Philanthropist Melinda Gates is On a Mission to Lift Up Women in Society
Philanthropist Melinda Gates is on a mission to lift up women in society. Author of the new book “The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World,” Melinda says women’s rights and society’s health and wealth rise together, which is why “empowering women is one of the highest-leverage investments you can make in human beings.”
1) What was your inspiration for writing this book and why do women need to read this?
This book was inspired by the women I’ve met around the world. By sharing their stories with me, they called me to action. By sharing their stories in my book, I hope to do the same for readers.
There is so much energy and urgency around gender equality right now. We see it from the #MeToo movement to the women’s marches to the record number of women running for office. I hope this book will encourage more people to find more ways to champion equality in their own lives—in their homes, in their workplaces, and in their communities. That’s why I hope women read it and why I hope men read it, too!
2) You write, “How can we summon a moment of lift for human beings – and especially for women? Because when you lift up women, you lift up humanity.” What does that mean?
Well, as I write in my book, the correlation is nearly as perfect as any you will find in the world of data. If you search for poverty, you will find women who don’t have power. If you explore prosperity, you will find women who do have power and use it. In other words, women’s rights and society’s health and wealth rise together. That’s why empowering women is one of the highest-leverage investments you can make in human beings.
3) What are some of the global issues that most need our attention?
There are so many I could name, but the issue that got me started in my public advocacy work—and the one I have been the most vocal about—is family planning.
As a practicing Catholic who doesn’t like to give speeches, I never in a million years thought I would become a global voice for family planning. But when I started traveling for the foundation and meeting women who are living the heartbreaking experience of having more children than they can afford to feed, I knew I had to do something. I write in the book about a woman named Meena, who actually asked me to take her two children home with me. She told me, “I have no hope for these children.” It was just wrenching to hear, especially as a mother.
When I started digging into the data, I learned that there are still more than 200 million women around the world who don’t want to get pregnant but don’t have access to modern contraceptives. I also learned that when women can plan and space their pregnancies, maternal mortality drops, families are healthier, and household income rises. Ensuring women have access to the contraceptive options they need gives lift to so many of the other issues we work on.
4) Can you give an example or two of women you write about that inspired you personally? What are they doing that stands out?
I write about women who are changing the world in big ways and small. For example, Leymah Gbowee, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for her role in organizing a women’s movement to end Liberia’s civil war. Her story is amazing and such a testament to the power of women coming together.
I also write about Sister Sudha Varghese, who works in one of the poorest states in India to lift up women and girls considered to be untouchable by the rest of society. She runs a school for girls who have been told all their lives that they deserve nothing. Her message to them is that they deserve everything—an education, a safe place to live, the right to pursue their dreams no matter what they are.
5) Do you believe that women need to feel part of a larger community as a whole?
Absolutely. Equality without connection misses the whole point. If there’s a more important purpose in life than human connection, I don’t know it. Connection ends the urge to push people down or leave them out. When that happens, we all rise together.
6) What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
When readers close my book, I’d love for them to feel optimistic that progress toward gender equality is possible. I’d also love them to feel inspired to take action.
For most of human history, women and girls have lived and died without an equal chance to reach their full potential. If we want to see that end in our lifetimes, it’s going to require all of us—even people who don’t consider themselves activists or advocates—to get involved. I hope the stories in this book will show readers how. And I hope it will convince them to be a part of the important work to ensure that everyone has an equal chance to learn, earn, lead, and be part of the lift.
7) You open up a lot about your personal life in the book. Was that difficult?
It…was terrifying at first. I never imagined being so public about my marriage or my experience with motherhood. But the reason I talk about how gender norms have shaped my life is that I hope it will encourage others to take a look at how these norms have also shaped theirs.
Years ago, when our oldest daughter was about to start kindergarten, we found the perfect school for her, but it was about forty minutes from our house. If you’re doing the math—and believe me, I did—that meant that I was going to spend more than two hours every day in the car. When I mentioned that to Bill, he offered to take over some of the driving. Not long after, we noticed a lot more dads at carpool. One of the moms told me, “When we saw Bill driving, we went home and said to our husbands, ‘Bill Gates is driving his child to school; you can, too.’”
I was glad that I’d started the conversation in our home and that it had made it a little easier for other women to do the same. It makes you wonder how many similar conversations are waiting for someone to find the words to start them. If by sharing my story, I can help someone find those words—well, I’d consider that a big success.
Melinda Gates is the author of “The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World.”
This piece was featured in the April 28th edition of The Sunday Paper, Maria Shriver’s free weekly newsletter for people with passion and purpose. To get inspiring and informative content like this piece delivered straight to your inbox each Sunday morning, click here to subscribe.