Gender Equality is a topic many have talked about. And, when Melinda Gates writes about it, the whole world reads it with a wary eye.
I will begin by saying that this book is not just for women or feminists. This book is for every man and woman. Additionally, it is for those who still need to know, ‘how empowering women changes the world.’
Melinda shares the conception, goals and utopian dreams behind founding the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) in 2000. BMGF is the world’s largest private charitable organization.
The Lift of a Great Idea…
After Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched, Melinda visited Malawi. Numerous women were standing in line holding their kids to get their shots. When Melinda talked to one of the mothers, she misunderstood and thought they were talking about her birth control shot (Depo-Provera), and replied, “Why do I have to walk twenty kilometers in this heat to get my shot?” Another mother told her that having another child will be unfair as she ‘can’t afford to feed’ the children she already has.
From these answers, Melinda realized that it was the leitmotif. These women didn’t want to have more children to protect the ones they already had. In 2012, 260 million women from 69 poorest countries used contraceptives. And, (here is the astonishing surprise) 200 million women in these countries wished to use contraceptives but didn’t have access to them.
Contraceptives are the ‘greatest life-saving, poverty-ending, women-empowering innovation ever created.’
Empowering Mothers: Mental and Newborn Health…
In this chapter, Melinda critiques our society’s definition of poverty based on the American dream, and replaces it with a new definition, “Poverty is not being able to protect your family. Poverty is not being able to save your children when mothers with more money could.” To fight this poverty, and empower these mothers, we need to, “Help mothers protect their children.”
Here is how you can do that:
Free access to vaccinationà – Every year, 3 million infants die.
By giving these mothers free access to contraceptives and vaccinations, you can help them in protecting their children.
Every Good Thing: Family Planning
Melinda investigates how even the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo (1994) didn’t help in providing contraceptives effectively. In fact, every time a conservative government comes to power, they reduce the funding to contraceptives and teenage pregnancy programs.
Lifting their Eyes: Girls in School
This chapter highlights another issue. Melinda narrates the story of Sona, a 10-years old girl from Kanpur, India. And, says that unless we educate the children of these women who we are helping by providing contraceptives, we cannot break the cycle.
In poor countries, for every 100 boys who go to school, 55 girls stay at home. Therefore, it is important to enlighten them, and send girls to school.
The Silent Inequality: Unpaid Work
Another big issue in the poorest, low-income places in the conservative approach of its people. In these places, women and girls perform all the errands of a household.
In India, women spend at least 6 hours in unpaid work while men spend one hour. Likewise, in the US, women spend one and a half hours more in unpaid work than men.
To solve this issue, Diane Elson, an economist, proposes a 3R Framework that the Government can implement.
- Recognising unpaid work and calculating the hours spent in unpaid work.
- Reducing unpaid work hours by providing modern appliances and gadgets.
- Redistributing work so men and women share it equally.
When a Girl Has No Voice: Child Marriage
In countries with emerging economies, every 10th girl is married before she turns 15. Child marriage is common in these countries, where marrying a daughter brings money. This old tradition, according to Melinda, ‘kills moral progress.’
Together, many foundations are fighting the issue under a program, ‘Girls Not Brides.’
Seeing Gender Bias: Women in Agriculture
In 2015, Melinda met Patricia, a farmer in Malawi. There she found the absolute inequality for women working as farmers.
- They cannot inherit the land and must pay rent.
- To buy supplies or anything, they need the permission of the man of the house.
- A woman has no right over the money.
CARE Pathways, a program dedicated to teaching women agriculture and gender equality helped Patricia get out of the situation. Lucky for her, she was able to buy better supplies and multiplied her crop yield.
Seeing her, many women joined the program. In the future, if women can fully participate in agriculture, they can help in ‘lifting’ hunger and poverty
Creating a New Culture: Women in the Workplace
There is a significant decline in the number of females graduating in IT over the years. The idea of coding and gaming is attached to men. Women are not hired for IT jobs as they are considered complex.
Moreover, there are only 2% of female VC (Venture Capital) partners. And, only 2% VC-funds go to female start-ups.
Melinda, therefore, started Aspect Ventures – a VC funding firm for women and people of colour. She says, “If people from diverse groups are not making the decisions, the burdens and benefits of society will be divided unequally and unfairly—with the people writing the rules ensuring themselves a greater share of the benefits and a lesser share of the burdens of any society.”
Let Your Heart Break: The Lift of Coming Together
As the book comes closer to its conclusion, Melinda says, “Every issue in this book is a door women must walk through, or a wall we must break through to become full contributors.”
To achieve equality in the true sense of words, women need to join hands to break these walls and open doors for every woman. For those who may argue why are these efforts for women only, Melinda says:
“This is not about bringing women in and leaving others out. It’s about bringing women in as a way to bring everyone in.”
The Moment of Lift is an eye-opener for everyone. It brings to us the true (and ugly) picture of the women in our world. I wish Melinda Gates had included more stories. The book reflects all the fronts that we need to work on if we truly intend to bring equality.
One of the most remarkable things is the honest comparison of women in poor countries, and the women in developed countries. This tells you the problem is universal and the problem is deep-rooted in the mindset of people who refuse to change. Overall, I enjoyed reading the book.
Serving since 28th December 2008.