The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World

The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Published: 4/23/2019
A debut from Forbes' third most powerful woman in the world, Melinda Gates, a timely and necessary call to action for women's empowerment. For the last twenty years, Melinda Gates has been on a mission. Her goal, as co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has been to find solutions for people with the most urgent needs, wherever they live.

The Moment of Lift By. Melinda Gates

Key Insights

Throughout recent years, the subject of gender equality has become center-stage.

With movements such as #MeToo, issues that women have been facing for centuries all over the globe are finally coming to light.

However, this light is being shed on the more developed countries of the world, rather than the less developed countries where women may not have any rights at all.

“If you want to lift up humanity, empower women. It is the most comprehensive, pervasive, high-leverage investment you can make in human beings.”- Melinda Gates

In the book, “The Moment of Lift” by Melinda Gates, you will learn about the journey the author and philanthropist experienced leading her charitable foundation. Plus, the insight she gained about the lengths we have to go to have true gender equality around the world.

Key Points

  • Access To Family Planning

Melinda Gates founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000. This foundation was established as a way to give wider access to healthcare around the world, especially in places of great poverty.

One of the big missions this foundation had was giving free vaccines to children in developing countries.

During one of her visits to Malawi, Africa, Melinda talked with women who had traveled long distances with their children in order to get them vaccinated.

Many times during these conversations, the women would bring up the subject of female contraceptives. These poverty-stricken families felt there was no hope for the future because they had no way to provide for their children. And, having more children only made household financial issues worse.

“Shaming women for their sexuality is a standard tactic for drowning out the voices of women who want to decide whether and when to have children.”- Melinda Gates

To give some background on the availability of family planning methods, in 2012, 260 million women in the world’s poorest countries were using forms of birth control. However, there were still 200 million women in those countries that wanted to utilize this form of family planning but weren’t able to because they didn’t have access to it.

It’s easy to understand the benefits of being able to use birth control methods. In the 1970s a study that was performed in Bangladeshi gave half of the women in a village birth control while denying the other half. Twenty years later, they revisited their families. The women with birth control were healthier, compared with the ones who didn’t have access to it. Their children were healthier too and more likely to attend school to get an education.

Women who are able to choose whether or not they want to carry a child can plan their family life, careers, and education better than those who don’t have a choice.

For very poor families, access to birth control can help future generations become more prosperous, rather than staying in a cycle of poverty generation after generation.

The role of birth control now is to help empower women and their families around the world. Even in the U.S., this is true. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) allows all women access to free forms of birth control. This simple act has made it so unintended pregnancy is at its lowest.

However, the current administration is trying to undo all this good the ACA has done by taking away free contraceptives and reverting back to teaching abstinence-only sex education.

  • How Poverty and Reproductive Health Correlate

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation cut the number of childhood deaths caused by the lack of vaccinations by 50%.

But, there is more work to be done. Three million newborn babies die every single year because they live in remote areas with no healthcare.

That’s why in 2003, Melinda and her husband decided to start a partnership with an Indian team to train community health workers. The people trained were sent to poverty-stricken destinations in order to aide the communities in need.

“Poverty is not being able to protect your family. Poverty is not being able to save your children when mothers with more money could. And because the strongest instinct of a mother is to protect her children, poverty is the most disempowering force on earth.”- Melinda Gates

In 2010, Melinda visited Shivgarh, where 300,000 newborn deaths occur annually. She met a young boy who was saved by one of the trained healthcare workers. When the baby boy had turned blue, the healthcare worker held him to her chest to keep him warm after his aunt had refused, believing he had an evil spirit inside of him. That human connection from the worker saved his life.

The news about the boy being saved spread through the village and women began to learn how they could change their behaviors during childbirth in order to prevent the death of their babies.

“Their cup is not empty; you can’t just pour your ideas into it. Their cup is already full, so you have to understand what is in their cup.” If you don’t understand the meaning and beliefs behind a community’s practices, you won’t present your idea in the context of their values and concerns, and people won’t hear you.”- Melinda Gates

This story shows that it’s vital to understand the traditions and taboos of the impoverished countries in order to help them and educate them on health.

  • Increasing Women’s Access to Education

A foundation colleague named Gary was educating families in Kanpur, India about contraceptives. A young girl in the crowd asked if they could also give her a teacher. This small question led to a big realization: if girls were not being educated, the poverty cycle would be never-ending.

Educating girls is vital to women’s empowerment. Education leads to higher wages for families and higher literacy. It also assists in family planning because women who are educated are more informed about birth control, sex, vaccinations, healthcare, and family planning. Also, education is a cycle, much like poverty. Meaning, if a mother attends school, her children will most likely attend too.

