“In her book, Melinda tells the stories of the inspiring people she’s met through her work all over the world, digs into the data, and powerfully illustrates issues that need our attention―from child marriage to gender inequity in the workplace.”
-President Barack Obama
Chapter 1 | The Lift of a Great Idea
Soon after founding the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Melinda went to Malawi “and was deeply moved to see so many mothers standing in long lines in the heat to get shots for their kids.”
What got her attention even more was the answer of a young mother with small kids when asked by her, “Are you taking these beautiful children to get their shots?”
“What about my shot?” she replied. “Why do I have to walk twenty kilometers in this heat to get my shot?”
“She wasn’t talking about a vaccination,” comments Melinda. “She was talking about Depo-Provera, a long-acting birth control injection that could keep her from getting pregnant.”
A mother named Sadi Seyni from a small village in Niger said something even more terrifying: “It wouldn’t be fair for me to have another child. I can’t afford to feed the ones I have now!”
In time, Melinda realized that these were not lonely voices in the wilderness—this was the leitmotif. Namely, most of these poor African women wanted to protect their children, and the best idea they had in mind was not having more of them.
Only, they couldn’t afford that.
Their experiences comply with the available data.
As Melinda says, in 2012, in the world’s 69 poorest countries, 260 million women were using contraceptives.
That’s the good news.
The bad news?
Over 200 million more women in these nations wanted to use contraceptives—but couldn’t get them.
The problem goes even deeper than you’d think.
As a Bangladeshi study spanning over two decades has discovered, contraceptives make the lives of both the mothers and the children better and longer.
“It took us years to learn that contraceptives are the greatest life-saving, poverty-ending, women-empowering innovation ever created,” concludes Melinda.
Fortunately, now we know.
Chapter 2 | Empowering Mothers: Maternal and Newborn Health
“Socialism never took root in America,” wrote someone somewhere (probably Ronald Wright in A Short History of Progress), “because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”
Socialism aside—the second part of the quote sounds quite true: because of the American Dream, most Americans believe that the poor are simply incapable and that not having enough money to meet your own needs speaks much more about you than the system.
However, throughout her work—and through an enlightening discussion with the late great Hans Rosling—Melinda Gates learned another, much better definition of poverty:
Poverty is not being able to protect your family. Poverty is not being able to save your children when mothers with more money could. And because the strongest instinct of a mother is to protect her children, poverty is the most disempowering force on earth. It follows that if you want to attack poverty, and if you want to empower women, you can do both with one approach: Help mothers protect their children.
What does this mean in practice?
3 million newborns die every year, and most of them die because of poverty. In other words, most of these 3 million deaths happen in far-off, impoverished places where death holds dominion over areas of life from which it has been banished in the West long, long time ago.
Fortunately, since the early 1990s, the global vaccination drive cut the number of childhood deaths in half.
You can see where this is going already: if you want to help mothers protect their children, give them access to free vaccination.
Also—as we read in the first chapter—give them access to free contraception as well; because, instead of getting better, things are getting worse during the last few years.
Chapter 3 | Every Good Thing: Family Planning
In 1994, the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo drew more than 10,000 participants from around the world.
It is still the largest conference of its kind and, as Melinda Gates says, it marks “a historic early statement on the rights of women and girls.”
Because it unambiguously “urged the empowerment of women, set goals for women’s health and education, and declared that access to reproductive health services, including family planning, is a basic human right.”
Funding for family planning hasn’t increased since 1994; in fact, it has dropped significantly since Cairo.
Well, blame it on the conservative governments who are coming to power all over the world.
Don’t believe us?
Well, take the United States as an example.
During the past few decades, the US was exceptionally successful in bringing down teen pregnancy rates.
In fact, the country is at a historic low for teen pregnancy, and the number of unintended pregnancies is one of the lowest in history as well.
What brought about this outcome?
First of all, the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, which spends $100 million a year to reach low-income teens in communities across the United States.
And secondly—yes!—the Affordable Care Act, which allows women to get contraceptives without paying for them out of their pocket.
You know where this is going, don’t you?
