Closing The Gap

Melinda Gates just announced a new $170 million plan to fund women’s equality around the world

Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the world's most powerful philanthropic organisations.
Alain Grosclaude | AFP | Getty Images
Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the world's most powerful philanthropic organisations.

Melinda Gates kicked off 2018 by proclaiming "it's time for a new era for women" in a Time magazine op-ed. Today, she shared her plans to help empower women around the world.

"With a new focus on women's economic empowerment, connecting women to markets, making sure they have access to financial services, and empowering them to help themselves, we aim to help tear down the barriers that keep half the world from leading a full life," Gates wrote in a op-ed for Quartz published Monday.

Gates announced the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's plan to spend $170 million over the next four years to help women exercise their economic power.

"Simply put when money flows into the hands of women who have the authority to use it, everything changes," Gates wrote.

The Gates' last multi-million dollar push to end gender inequality came in 2016 when Gates announced an $80 million commitment to improve data collection on the gender pay gap around the world and support programs already advancing gender equality.

As co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates said she has spent a significant amount of time discussing "how to tear down the barriers that block women's progress around the world," and investing in women's health. However, she said one major issue remains.

"[As] I spend more time visiting communities and meeting people around the world, I am convinced that we'll never reach our goals if we don't also address the systematic way that women and girls are undervalued," Gates said.

One example she pointed to was the increase in sexual harassment and violence occurring across all industries.

"The norms that allow these abuses are the same ones that disempower the poorest women, and only when they are dismantled across the globe will all women and girls be able to lead the lives they want," Gates said.

Here are the four ways the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation plans to use $170 million to advance women's equity around the world.

Women's economic empowerment

When women can make their own financial decisions, Gates argued, their families prosper and the entire community around them is forced to rethink the role women play.

Gates pointed out that one in three married women in the poorest countries have no say over major household purchases, citing a report prepared by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

"Research shows, however, that women are much more likely than men to buy things that set their families on a pathway out of poverty, like nutritious food, healthcare, and education," Gates said.

Gates also underscored a 2016 Harvard study which found that women in India who owned and used a bank account tended to work outside the home more. Consequently, these women earned more money and changed men's perception of them.

"Women acting on their own can do what all the philanthropic organizations in the world can never accomplish: change the unwritten rule that women are lesser than men," Gates said. "Our role, as we see it, is to make targeted investments that give women the opportunity to write new rules."

Connecting women to markets

Gates highlighted how hundreds of millions of women help run small farms across Africa and Asia, raising crops and livestock, yet they often don't know the fair price for their products.

"We want to help them overcome this barrier and prosper from their labor," Gates said.

"To do so, we'll support women farmers as they organize in collectives that aggregate produce from small farms and sell it to buyers at a fair price and, where possible, use mobile phone applications that provide real-time price information," she added.

Ensuring access to financial services

More than 2.5 billion adults do not have an account at a financial institution, with women in rural, poor and hard-to-reach populations being the most affected, according to the World Bank's Global Financial Inclusion Database.

Even worse, "many governments send welfare or safety net payments to low-income families, but this money is usually controlled by men," Gates said.

As a result, Gates wants more women to use digital bank accounts. To help more women receive direct access to these safety net payments, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will work on systems in eight countries, including India, Pakistan and Tanzania, to deposit them into accounts controlled by women.

Supporting self-help groups for women and girls

In India, over 75 million women already belong to self-help groups where they reimagine their place in society and talk about topics from starting a small business to raising healthy children, according to Gates. Her goal is to support more of these groups around the world.

"We want younger girls to have the same opportunity. During adolescence, parents place more restrictions on their daughters, and girls' range of movement shrinks—in South Africa, for example, by more than half. Self-help groups can widen their horizons," Gates said.

In recent years, Gates has helped provide women greater access to family planning, health services and education. As Gates pointed out in the foundation's 2018 annual letter, fighting for gender equality is something on which she has placed an increasing amount of focus.

"Gradually, I've focused more and more on gender issues, because I've seen repeatedly that the more empowered women and girls are, the stronger their communities are," she said. "As I've thought more deeply about equality for women around the world, I've been proud that Bill and I have achieved it in our life together."

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