The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged to give $2.1 billion towards the advancement of gender equality. Announced on June 30 at the Generation Equality Forum in Paris, the Foundation committed to using their sizeable donation over the next five years for the empowerment of women, the betterment of healthcare, and family planning facilities, as well as the acceleration of the inclusion of women in leadership roles.
One of the core motivations behind the focus of this pledge was the ramifications of the Covid-19 pandemic on women. Melinda Gates explained that, “women face structural barriers that have made them more vulnerable to the pandemic’s impacts”. According to the International Labour Organisation, the pandemic has led to 9 million more women in unemployment in 2020 compared to 2019. It is also projected another 2 million women will have to leave the workplace in 2021. This is in stark contrast to men, for whom unemployment is expected to decrease in 2021.
This is why the Foundation will put $650 million of the pledge towards the reduction of the barriers women face in the workplace, with the aim of allowing women to have more financial independence. Another $1.4 billion will be focused on increasing the access to contraception and family planning organisations which would give women and girls more time in education, greater safety, and the chance to develop a career. The remaining money will go towards dismantling the systems in place which prevent women from getting into leadership positions.
All this comes as the Gates Foundation faces multiple accusations around its vaccine integrity, as well as the ex-couple behind the Foundation facing tumultuous times in their personal lives. Many critics do not believe Gates’ market-based approach to vaccine distribution was adept and saw it more as an attempt to retain control instead of wanting to help as many people to get vaccinated as possible. Gates initially supported a patent on the vaccine which would give companies complete control over where the production took place and the prices at which they could be sold. This has put lower and middle income countries (LMICS) at a disadvantage and has exacerbated the uneven distribution of vaccines across the world. With much of the burden of the pandemic falling on women, especially women in LMICs, surely a support of patents was not the way to achieve gender equality? It could be said that the recently announced pledge was a way to turn the focus away from the negative press the Foundation has been receiving and towards their philanthropy.
Bill Gates has also faced criticism for his connections with Jeffrey Epstein, the late paedophile and sex offender. Gates first met Epstein two years after he was released from prison for the prostitution of an underage girl. Whilst Gates made clear his contact with Epstein was purely for philanthropic reasons, it does not make sense why Gates would want a convicted sex offender to be a part of a foundation aimed at empowering women. This again serves to undermine the motivations behind the Gates Foundation’s recent pledge.
However, it appears Melinda Gates is now the driver of the work going into the advancement of gender equality, with the Foundation’s CEO calling her the “primary face and voice” of the initiative. To begin with, Bill Gates may have been more reserved about using the Foundation’s money for gender-equality advancement as he felt its impact could be less easily measured in comparison to other programmes. Over time though it appears the Gates Foundation has understood that gender equality is necessary if it is to achieve poverty eradication and fight preventable diseases.