“Unfortunately,” notes Melinda Gates, “that progress is in jeopardy—both the drop in unwanted pregnancies and the policies that helped make it happen. The current administration is working to dismantle programs that provide family planning and reproductive health services.”
It seems that the goal of his policies is to replace programs proven to work with programs proven not to work. (Abstinence-only sex? Really?)
Chapter 4 | Lifting Their Eyes: Girls in School
Because of the reasons Melinda Gates uncovers above, she decided that family planning should be one of the main objectives of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“But every time I’ve thought, Okay, now we’re seeing the big picture,” she notes, “I’d meet another woman or girl who would show me a bigger picture. And my most important teachers were not the experts we would meet with in Seattle. They were women and girls who met us in their towns and talked about their dreams.”
Well, one of these girls was Sona, a 10-year-old from a very poor community in a village called Kanpur.
Kanpur is mainly inhabited by the lowest of Indian castes. If you’ve read our summary of the incredible journalistic work that is Behind the Beautiful Forevers, you can already guess how life looks like in Kanpur.
For most of the people there, the highlight of the month is finding something valuable in the trash that can be sold in return for some money.
Family planning is just one of the problems here.
And, intuitively, the 10-year-old Sona knew that full well.
“I want a teacher,” she would repeatedly say to Gary Darmstadt, a foundation colleague of Melinda, when he went to Kanpur in 2011 to talk about family planning.
Family planning is helpful.
But the truth is, unless the kids of the women taught about family planning, get some kind of education they’re going to live the same lives as their parents.
No end to the cycle without lifting their eyes, without making it possible for girls to attend school!
Why just girls?
Well, because in most low-income countries, for every 100 boys who go into tertiary education, 55 girls stay at home!
Why is that?
Find out in the summary of the next chapter.
Chapter 5 | The Silent Inequality: Unpaid Work
As we said above, the picture is even bigger than family planning and education. And that’s because even educated women have the misfortune of facing thousands and thousands of hurdles in the world of work.
But, yet again, we’re not merely talking about sexual harassment at work and so on and so forth; we’re talking about something Melinda Gates refers to as “the silent inequality,” i.e., unpaid work.
Kanpur may be a poor neighborhood inhabited by the most conservative of people, so one would expect for women—and even girls—to carry out all the errands, including childcare itself.
But India is a powerhouse.
And yet, the data says that Indian men engage in only one hour of unpaid work on a daily basis, while women engage in no less than six!
And the same holds true even for the richest countries in the world!
In the United States, for example, women engage in unpaid work at least one and a half hour more than men—on a daily basis.
That means that during any given week, women work one workday more than men—which makes all the difference even if they are paid equally for the rest of their work (which, oftentimes, are not).
How are we supposed to mend this?
Inspired by Marylin Waring’s exceptionally important book titled If Women Counted, economist Diane Elson devised the 3R framework to shrink the gender gap regarding unpaid work.
Its three steps are quite simple when you think about it:
#1: We should start by recognizing that unpaid work is being done; that, of course, means that governments should start counting the hours both men and women spend in unpaid work;
#2. Afterward, we should work our best to reduce the number of unpaid work hours, using modern technology (not only cookstoves and washing machines but also breast pumps);
#3. Finally, we need to redistribute the work we can’t reduce so that men and women share it more equitably.
Sounds like a nice plan, doesn’t it?
Chapter 6 | When a Girl Has No Voice: Child Marriage
Do you know what is the number one cause of death for girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide?
Believe it or not, going through childbirth!
Why would that be a problem, you ask?
Of course, because it’s happening in low-income and emerging economies; but, also, because tradition works hand in hand with poverty to make these things happen.
What precisely do we have in mind?
Two words: child marriage.
So widespread phenomenon that about a third of girls living in emerging economies are married off as teenagers; even worse, every tenth girl in these countries has a husband before turning even 15!
Because, unlike a son, a daughter can be married off for money, which makes her marriage a double boon for her family: more money, and one less child to take care of.
Add to that biased traditions devised in some times when empathy was barely even a word, and you get a certain recipe for disaster.
“Tradition without discussion kills moral progress,” writes Melinda Gates.
