Amid women’s history month, philanthropist and co-founder of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Melinda Gates promoted female empowerment through mentorship and stronger data collection on women’s issues at a Knight Hennessy Scholars-sponsored discussion.
Gates discussed the motivation behind writing her book, “The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World,” explaining that hearing the stories of women in low-income countries led her to recognize that there is a substantial lack of support for women facing difficult circumstances. She also criticized global leaders for initiating political discussions with her husband instead of her, saying that in doing so, these leaders ultimately overlooked women’s issues — issues that Gate hopes her book will shed light on and spur readers to address.
In order to combat these issues, Gates suggested that women in positions of power need to uplift other women by providing them with opportunities that can act as gateways to building a career. She provided the example of the digital gender gap in Southeast Asia, praising the efforts of women-led organizations that are focused on teaching other women about mobile phone access and using the internet to enhance financial literacy.
“Having her voice means that a woman has her dignity, has who she is, has her story recognized,” Gates said. “It means she creates change, not just for her family, but also for her community. I believe that women should have their full voice and decision-making authority no matter where they are.”
At the event, Gates repeatedly talked about the idea of a “ripple effect,” saying that positively impacting one person’s life can lead them to lift up another’s. She highlighted this phenomenon’s potential to empower women, saying that speaking up about women’s issues can enhance the voices of other women as well.
“I hope my story isn’t completed until the end,” Gates said. “But I hope to be able to look back or somebody else to be able to look back and say, you know, tens of millions of women were somehow lifted up by the work that the Gates Foundation did.”
Gates stressed the importance of having high-quality data collection when addressing women’s issues. She mentioned that morbidity, nutrition and menstrual health are among several metrics where there is a lack of observable data. According to Gates, data provides a foundation for organizations to make decisions and intervene.
Several audience members were moved by Gates’ speech, including event moderator and Knight-Hennessy Scholar Suhani Jalota, a third-year Ph.D. candidate in economics and health policy. Jalota is the founder of Myna Mahila, an organization dedicated to ending period poverty through empowering women in India about menstrual hygiene. She commended The Gates Foundation for its work towards promoting change and tackling issues that heavily impact women.
“I first read your book, ‘Moment of Lift’ last year.” Jalota said to Gates. “I was bawling, reading the heartfelt stories of so many young girls around the world who were struggling to lead a decent life. I resonated with those stories so much, and I just wish they knew they’re not alone in their struggle.”