Melinda Gates has always been a woman of high credibility in my eyes owing to the wide range of philanthropic work that she has been doing with her husband, Bill Gates. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been providing substantial credit in developing countries championing the cause of alleviating poverty, women empowerment and eradicating hunger and inequalities. I first came across this Foundation as a child when this power couple used to visit India and finance projects.
The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World (2019) is a book written by Melinda Gates on various issues that women face with some actionable advice from around the world. The book contains several personal accounts by Melinda Gates on how she achieved equality in her own marriage first, before teaching equality to women worldwide and how she chose to speak for herself, as a woman at Microsoft. This book belongs to the non-fiction genre but while reading the book, you feel a touch of personal dialogue which makes this book so readable while being informative at the same time.
About the author
Melinda French Gates is a philanthropist, businesswoman, and global advocate for women and girls.
As the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Melinda sets the direction and priorities of the world’s largest philanthropy. She is also the founder of Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company working to drive social progress for women and families in the United States.
Melinda grew up in Dallas, Texas. She received a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Duke University and an MBA from Duke’s Fuqua School. Melinda spent the first decade of her career developing multimedia products at Microsoft before leaving the company to focus on her family and philanthropic work. She lives in Seattle, Washington with her husband, Bill. They have three children, Jenn, Rory, and Phoebe.
Premise of the book
These are lessons I’ve learned from extraordinary people I want you to meet. Some will make your heart break. Others will make your heart soar. These heroes have built schools, saved lives, ended wards, empowered girls, and changed cultures. I think they’ll inspire you. They have inspiredMelinda Gates on why she wrote “the moment of lift”
Melinda Gates has provided a soul-stirring narrative which has been backed by various facts and figures and calls for our attention to the most pressing issues of women in modern times. Child marriage, lack of contraceptives and family planning, unpaid labor, lack of proper education and skilling which have caused women to stay back. Melinda has beautifully carved out dialogues around these issues while telling accounts from her own life.
She also makes a point to help women and everyone who needs help because “when we lift others, they lift us up, too”.In the subsequent sections, we will have a look at various aspects that she has covered in her book.
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been working around family planning for years now and it is in fact one of the basic works that the Foundation started with.
Using a contraceptive was not allowed in the United States until the 1940s when the court ordered that women have the right to use contraceptives. Earlier, contraceptives were seen as a means to deny birth and it was equal to sin. Alongside, it also gave the impression that women would use it for their sexual pleasure and women were considered a means of pleasure for men, how can they have pleasure themselves?
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But lack of contraceptives breaks misfortune on a family as they are not able to plan their families properly. In developing countries, lack of access to contraceptives leads to more mouths than they can feed, pushing them all into the cycle of poverty.
“When you don’t do family planning, everybody in the family suffers. I’d have a baby on my back and another in my belly. My husband had to take on debt to cover the basics, but even that wasn’t enough. It’s complete suffering when you don’t do family planning, and I have lived that.”Sadi from Nigeria in the moment of lift by Melinda Gaetes.
The dialogues around sexual education, health and contraceptives have been considered taboo but it has not helped to control population or save millions of women who die young while trying to give birth to young ones. The cycle of poverty becomes vicious and more and more people are pushed to poverty and a life of misery due to a thing as simple as a contraceptive.
The silent inequality: Unpaid labor
Melinda Gates has started this chapter by telling the story of Rani who was luckily saved by workers of the Foundation as she was starving due to malnutrition. While she was saved, there are so many children who die due to a lack of initiatives of the mother, either financially or personally.
“The women have no rights, no empowerment. All they do is cook and clean and let their kids die in their arms, and even not show their face.”Melinda Gates in “the moment of lift” on how women let their kids die in their arms while covering their face with a veil.
If women were to reduce their share in unpaid labor at home from 5 hours to 3, the income of the family would rise by over 20%. While performing unpaid labor, they are denying themselves opportunities that could earn their family a good fortune. It ranges from getting an education to earning a substantial income, from getting skilled to being socially and politically active.
Women are often not even credited for the enormous amount of work that they do at home. Their work is often unaccounted for and taken for granted. In fact, this was also ignored by economists all over the world. It was when an economist Marilyn Waring traveled around the world studying unpaid work and she calculated that if you hired workers at the market rate to do all the unpaid work women do, unpaid work would be the biggest sector of the global economy.
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When a girl has no voice: Child marriage
Melinda has included so many personal accounts by talking to women across the globe in this chapter and I just remembered the fact that 27% of girls in India are married off before turning 18 and few states have this rate even higher, approximately at 40%.
When girls are married off early, they are forced to have children and conceive easily due to biological fertility and lower prevalence of contraceptives. It leads to anemia, nutritional deficiency, and many times maternal death. These girls are also denied education due to which they are denied a life-long opportunity to earn and be socially and politically active.
It will not be wrong to say that child marriage is actually a grave denial of human rights to girls!
There is also a chapter on women in agriculture which was particularly eye-opening as we leave out women when we try to make policies related to agriculture. The truth is that women work in the fields most of the time and usually on smaller farms, with lower levels of technology and seed variety.
I had read a work by PARI that bending for longer stretches of time forces women to have deformities in their spines and some pregnant women even have miscarriages due to stress on the fetus. This can be solved by simple innovations in seeds that produce rice varieties that are taller or some tools that can remove drudgery on fields.
Review of the book
Without any hesitation, I will give 5 stars to this book. It was an amazing work by Melinda Gates and her editors who included such grave and serious issues and talked to the reader with so much ease. People usually have issues that non-fiction books are too hard to read because they talk of data, facts, etc all the time.
This book seemed like an easy conversation between the reader and Melinda Gates as she talked on some tough things in her personal voice and made us understand through stories of people that she has personally met and worked. Women need a voice. Despite being 50% of the population, they are a minority very much exploited. Melinda Gates beautifully gave them a voice in the book.
I am glad I picked this book in starting of the year and it surely was worth the time reading. I have marked the book at so many places that it has actually become quite colorful.