“If you’re handed a tradition and decide not to talk about it—just do it—then you’re letting people from the past tell you what to do. It kills the chance to see the blind spots in the tradition—and moral blind spots always take the form of excluding others and ignoring their pain.”
On the other hand:
When communities challenge their own social norms in this way, people who were forced to bear the pain of a practice that benefited others now have their needs recognized, and their burdens eased. In the case of child marriage, a community-wide discussion based on empathy and guided by equality leads to a world where a woman’s marriage is no longer forced, her wedding day is no longer tragic, and her schooling doesn’t end when she’s 10. When you examine old practices to take out bias and add in empathy, everything changes.
And that’s what the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, in partnership with Tostan, and Dutch Princess Mabel van Oranje’s foundation “Girls Not Brides” are constantly doing.
Hopefully, in a very recent future, child marriages will be a thing of the past, and girls will be allowed to choose their husbands, and their next career moves even in poorer countries.
Chapter 7 | Seeing Gender Bias: Women in Agriculture
In 2015, during another one of Melinda Gates’ visits to Malawi, she met a farmer named Patricia, so dedicated to her seeds and crops that she—and she alone from her whole farming community—spent Christmas Day in a field a mile away from the celebrations, “kneeling on the damp earth in her half-acre farm plot, planting groundnuts.”
“You’d think that someone with Patricia’s dedication would be hugely successful,” writes Melinda Gates, “but for years, she had struggled.”
You’ve guessed it alright: because she is a woman with the misfortune of being born in sub-Saharan Africa!
What does this mean in practice?
Well, first of all, women in Malawi are not allowed to inherit land, which means that Patricia has to pay rent for her field; secondly, no matter how dedicated she is, if she needs additional farming supplies, she would have to ask for her husband’s permission, because she—as most of the Malawi women—has no control over the family’s money.
In spite of Patricia’s painstaking work, even the basics had been out of reach for her and her family. Not only she didn’t have money for school fees for her kids, but she also didn’t have money to buy a set of cooking pots, let alone something more.
Fortunately, the CARE Pathways, a program dedicated to teaching agricultural techniques and gender equality in agriculture, spelled the way out of this dreadful situation for both Patricia and her family.
After they both attended, her husband started listening to her more, and Patricia was able to buy better seeds. This quadrupled her crop yield and allowed her to send her children to school. Inspired by her, other women joined in.
That’s merely the beginning of course: if women in agriculture are empowered the way Patricia is, the resulting food surplus could lift 150 million people out of hunger and poverty.
And now you know why Melinda Gates and the BMGF is interested in agriculture!
Chapter 8 | Creating a New Culture: Women in the Workplace
In 1987, when Melinda Gates graduated, 35% of IT graduates in the USA were women; nowadays, it’s only 19%.
According to her, there are many reasons for the drop, but the three most important ones are gender biased:
#1. PCs were usually marketed as gaming devices for boys, so boys spent more time in front of them than girls in the early days;
#2. The ideal computer coder is often seen as someone with no outside interests or social skills (hence, this often screens out women much more than men);
#3. And finally—and most terrifyingly—managers hired many more women for IT-related jobs when programming was seen as clerical in nature, and hire many more men nowadays when it is understood as something more complex.
Another reason is the staggering fact that only 2% of venture capital partners are women, and only 2% of venture capital money is going to women-founded ventures!
This is the reason why Melinda Gates is investing in specialized venture capital funds—such as Aspect Ventures—that invest in companies led by women or people of color.
“This isn’t charity on my part,” notes Gates.
“I expect a good return, and I’m confident I’ll get one because women are going to see markets that men won’t see, and black and Latina and Asian women will see markets that white entrepreneurs won’t see. I think we’ll look back in ten years and see it was crazy that more money wasn’t flowing toward markets understood by women and people of color.”
Remember the Hammurabi Code as described by Harari in Sapiens?
If not, here’s a reminder: according to the Code, one eye of a male commoner was worth twice the life of a female commoner.
Well, because the Code was written by men.
And that should explain to you more about Melinda Gates’ decision to invest in Aspect Ventures than anything else.
“If societies are going to elevate women to equality with men—and declare that people of any race or religion have the same rights as anyone else—then we have to have men and women and every racial and religious group together writing the code,” writes Gates.
