In an op-ed published Thursday on the website Quartz, Melinda Gates announced that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will commit millions to the economic empowerment of women.
“We’ll spend $170 million over the next four years to help women exercise their economic power, which the evidence suggests is among the most promising entry points for gender equality,” writes Gates. “Simply put when money flows into the hands of women who have the authority to use it, everything changes.”
The problem the Gates Foundation hopes to tackle with this money is an enormous one. According to the UN, women around the world remain disproportionately affected by poverty, discrimination, and exploitation. Their contributions to global wellbeing often go uncompensated economically — think about all the unpaid household work that happens daily around the world. Gender discrimination often forces women into low-wage jobs without decision-making power or access to important basic assets, like land, homes, and loans.
So how do we overcome these inequities?
Gates has three main ideas. In her op-ed, she spells out how the foundation plans to use its spending power empower women.
The philanthropic powerhouse that is the BMGF will attempt to link women to markets. They’ll work in Africa and Asia to help women running small farms to collectivize and sell their products to buyers at a fair price using apps and real-time price information.
They’ll also work in eight specific countries to develop systems that will ensure that welfare and government safety net payments to low-income families are deposited into accounts controlled by women. As Gates points out, “When a mother has control over her family’s money, her children are 20 percent more likely to survive.”
The foundation will also provide funding for self-help groups where women and girls teach one another about everything from farming to business management.
These ideas — and the $170 million the foundation has committed — will undoubtedly influence the lives of countless girls and women. Yet, it’s just a tiny drop in the bucket when you consider that the BMGF controls assets worth $40.3 billion and provides annual grants in the billions of dollars.
And while their many policies undoubtedly help lift families out of poverty around the world, it’s worth noting that the BMFG, now the world’s largest philanthropic charity, exercises incredible influence over global development strategies and that it is largely unregulated, unlike international aid organizations.
Critics of the foundation, like the British social justice organization Global Justice Now, point out that their colossal private giving is influencing global health and agricultural practices in ways that may also benefit the Gates themselves.
“Analysis of the BMGF’s programs shows that the foundation, whose senior staff is overwhelmingly drawn from corporate America, is promoting multinational corporate interests at the expense of social and economic justice,” writes Mark Curtis, the author of the 2016 report, Gated Development: Is the Gates Foundation Always a Force for Good? “Its strategy is deepening—and is intended to deepen—the role of multinational companies in global health and agriculture especially, even though these corporations are responsible for much of the poverty and injustice that already plagues the global south.”
Empowering women financially is a worthy and important goal, and funding projects that do so makes sense. It also makes sense to be aware of where that money comes from — a small group of individuals with immense concentrated wealth who hold the power to decide who receives aid, and who does not.
Do you think this is a great initiative, a band-aid solution to gender inequality, or both? Tell us @britandco!
(Photo by John Lamparski / Stringer)