Relentless pursuit of an equitable world

The Optimist

in the global economy, gender gap is closing slowly

We don't want to wait 99 years for gender equality

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, let’s pause to appreciate the progress we are making towards gender equality. In 46 countries, women now hold more than 30 percent of the seats in at least one chamber of the national parliament. Child marriage is on the decline worldwide and in Ethiopia, dropped by a third in the past decade. More women than ever before have access to family planning and in Uganda, the number of women using modern contraception nearly doubled from (from 1.6 million in 2012 to 3.1 million in 2019).

This progress is changing the course of hundreds of millions of lives and history. And yet, it is not enough. No matter your age, we will not achieve gender parity in your lifetime. Nor we will likely achieve it in your daughter’s lifetime.

We are on a trajectory that will have our granddaughters and great-granddaughters raising the victory flag for gender equality.

About 99 years from now.

This means generations more women and girls who cannot determine if, when, and whom they marry. It means generations more women and girls who cannot stay in school to achieve their ambitions. It means generations more women and girls who have no control over household finances to support their children’s good nutrition, health, and education.  

It also means generations of untapped potential and talent—potential and talent the world could use to help tackle big challenges, from combatting epidemics like COVID-19 to building new climate solutions.

We don’t want to wait. And we know neither do you.

melinda gates shares her hopes on international women's day 2020 

At the foundation we are committed to expanding women’s voice, power and agency to make decisions about their own lives – and about their families, communities, companies, and countries, too. That’s always been the foundation’s bedrock – that all lives have equal value.

In advance of International Women’s Day—and in the lead up to the Generation Equality Forum later this year— we reached out to staff across the foundation to ask: What is the gender equality indicator where you hope we’ll see the most progress by 2030?

We hope these thoughts will prompt you to ask yourself this same question and to reflect on how you are working towards advancing gender equality.

Helene Madonick, Interim Director, Gender Equality 

The data point I would like to see change most over the next ten years is the gender gap in economic participation. Globally, only 55 percent of women are engaged in the labor market as opposed to 78 percent of men. According to the Global Gender Gap report released earlier this year, it will take 257 years to close this gap. 

We know that more money flowing into the hands of more women – and those women having the power to spend and save it – doesn’t just change things around the margins. It is a game changer. Directly, economic opportunity for women reduces poverty. Indirectly, it encourages women and girls to expand their sense of self and challenge the unwritten rules that say they are lesser than men and boys.

200 million women don't have access to digital financial services

The benefit for women and girls is priceless. And when it comes to the economy, the price tag is a hefty one. 

Closing the gender gap in the workforce could add $28 trillion to the global GDP.

Rodger Voorhies, President Global Growth and Opportunity

Financial systems were often built to exclude poor, rural women, whose transactions were deemed too small or who were supposed to let their husbands make the financial decisions.

in 72 countries, women still can't open a bank account

The gap remains to this day; 72 percent of men have a bank account compared to 65 percent of women. That is 190 million fewer women with a bank account. 

The foundation is committed to linking the poorest women to financial services because we know it is often the first step toward helping women access markets, save effectively, and gain a measure of economic empowerment. That’s why I’m hoping that by 2030, we’ll close this gap.

This is about more than whose name is written on a deposit slip. 

We know that when women are in charge of their finances, they often invest differently from their husbands. They are more likely to invest in health and their kids’ education, and when a mother has control over her family’s money, her children are 20 percent more likely to survive. Access to mobile banking can also help address safety concerns, make it easier for women to work in formal economies, and expand the impact of women-run businesses and collectives.

Moky Makura, Deputy Director Communications, Africa

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to lead a conversation on a panel with a unicorn – someone that is highly desirable but difficult to find.

Her name was Khadija Patel, editor of the South African independent newspaper, Mail and Guardian. Khadija is a unicorn because she is one of only 5 female newspaper editors out of 45 in South Africa. Khadija helped our audience understand not just the realities and pressures of being a woman in the newsroom, but also of leading a newsroom. 

Too often the stories we see of African women in the media are the stories of victims. Women living in poverty, being abused, or struggling with HIV. These stories are true for some women – don’t get me wrong – but it is not the only story. Sometimes it takes a woman to understand the nuances and the broader context that informs how we are portrayed. 

214 million women worldwide don't have access to contraceptives

Every day however there are more and better depictions of African women. The number of women featured in African media as reporters and experts is up 11% over 15 years, while the world average has remained stagnant. 

Has this success happened by accident? I don’t think so. Across sub-Saharan Africa, there have been real efforts to support young women to get into journalism. These create the same opportunities for them as their male contemporaries, giving them access to role models and teachers that they can use to grow.

My hope for 2030? That women who are running newsrooms, like Khadija, are the norm, not the exception.

Anja Langenbucher, Europe Director

Early in my career, I joined a team at a large development bank working to rebuild post-war Kosovo. Our team was pleased with our plans. The lone gender expert on our team was not. “The streetlights” she kept saying, “are too far apart.” The dark spaces between the streetlights illuminated our economical approach to city planning. But our gender expert recognized they would make the streets more dangerous. 

Thanks to her smart advocacy, the streetlights in Kosovo were placed closer together. And I became more sensitive to what happens when the needs of half of the population are ignored by those holding the purse strings. 

Too often, we still don’t consider the streetlights from the outset. Why? It comes down to a lack of women leaders. And that’s the data point I’d like to see the greatest progress on in the next ten years.

In Germany, where I come from, not a single one of the 30 largest companies has a female CEO. Not a single one has as much as one-third female representation on their board. Of course, this is not just a German problem. In 2018, the New York Times reported that there were fewer women running Fortune 500 companies than men named James. 

women are 51% of the population; 25% of the representation

Diversity will not happen by itself. It must be actively fostered by those in positions of power, and fought for by those who are not. We need the people in our boardrooms to be thinking about those streetlights. 

Mark Suzman, CEO

The history of development is littered with examples like Anja shared – well-intentioned programs that miss the mark because they haven’t considered how people of different genders face different norms, opportunities, and barriers. And let me be clear, our foundation is no exception. You can read about some of our missteps here. 

We’ve learned the hard way that nothing we do can succeed without a deeper focus on gender equality. That’s why I’m proud that our foundation has a Gender Integration Team, which is working with staff across the foundation to ensure the needs and interests of all genders are integrated into programs, from how they are designed and implemented to how they are monitored and evaluated.

When we understand and consider how gender plays into poverty, hunger, health, and every other issue we take on, and when we use that knowledge to intervene in the right ways, then and only then will we make equal, meaningful, and lasting progress between here and 2030.