Bill and Melinda Gates have long advocated for investing in and empowering women across the globe, and with the wealthy couple's recent pledge they are literally putting their money where their mouth is.
In an op-ed published in Quartz in the middle of Women's History Month, Melinda announced the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation plans to spend $170 million over the next four years helping women exercise their economic power. This, she argues, is crucial to achieving gender equality. "Simply put when money flows into the hands of women who have the authority to use it, everything changes," she writes.
Though the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has invested extensively in women's health and education in the past (and will undoubtedly continue to do so) the goal of this initiative is to "address the systematic way that women and girls are undervalued."
As Melinda explains, "With a new focus on women's economic empowerment, connecting women to markets, making sure they have access to financial services, and empowering them to help themselves, we aim to help tear down the barriers that keep half the world from leading a full life."
According to Gates, this $170 million will be used to link women to markets so they can prosper from their labor, it will be deposited into digital bank accounts controlled by women in countries such as India, Pakistan and Tanzania, and it will support self-help groups where women and girls "teach one another about everything from launching a small business to raising healthy children."
Per The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, these investments stand to pave the way for big change. The organization notes an increase in female labor force participation — or a reduction in the gap between women's and men's labor force participation — results in faster economic growth. In other words, when more women work, economies grow. Similarly, according to U.N. Women, evidence from a range of countries shows that increasing the share of household income controlled by women, either through their own earnings or cash transfers, changes spending in ways that benefit children.
For Gates, empowering women in these specific and targeted ways and encouraging them to act on their own is more impactful than simply throwing money at a problem.
"Women acting on their own can do what all the philanthropic organizations in the world can never accomplish: change the unwritten rule that women are lesser than men," she writes. "Our role, as we see it, is to make targeted investments that give women the opportunity to write new rules."