By Elohor Igbru
In another historic move, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) says it will be spending $2.1billion over the next five years to “advance women’s economic empowerment, strengthen women and girls’ health and family planning, and accelerate women’s leadership.”
This announcement was made as part of the Generation Equality Forum convened by UN Women and co-hosted by the governments of Mexico and France, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in Paris France.
The Forum which takes place in Paris from June 30 to July 2, 2021, brings together governments, the private sector, and civil society partners to commit to specific actions and announce financial, political, and programmatic commitments that will accelerate gender equality and advance women’s rights.
This is the single largest gathering of women for affirmation since the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 when 47,000 participants gathered to take ambitious actions that would have a transformational impact for women and girls.
Co-chair of the BMGF, Melinda French Gates said: “The world has been fighting for gender equality for decades, but progress has been slow. Now is the chance to reignite a movement and deliver real change. The beauty of our fight for gender equality is that every human being will gain from it. We must seize this moment to build a better, more equal future.”
Breaking down the figure
The foundation’s $2.1 billion commitment over the next five years will advance activity in three areas: economic empowerment, health and family planning, and accelerating women in leadership. Funding includes:
· Economic Empowerment: $650 million over five years: An expansion of the foundation’s existing work on women’s economic empowerment, this funding will support women’s empowerment collectives, strengthen the care economy, improve women’s financial inclusion, and reduce barriers to paid work.
· Family Planning and Health: $1.4 billion over five years: This reaffirms and expands the foundation’s commitment to family planning and women’s health, with a focus on increasing options and access to contraceptives and support for a network of family planning partners, including UNFPA Supplies Partnership, Family Planning 2030, the Global Financing Facility, and the new Shaping Equitable Market Access for Reproductive Health initiative.
· Accelerating Women in Leadership: $100 million over five years / $230 million over 10 years: This is an all-new funding commitment to accelerate women’s inclusion in leadership roles, primarily in health, law, and economics. It includes a contribution to a new fund by Co-Impact that aims to dismantle systemic barriers to gender equality and women and girls’ leadership around the world.
Bill Gates said for the world to make any appreciable progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, gender equality must be at the centre of the efforts. “Prioritizing gender equality is not only the right thing to do, it is essential to fighting poverty and preventable disease. The Generation Equality Forum is an opportunity to hold leaders accountable so that we can ensure that all people, everywhere, have the opportunity to live healthy, productive lives,” Bill Gates said.
A she-cession and the COVID pandemic
The Gates Foundation also released new data showing pandemic-driven inequality is growing at an alarming pace, driven by disruptions to women’s health services, job losses in sectors where women are overrepresented, and a sharp increase in caregiving needs and other unpaid work, a situation Melinda describes as ““Ripple effects of the pandemic have conspired to rob women and girls of opportunity.”
According to the International Labour Organization: Unemployment for women rose by 9 million in 2020 compared to 2019 and is projected to increase another 2 million in 2021. This pattern is not true for men, who are projected to see unemployment decrease in 2021. Also total global female employment in 2021 is expected to remain 13 million below its 2019 level. By contrast, total male employment is expected to return to close to its 2019 level, exacerbating existing inequalities in the workforce.
“Women and girls already faced unique barriers to their full participation in social and economic life, and the latest data show that the pandemic has only sharpened gender disparities. Each data point represents a woman fighting for a better future, and this funding reflects our longstanding commitment to support all women in their fight for a fairer and more equal world,” says Mark Suzman, the CEO of the Gates Foundation.