And then she gives the best argument for diversity we’ve ever read: “Diversity is the best way to defend equality.”
“If people from diverse groups are not making the decisions,” Melinda clarifies things, “the burdens and benefits of society will be divided unequally and unfairly—with the people writing the rules ensuring themselves a greater share of the benefits and a lesser share of the burdens of any society.”
“No group should have to trust another to protect their interests,” she concludes; “all should be able to speak for themselves. “
Highlight that, and never forget it.
Chapter 9 | Let Your Heart Break: The Lift of Coming Together
After returning once again to Hans Rosling and his last lesson given to Melinda Gates, the final chapter of The Moment of Lift brings the author’s discussion to a worthy closure.
“Every issue in this book is a door women must walk through, or a wall we must break through,” she writes, “to become full contributors.”
Whether it is the right for women to decide whether and when to have children, to marry or not marry, to seek opportunity, attend a university, control their income, manage their time, pursue their goals, and/or advance in the workplace—women need to meet, talk, organize and lead, so that they can break down the walls and open the doors for everyone.
Of course, a casual reader might read into this paragraph something akin to exclusion.
Well, what about the men? he might ask.
“I’m not saying we should include women and girls as opposed to men and boys,” answers Gates, “but along with them and on behalf of them. This is not about bringing women in and leaving others out. It’s about bringing women in as a way to bring everyone in.”
And then she concludes:
It’s not easy to transform a culture built on exclusion. It’s hard to cooperate with people who want to dominate. But we don’t have a choice. We can’t just make the insiders into the new outsiders and call it to change. We have to include everyone, even those who want to exclude us. It’s the only way to build the world we want to live in. Others have used their power to push people out. We have to use our power to bring people in. We can’t just add one more warring faction. We have to end factions. It’s the only way we become whole.
Key Lessons from “The Moment of Lift”
- Women Suffer More Than Men—In Oh So Many Ways
- Why Melinda Gates Speaks Up for Women
- The Policies of Inclusion vs. The Culture of Exclusion
Women Suffer More Than Men—In Oh So Many Ways
In her journeys throughout the world as a public advocate and a dedicated implementer and facilitator of the altruistic mission of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Melinda Gates learned a painful truth (somewhat muddled by modern alt-right conservatives): that women suffer much, much more than men.
Hundreds of millions of them want to decide for themselves whether and when to have children, but they can’t because they have no access to contraceptives.
Others don’t have the right to decide whether and when and whom to marry. Millions don’t have the right to go to school or earn an income.
Some are forbidden to work outside the home or even walk outside the home—which results in so many women worldwide not having enough money let alone their own space (and those are the keys, said Virginia Woolf, to freedom and independence).
Starting a business, owning a property, running for office, finding inventors—you name the right, millions of women don’t have it!
Even when they’re allowed by law!
Why Melinda Gates Speaks Up for Women
If the reasons above are not enough for you, here’s the story behind The Moment of Lift.
Melinda Gates started her philanthropic journey two decades ago as an advocate of family planning, believing that contraception would solve so many problems of the women around the world.
However, as time passed, she learned that this is merely the start. It did help a lot, but women were still denied the right to education, with 13 million girls being forced into marriages before reaching the age of 15 on a yearly basis.
And what about owning some land, being paid for household chores, or doing away with the gender-biased work atmosphere?
“I quickly realized—because I was quickly told—that it wasn’t enough to speak up for family planning,” writes Melinda Gates. “I had to speak up for women. And I soon saw that if we are going to take our place as equals with men, it won’t come from winning our rights one by one or step by step; we’ll win our rights in waves as we become empowered. “
The Policies of Inclusion vs. The Culture of Exclusion
Speaking up for women, however, is not easy.
In fact, it is always very difficult to speak for the ones who are excluded—be they women, people of color, the poor, the immigrants, the marginalized sexual communities.
Because the ones who have excluded them are most probably the ones who are in power.
So, your job is to make the people who’ve built their power by developing a culture of exclusion to start implementing policies of inclusion.
Of course it’s not going to happen very soon.
But it must happen—and Melinda Gates is all about putting the wheels in motion today!