According to custom, Rukmini and Durga remained in the same room after the birth. Seven days later, Rukmini carried Durga into the light of day for a ceremony that celebrated the special bond between mother and child, called Chhathi. As their neighbors drummed and sang songs, Rukmini held Durga up to thank the sun god for a healthy birth and ask for his blessing.

I kept thinking about the overwhelming joy, hope, and optimism I felt when each of my three children was born. No matter who you are, no matter where you live, it is incredibly moving to hold a healthy baby in your arms.

But tens of millions of women never get to experience that moment of beauty. For these women, childbirth is filled not with joy, but with dread, pain, and sorrow. They know they might die during delivery. If they survive, they are terrified their baby might die.

The world is now coming together to save the 350,000 mothers and 3 million newborns who die every year. At Women Deliver, we are nurturing a vision that is changing the world.

  • Donors will spend more on women and children, and those donations will be tracked.
  • Developing countries will pass rigorous policies for women's and children's health, and fully fund their implementation, and health workers will have the tools and training they need.
  • Communities will work together to gather solid evidence about the interventions that work best, and combine them into a comprehensive plan to save lives.

Women everywhere will have the knowledge and power to save their lives and the lives of their babies.

We can make a new world for mothers like Rukmini. When she hugs her daughter Durga, she holds the future in her hands.

Melinda Gates is a co-chair and trustee of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

For more background on Women Deliver and the foundation's work in maternal, newborn, and child health, see the foundation's Women Deliver page. In this previous blog post, Melinda Gates shares stories of maternal health success from Malawi and India. For more information on our work, visit the foundation's blog and