Photo Credit: UN Women
Melinda Gates, Barbara Bush and Katie Couric led a fast-paced, fascinating conversation on global health, called #BetterByHalf, in NYC yesterday. A few highlights:
Melinda: I didn’t think I would get involved in this work. I was a political science major in college and worked at Microsoft. I went to Africa on safari.
Barbara Bush: I wanted to be architect, but then I traveled to Africa for PEPFAR in 2003, when HIV/AIDS was a death sentence. On street people looked like skeletons – they were just born at wrong time in wrong place. Mothers brought their kids to health clinics, asking for anything that could help them to survive.
Melinda Gates: When you talk to the women and girls around the world – they are so poignant in telling you about their lives and their dreams for their families and children. Their aspirations are just like ours.
Barbara: My twin sister and I were raised to believe we could do anything if we worked like crazy … I became obsessed with global health and started Global Health Corps.
Melinda: Global Health Corps is like Teach for America – creating talent in developing world.
Barbara: 300,000 women die in childbirth. These deaths are preventable. In the last fifteen years, maternal mortality has dropped by half.
Melinda: The Foundation is figuring out what works. We are looking at what keeps women subjugated:
- Health – How do you lift up girls’ health?
- Decision Making – Does she have the capability in her house to make some decisions for herself. If she marries off early, decision-making is nil.
- Economic opportunities – Give a girl some education and a mobile phone. If girls and women have mobile phones they’re ability to get income rises enormously
Education for girls is fundamental. If a girl stays in school, the way she works with health system is completely differently. She will feel comfortable with authority, will know more about what she should ask for, will talk to her daughter, and will contribute much more economically.
Fifteen million girls marry before age 18 and are expected to have child within year. One thing that we’ve seen work to delay marriage is to give an economic incentive – if you offer the family a goat or school supplies, they are far more likely to wait to marry off their daughters.
Melinda: Eight million more women got access to contraception last year. Our goal is for 120 million more women to have access by 2020.
Katie Couric: What does the Catholic Church think of this?
Melinda: I am Catholic and I use contraception. Ninety-four percent of Catholic women use contraception. The church is against it, but isn’t particularly active on the topic. They didn’t block funding on condoms for PEPFAR, which they could have.
Katie: I’ve been to countries where some organizations are saying it’s good for women to have more children.
Melinda: If we target the 200 million women who know about contraception and want it, we will make a huge difference.
It’s time we move from talk to action on all these issues. We need to bring a business focus – to take concrete actions and not just talk about things.
Barbara: These issues exist in the US as well. You don’t have to travel outside your own town or city to engage in this inequity.
Katie: Men need to be involved. We need a new word for feminism. The economic rights of women. This is a human rights issue.
Barbara: Often men are drawn to issue because of their mothers or sisters. They wish that their mothers had the same opportunities.
Melinda: Pick the issue you’re interested in and do what you can to start working on it. Bring your voice and talents and share your stories. If you decide to buy a cow for a family during the holidays through Heifer International, that makes a huge difference. The family gets more nutrition and more income, and they are told to give the calf to another family. Share your giving story with your friends so they’ll be inspired to do something too.
Katie: I would love for someone to give me ten ideas for ways to contribute for Christmas. Give me ten organizations that my family can choose to support – to take some of the guesswork out of it.
Melinda: We just launched Better By Half because women make up half the entire population, and when women and girls are empowered, we’re not just better by half, we’re twice as good.
Thank you Melinda, Barbara and Katie for an incredible gathering and discussion. My family will follow your lead and choose organizations to support this Giving Tuesday (December 2nd) and for the holidays – and will share our stories with family and friends!
As a side note, both Better By Half and the One Campaign recommend organizations to support with your families.