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Melinda French Gates: Why I’m Donating $1 Billion for Women’s Rights

Many years ago, I received this piece of advice: “Set your own agenda, or someone else will set it for you.” I’ve carried those words with me ever since.

That’s why, next week, I will leave the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, of which I was a co-founder almost 25 years ago, to open a new chapter in my philanthropy. To begin, I am announcing $1 billion in new spending over the next two years for people and organizations working on behalf of women and families around the world, including on reproductive rights in the United States.

In nearly 20 years as an advocate for women and girls, I have learned that there will always be people who say it’s not the right time to talk about gender equality. Not if you want to be relevant. Not if you want to be effective with world leaders (most of them men). The second the global agenda gets crowded, women and girls fall off.

It’s frustrating and shortsighted. Decades of research on economics, well-being and governance make it clear that investing in women and girls benefits everyone. We know that economies with women’s full participation have more room to grow. That women’s political participation is associated with decreased corruption. That peace agreements are more durable when women are involved in writing them. That reducing the time women spend in poor health could add as much as $1 trillion to the global economy by 2040.

And yet, around the world, women are seeing a tremendous upsurge in political violence and other threats to their safety, in conflict zones where rape is used as a tool of war, in Afghanistan where the Taliban takeover has erased 20 years of progress for women and girls, in many low-income countries where the number of acutely malnourished pregnant and breastfeeding women is soaring.

In the United States, maternal mortality rates continue to be unconscionable, with Black and Native American mothers at highest risk. Women in 14 states have lost the right to terminate a pregnancy under almost any circumstances. We remain the only advanced economy without any form of national paid family leave. And the number of teenage girls experiencing suicidal thoughts and persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness is at a decade high.

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