Our commitment to gender equality

When women and girls can prioritize their own health and well-being, earn and manage their own money, decide whether or when they want to have children, and be leaders in their societies, everyone benefits.
Dr. Womas, a senior researcher, works in the laboratory at the Pasteur Institute in Dakar, Senegal.
Dr. Womas, a senior researcher, works in the laboratory at the Pasteur Institute in Dakar, Senegal. ©Gates Archive/Carmen Yasmine Abd Ali

There is no simple solution or singular approach to gender equality.

Seema Gupta in her bangles shop in the Vikaspuri locality of New Delhi.She and her husband have SBI EKO mini savings accounts which they can operate using their mobile phone at various EKO Customer Service Points.

Every community has its own history, and everyone’s experiences and the gendered barriers they face are different—and often compounded, based on their gender identity, where they live, and the income status of their family, as well as their age, race, caste, and education level. People whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth also face additional barriers, largely grounded in harmful gender norms.

Our strategy focuses on clearing obstacles that prevent women and girls in low- and middle-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia from making their own choices and leading healthy lives with opportunity, dignity, and respect. We work with our partners to amplify the progress already being made and identify areas where the need is high and our support can make a difference.

We work comprehensively. In countries and communities around the world, gender affects whether and how individuals can access resources and how much control they have over them. It is therefore critical for us to consider the role that gender plays in all our work at the foundation. We continue to improve and expand the ways in which we take gender into account, to ensure that our work is designed inclusively to benefit the people and communities it is intended to serve.

Cycles must be broken. When women and girls are expected to remain in the home, perform all domestic work, lack access to essential health care and the ability to plan the size of their families, and defer to parents, in-laws, male relatives, and husbands on important decisions, they cannot participate freely in their communities or fulfill their individual potential. But history has shown that even the most deeply entrenched gender biases can be changed—and that when they are, economic opportunities for women grow, their health improves, and their families thrive.

We are working to:

  • improve women's and girls' health at every stage of their lives—starting with increasing child survival rates.
  • increase women's economic opportunity and decision-making power.
  • strengthen positive social norms about gender equality.
  • collect and analyze better data to ensure women are counted and considered in policymaking—including supporting advocates to ensure that gender equality is prioritized by decision-makers.
  • increase pathways to leadership for women. 
A woman uses a mobile application to enter data in the village of Pranpur in Bihar, India.
A woman uses a mobile application to enter data in the village of Pranpur in Bihar, India.
In the Indian state of Bihar, we partnered with the Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy to create the country’s first district-level gender dashboard. The dashboard gives the government access to vital data to identify areas where improvement is needed—such as women’s safety and access to jobs—to reduce barriers to women’s economic empowerment. We are supporting the development of similar tools in Kenya and Ethiopia.
A member of the mothers’ support group smiles for a portrait in Yamaltu Deba, Gombe, Nigeria on November 16, 2016.
A member of a mothers’ support group in Gombe, Nigeria.
In Nigeria, we support an organization called Honey & Banana, whose website helps make pregnancy prevention as simple as possible by addressing many of the barriers women, girls, and couples face when trying to access family planning services. People can find information on family planning options, chat with or call a counselor, book an appointment at their local health clinic, and even purchase contraceptive products—all through the website.
An office of the Savings and Credit Cooperative Organization (SACCO) in Kampala, Uganda, March 1, 2007.
An office of a savings and credit cooperative in Kampala, Uganda.
In Uganda, we support partners who are building on group-based interventions that are already socially acceptable, such as women’s savings groups, to create more broad-based women’s collectives whose members are empowered to organize, use their voices, and advocate for change.

Everyone is worthy of opportunity, health, and dignity. Women deserve the right to be healthy, make their own choices, earn and manage their own money, and fully participate in all decision-making.

Jennifer Chidiwa, 23, practices Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) with her son at Bwaila Hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi.
A mother practicing kangaroo mother care with her son at a hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi.

Too often, people living in low-income communities have few opportunities and little power to improve their lives. These disadvantages are magnified for women and girls, many of whom have little say in the decisions that affect their lives, their families, and their communities. Structural barriers such as discriminatory laws and restrictive policies limit their participation in the economy and their earning power. Harmful social norms and outdated expectations further deny them control over their own lives, including their education, health care, marital and reproductive choices, employment, and family financial decisions.