Today, more than 130 million girls do not attend school. One of the big reasons for this is because many children have to work to help feed their families.

Mexico actually created a program, which translates to “Opportunities”, that pays families the wages their child would get if they worked so that instead, they can send their child to school.

  • Women and Unpaid Work

Women often do much more unpaid work than men. This unpaid work includes cooking, cleaning, and childcare.

In India, women do an average of six hours of unpaid work daily. And, even in the U.S., women do an average of four.

When women decrease their hours of unpaid work, their opportunity for paid work rises, simply because of available time!

If we confront this issue of women working for no pay, we can get them more paid work, which will help advance their careers and empower them.

Diane Elison, an economist came up with a strategy to tackle this issue. It has three main bullets: recognize, reduce and redistribute.


  1. Recognize - Governments need to recognize the unpaid work being done and include it in labor statistics.
  2. Reduce - We must also reduce the amount of unpaid work by incorporating better technology such as dishwashers, telephones, and washing machines.
  3. Redistribute - The household duties should be split between both men and women.


Even in the U.S., men and women do not share household duties equally. Many women end up doing more than their share.

  • Child Marriages Are Holding Women Back

Throughout her travels, Melinda discovered that child brides were the least likely group of females to use contraceptives. Along with that, she found out that the biggest cause of death for girls 15-19 years old was childbirth.

Child brides are more common than you may think. In 2012, 14 million child brides were married off to their suitors.

The organization, the Girls Not Brides, founded by Dutch Princess Mabel van Oranje, has a goal to stop child bride marriages by getting rid of the incentives that cause it.

The biggest force behind child marriages is poverty. Fathers oftentimes sell their daughters for money, which also leaves the family with one less child to feed.

Young girls are oftentimes sent to villages far from their families where they don’t know anyone. They are then expected to perform all household duties including cooking and cleaning.

When Melinda learned about the horrors of child marriages, she teamed up with the organization, Tostan, which works to change the communities of these impoverished people from the inside.

By being educated, the villagers began to understand the negative effects of child marriages. Tostan has been a successful organization that has helped to put child marriages to an end in 8,500 villages.

  • Women and Agriculture

In underdeveloped countries, people don’t stop at the local market for their food, they grow it. And, many grow for profit too.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has worked to widen access to quality seeds and held workshops to teach better farming skills and techniques. This is all in an attempt to help reduce malnutrition.

In 2015, Melinda met a woman in Malawi who had to rent a plot of land in order to farm to feed her children and send them to school. That is because, in their country, women can’t own land. Also, the men are in charge of whether or not women get the farming equipment needed to farm efficiently.

The woman and her husband decided to take part in CARE Pathways, an organization that teaches better farming techniques. It also touches on the importance of gender equality in the world of agriculture.

The seeds the family was provided with quadrupled their crops. And, she was able to share her seeds with the other women in the community. Plus, her husband began to understand the need for better equipment.

If more women had better seeds and farming equipment, the results could get 150 million people out of food poverty.

  • Diverse Workplaces Lead to United Societies

Melinda Gates spent most of her career working at Microsoft. So, it’s only natural that she has spent a lot of time trying to fix gender inequality in the world of tech.

Microsoft has always valued diversity. But, tech is a male-dominated field. So, naturally, there are a lot of companies that don’t have the same diverse culture. This is discouraging since tech plays a huge role in the future. If there are mostly men in the field, then the future is in their hands.

“Being a feminist means believing that every woman should be able to use her voice and pursue her potential and that women and men should all work together to take down the barriers and end the biases that still hold women back.”- Melinda Gates

Tech used to be seen as a secretary’s work, which was women’s work. Nowadays, it is seen as a serious male profession.

Today, only 2% of venture capitalist investors are women. And, only 2% of venture capital is invested in start-ups that are founded by females. This drove Melinda to start investing in women-founded venture capital funds.

Aspect Ventures is one Melinda decided to start investing in. It is a venture capital fund that invests in organizations founded by both women and people of color.

Melinda doesn’t invest simply to help the ‘little guy’ out. She does it because she knows that women and people of color have different experiences than the average white man and she believes they have something to give to society.

Diversity is vital to any workplace or society. It helps diminish biases and creates successful solutions to important issues.

The Main Take-Away

The Bill & Melinda Foundation was not started to empower women, but they realized throughout their journey that empowering women was vital to providing better healthcare and reducing poverty.


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