For the first five decades of my life, I was, at various points, a computer science nerd, a Microsoft executive, a full-time mom, and a co-chair of the foundation Bill and I started together. But on my 50th birthday, I made a promise to myself that the rest of my life would have one central focus: improving the lives of women and girls around the world.
That's why I'm joining up with MarieClaire.com as a contributing editor: I'll report from the front lines about how the world is changing for women—and how it should change more. I want to spark smart conversations with you about what it means to be a woman today (and tomorrow), whether here in the U.S. or in rural villages in some of the world's poorest places.
These conversations are more important than ever because people are finally listening. We're in the midst of an international movement for gender equality unlike anything the world has ever seen.
It used to be that if the United Nations convened a panel on an issue affecting women and girls, you knew there were going to be a lot of empty seats. If you tried to talk to a finance minister about investing in women and girls, you often got shrugged off or tuned out.
Today, the opposite is true. The African Union declared last year the "Year of Women's Empowerment and Development." At the last G7 Summit, Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted that the rights and progress of women and girls warranted a central place in the conversation among world leaders. And when a reporter asked the new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau why his cabinet is half women, he responded simply, "Because it's 2015."
I've always believed that "women's issues" are essentially human rights issues: education, autonomy, accessible healthcare. So as important as it is to have women at the center of these conversations, we need these conversations to translate into action.
When I visit communities around the world, I meet women who can't afford to feed their children that they already have, but keep getting pregnant because they have no access to contraception. I meet women who have so many ideas for lifting up themselves and their families, but can't access any funds to act on them. I meet girls who are falling behind their brothers in school because they're the ones expected to do chores around the house, leaving them less time to study.
But progress is happening: For the first time ever, nearly as many girls as boys are going to primary school. More women are participating in the global workforce, making their voices heard in more industries every day. Almost everywhere on the planet, women are living longer, healthier, fuller lives than ever before.
The fact is that women and girls represent not only 50 percent of the world's population—but also 50 percent of the world's brainpower, economic potential, and even human possibility. It's in everyone's interest to recognize that.
Women and girls shouldn't just settle for a spot on the agenda. Women and girls are the agenda.
Stay tuned for regular contributions from Melinda–and tell us in the comments and on Twitter (opens in new tab) what issues and topics you'd like her to weigh in on.
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Melinda French Gates is a philanthropist, businesswoman, and global advocate for women and girls.
As the co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Melinda sets the direction and priorities of one of the world’s largest philanthropies. In 2015, Melinda founded Pivotal Ventures, a company working to accelerate the pace of social progress in the United States. Melinda is also the author of the bestselling book The Moment of Lift.
Melinda grew up in Dallas, Texas. She received a bachelor’s degree in computer science and economics and an MBA, both from Duke University. Melinda spent the first decade of her career developing multimedia products at Microsoft before leaving the company to focus on her family and philanthropic work. She has three children—Jenn, Rory, and Phoebe—and lives in Seattle, Washington.
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