Removing the Barriers for Women Around the Globe

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And women are still chopping firewood every day and cooking. I’ve cooked with women over open flames on firewood, and they’re carrying dirty water, and to me it doesn’t have to be that way when I think about what we have in the United States or in Europe or in certain places in Asia. I think we have big hearts. I think we can care more than just inside of our borders.

KRISTOF Our compassion shouldn’t depend on somebody’s skin color or a passport color.

GATES Right. I’ve been doing this work for almost 20 years, and I have learned so much by being in places like Mozambique — things that I never imagined that these women would teach me. But if you ask a woman what she cares about in the developing world, she’ll give me the same exact answer that I would give, which, I think, most of us in this room would give. She talks about her children. She talks about a future for her children and getting them an education, living their full potential. So their hopes and dreams are just like ours.

KRISTOF Most of the arguments about focusing on women’s rights around the world tend to be about justice issues. This is the right thing to do. There’s a really important argument about international security, about economic development. Since 9/11, I’ve spent way too much of my time in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria and Libya, and the U.S. approach in dealing with those security problems has been to rely on the military toolbox and blow things up. We’ve seen that that’s a very expensive toolbox, and I think we’ve underinvested in the women’s empowerment toolbox and the education toolbox, which are also imperfect but are also powerful tools to bring about change.

GATES Absolutely. If you invest in a woman, she invests in everyone else around her. And we’re finally collecting the data. Luckily, for better or for worse, I live with somebody who’s a gear head, and I mean that in the best possible sense of the word. I’m a coach with Bill of our foundation, and he will not accept data that is correlation and not causation. He believes in women’s empowerment as much as I do. But what do we actually know? What tools can we bring to bear? What levers do we have to help women get empowered? And the truth is, the data is really thin, and the reason the data is so thin is because the world hasn’t invested in it. Women haven’t had a seat at the table to say, let’s put down $10 million for a really robust household survey. So I’m going about actually doing that. The foundation made an announcement with a number of partners we had pulled together to say, let’s systematically collect data about women, and let’s start to see where can we actually make investments that will change things for women.

One of the things that shocked us about our own data in India — we were in these households, these very remote places working with the Indian government to try and help moms during childbirth — and when you looked at the data, what was so shocking was the violence in the home. We weren’t even collecting it, and the women started talking about it because they felt safe enough to talk to the enumerator who was often a woman from the community. Our enumerators are smart enough to just start to collect it and it came to us, and you almost wanted to cover your eyes because you could not believe how bad it was. So the data actually speaks the truth, and we need to collect data about women so that we make investments in the world on behalf of women’s issues.

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