When the barriers are removed and women and girls can thrive, when the potential of half the world’s population is unlocked, a powerful force for progress is ignited that benefits everyone. Evidence from dozens of emerging economies tells a clear and compelling story: When money flows into the hands of women, and when those women have the power to decide when and how to spend it, their lives and the lives of their families improve.

In Ethiopia, Smart Start, a program from Adolescents 360, empowers adolescent girls to think differently about how many children they want to have and when they want to have them.
Health extension workers from the Adolescent 360 "Smart Start" family planning program meet with Melinda French Gates in Fogera District, Amhara, Ethiopia.

In Ethiopia, we partner with Adolescents 360 on a program called Smart Start. In rural areas with deep-seated traditions of early marriage and early pregnancy, Smart Start empowers adolescent girls to think differently about how many children they want to have and when they want to have them.

What makes Smart Start unique—and so effective—is that it’s designed by adolescent girls for adolescent girls. It starts with the things young married girls and their husbands care about—healthy kids, a more prosperous future—and helps them understand how family planning fits into that future. Smart Start helps these couples set goals—like a new ox or a new house or more savings—and connects them with the family planning tools that can help them achieve those goals.

A woman beneficiary of subsidized cooking gas and zero-balance Jan Dhan bank accounts uses her mobile phone in Targaon village in Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh, India.
A woman beneficiary of subsidized cooking gas and zero-balance Jan Dhan bank accounts uses her mobile phone in Targaon village in Unnao district of Uttar Pradesh, India.

COVID-19 has spurred unprecedented growth in the number of accounts that support government-to-person social protection payments.

About 477 million of these accounts were opened over the past two years, including 262 million by women.

About 80 million women—nearly equal to the population of Germany—opened their first bank account to receive social protection payments during the pandemic.

By advancing women's equality, we could unlock $12 trillion in economic gains.

Huge gaps in gender data leave the true scale of gender inequality unknown.

Sexist and incomplete data are among the biggest challenges facing gender equality efforts. To build solutions that benefit women and girls, we need an accurate picture of the lived experiences of women and girls.

In 2021 at the Generation Equality Forum, Melinda French Gates announced a commitment of $2.1 billion to advance gender equality globally.

Without concerted action, gender inequality will persist throughout our lifetimes, causing unnecessary hardship and diminishing the lives of women—particularly marginalized women—and prevent future generations from reaching their full potential.

Josephine, a farmer, at her farm in Makueni County, Kenya.
Josephine, a farmer, at her farm in Makueni County, Kenya

The deadline for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals is drawing near.

The Gender Equality Division looks closely at how gender plays into every issue the foundation touches. Our mandate is to guarantee that gender equality is not just part of our collective agenda—it is our agenda.

The stakes are too high for gender equality to remain at the bottom of priority lists in country after country.


Our commitment

We work in service of women in low- and middle-income countries. 

Our work is informed by, implemented with, and dependent on our partners. As a philanthropy, our role is to listen to and learn from these experts. We also build on our strengths as a foundation in areas such as global health and data to determine where we can add the most value.

Many outstanding organizations are pursuing gender equality in high-income nations; our focus is on women and girls in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. We work to identify and better understand their most urgent needs, and we seek out partners who are doing that work in their own communities. We also use data to measure and improve the impact of interventions for women and girls, which enables our partners to develop and fund more projects that make a difference.

Everyone who works toward gender equality has unique value to bring to these complex and connected challenges. Our strategy focuses on areas that our partners and our research indicate will help the whole sector move forward. Together, we focus on dismantling the gender-specific barriers that individuals face, wherever they occur and at every stage of life.

A family at home in Kampala, Uganda, on February 18, 2021.
A family at home in Kampala, Uganda, on February 18, 2021.

Gender equality resources

Gender Equality Toolbox

The foundation’s Gender Equality Toolbox provides tools that can guide foundation staff and partners in designing and managing gender-intentional and gender-transformative programs and investments and measuring the results and impact.

Learn more