Relentless pursuit of an equitable world

The Optimist

Gender Equality

Expanding paths to economic autonomy transforms the lives of the poorest women and girls

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2019 Progress

Women—and men—participating in, contributing to, and benefiting from economic growth are essential for transforming the lives of poor and marginalized women and girls. We know that this requires changes in decision-making and leadership, more equitable policies, laws, and norms, and better access to financial and productive assets. We also know this means changing decision-making in households, communities, markets, and state institutions. That’s why, over the course of 2019, our foundation refined its work on women’s economic empowerment. Our strategy focuses on deepening women’s agency and organizing through women’s empowerment collectives; understanding and addressing harmful gender norms; removing barriers to employment; advancing policies for decent, equitable, and flexible work opportunities; closing gaps in women’s entrepreneurship; and expanding girls’ voices, choices, and paths to economic autonomy. Underpinning this work, we have invested in strengthening what aspects of an individual’s life get measured and how it's done to build a more complete picture of women’s and girls’ lives. Finally, to ensure policies and programs for gender equality are rooted in women’s lived experiences, we continue to invest in grassroots advocacy to build political will and put gender equality at the top of the agenda for citizens and governments.

—Katherine Hay
Deputy Director, Gender Equality

Goalkeepers 2019: Melinda Gates on reframing bias



Equality can’t wait



108 Number of years to close the global gender gap if current trends persists

40 Percent of the world’s women and girls who live in countries that get a “failing grade” in advancing progress on gender equality

71 Percent of people across 34 African countries who support women’s right to run for political office



In case you missed it

Melinda Gates with group of girls in Ethiopia


Gender equality is within our reach

In January 2010, Rosie the Riveter appeared in the mailbox of my home near Seattle, flexing her iconic bicep on the cover of the Economist. The cover story struck a triumphant tone, reporting, “At a time when the world is short of causes for celebration, here is a candidate: Within the next few months women will cross the 50% threshold and become the majority of the American workforce.” To mark the occasion, the magazine revised Rosie’s famous call to action from “We can do it!” to “We did it!”

As much as I appreciated Rosie’s enthusiasm, her declaration of victory felt premature. Even though American women did reach that 50% threshold in 2010 (and currently comprise 49.8% of the nonfarm workforce), the same old inequalities have simply followed us to new places. We still aren’t earning as much, rising as high, or having an equal voice in decision-making.

Read more from Melinda Gates on Harvard Business Review ›



2019 in Tweets



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What's Next?

2020 is poised to be a pivotal year for gender equality—but only if all of us step up our game. Next year is the 25th anniversary of the Beijing World Conference on Women—a seminal event when 189 governments, pushed by 30,000 feminist activists from around the world, unanimously adopted a global agenda for improving human rights for women and girls. Already, the foundation is working with our partners to celebrate this important milestone, which will be marked by the Generation Equality Forum co-hosted by UN Women, Mexico, and France, in May and July. This is an opportunity for the international community to unite around new work that we hope will make a meaningful difference in the lives of women and girls everywhere. Ultimately, we’re hopeful that 2020 will be remembered as a time when leaders across government, business, media, philanthropy, and tech committed money to programs and policies to consign gender inequality to the history books. And we’re counting on our advocacy partners to hold these leaders accountable for their rhetoric by pushing for bold action that will speed up today’s rates of uneven progress. Internally, we are also looking at opportunities to advance progress on gender equality. Over the past few years, we have been incubating a program across our Global Growth and Opportunity teams to add a gender lens to our investments. In the year ahead, we are excited to explore both more ways to scale this work and additional areas where the foundation can invest to catalyze transformational change.

—Erin Hohlfelder
Senior Program Officer, Program Advocacy and Communications, Gender Equality