Zack Apiratitham

The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates


I have been a big fan of what Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been doing for a while now. In this book, Melinda tells stories about the women she met through her work and how empowering them improves the society as a whole. She touches on a range of topics including birth control, women education, child marriage, unpaid work, and women in workplace. Some of these stories are incredibly sad and shocking but also very eye-opening at the same time. This is a terrific and important book that I think everybody should read.

Check it out on Goodreads.

Highlights

  • How can we summon a moment of lift for human beings—and especially for women? Because when you lift up women, you lift up humanity. And how can we create a moment of lift in human hearts so that we all want to lift up women? Because sometimes all that’s needed to lift women up is to stop pulling them down.

  • 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.

  • The reasons are simple: When the women were able to time and space their pregnancies, they were more likely to advance their education, earn an income, raise healthy children, and have the time and money to give each child the food, care, and education needed to thrive.

  • When children reach their potential, they don’t end up poor. This is how families and countries get out of poverty. In fact, no country in the last fifty years has emerged from poverty without expanding access to contraceptives.

  • Whenever you include a group that’s been excluded, you benefit everyone. And when you’re working globally to include women and girls, who are half of every population, you’re working to benefit all members of every community.

  • Women’s rights and society’s health and wealth rise together. Countries that are dominated by men suffer not only because they don’t use the talent of their women but because they are run by men who have a need to exclude. Until they change their leadership or the views of their leaders, those countries will not flourish.

  • “What do you know now in a deeper way than you knew it before?” I love this question because it honors how we learn and grow. Wisdom isn’t about accumulating more facts; it’s about understanding big truths in a deeper way.

  • Vishwajeet told me, “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.

  • We tend to push out the people who have qualities we’re most afraid we will find in ourselves—and sometimes we falsely ascribe qualities we disown to certain groups, then push those groups out as a way of denying those traits in ourselves.

  • But condoms are often unhelpful for women trying to avoid pregnancy. Women have told me over and over again, “If I ask my husband to wear a condom, he will beat me up. It’s like I’m accusing him of being unfaithful and getting HIV, or I’m saying that I was unfaithful and got HIV.”

  • When women can time and space their births, maternal mortality drops, newborn and child mortality drops, the mother and baby are healthier, the parents have more time and energy to care for each child, and families can put more resources toward the nutrition and education of each one. There was no intervention more powerful—and no intervention that had become more neglected.

  • That judge, who sentenced Sanger to thirty days in a workhouse, was expressing the widespread view that a woman’s sexual activity was immoral if it was separated from her function of bearing children. If a woman acquired contraceptives to avoid bearing children, that was illegal in the United States, thanks to the work of Anthony Comstock.

  • In Comstock’s eyes, and the eyes of his allies, women were entitled to very few roles in life: to marry and serve a man, and bear and take care of his children. Any detour from these duties brought disrepute—because a woman was not a human being entitled to act in the world for her own sake, not for educational advancement or professional accomplishment, and certainly not for her own pleasure.

  • A woman’s pleasure, especially her sexual pleasure, was terrifying to the keepers of the social order. If women were free to pursue their own pleasure, it would strike at the core of the unspoken male code, “You exist for my pleasure!” And men felt they needed to control the source of their pleasure. So Comstock and others did their best to weaponize stigma and use it to keep women stuck where they were, their value derived only from their service to men and children.

  • I’ve come to learn that stigma is always an effort to suppress someone’s voice. It forces people to hide in shame. The best way to fight back is to speak up—to say openly the very thing that others stigmatize. It’s a direct attack on the self-censorship that stigma needs to survive.

  • The United States has also been successful in bringing down teen pregnancy rates. The country is at a historic low for teen pregnancy and a thirty-year low for unintended pregnancy.

  • The people who push these policies often try to use the Church’s teaching on family planning for moral cover, but they have none of the Church’s compassion or commitment to the poor. Instead, many push to block access to contraceptives and cut funds for the poor.

  • It’s the mark of a backward society—or a society moving backward—when decisions are made for women by men. That’s what’s happening right now in the US. These are not policies that would be in place if women were making decisions for themselves. That’s why it’s heartening to see the surge of women activists across the country who are spending their time knocking on doors, supporting family planning, and changing their lives by running for office.

  • Just twenty years after the program began, Mexico has achieved gender parity in education—not only at the primary school level but also in high school and college. And Mexico has the world’s highest percentage of computer science degrees awarded to women.

  • A girl who is given love and support can start to break the self-image that keeps her down. As she gains self-confidence, she sees she can learn. As she learns, she sees her own gifts. As she develops her gifts, she sees her own power; she can defend her own rights. That is what happens when you offer girls love, not hate. You lift their gaze. They gain their voice.

  • In India, women spend 6 hours a day doing unpaid work, while men spend less than 1. In the US, women average more than 4 hours of unpaid work every day; men average just 2.5.

  • That is hugely significant because it is paid work that elevates women toward equality with men and gives them power and independence. That’s why the gender imbalance in unpaid work is so significant: The unpaid work a woman does in the home is a barrier to the activities that can advance her—getting more education, earning outside income, meeting with other women, becoming politically active.

  • If there is any meaning in life greater than connecting with other human beings, I haven’t found it.

  • Bill said, “I had a better exposure to software development at a young age than I think anyone did in that period of time, and all because of an incredibly lucky series of events.”

  • You can’t dedicate your life to the principle that all lives have equal value if you think you’re better than others. Bill, at his core, doesn’t think that way at all, and that is one of the qualities I love most in him.

  • I’ve never held the view that women are better than men, or that the best way to improve the world is for women to gain more power than men. I think male dominance is harmful to society because any dominance is harmful: It means society is governed by a false hierarchy where power and opportunity are awarded according to gender, age, wealth, and privilege—not according to skill, effort, talent, or accomplishments.

  • Child brides are often under intense pressure to prove their fertility, which means that their use of contraceptives is very low. In fact, the percentage of women using contraceptives is lowest where the prevalence of child marriage is highest. And low use of contraceptives by girls is deadly: For girls age 15 to 19 around the world, the leading cause of death is childbirth.

  • Tradition without discussion kills moral progress. If you’re handed a tradition and decide not to talk about it—just do it—then you’re letting people from the past tell you what to do. It kills the chance to see the blind spots in the tradition—and moral blind spots always take the form of excluding others and ignoring their pain.

  • One sign of an abusive culture is the view that members of the excluded group “don’t have what it takes.” In other words, “If we don’t have many women engineers here, it’s because women are not good engineers.” It is unimaginable to me both how flawed the logic is and how widely it’s believed. Opportunities have to be equal before you can know if abilities are equal. And opportunities for women have never been equal.

  • Tech is the most powerful industry in the world. It’s creating the ways we will live our lives. If women are not in tech, women will not have power.

  • The percentage of computing graduates who are women has plunged since I was in college. When I graduated from Duke in 1987, 35 percent of computing graduates in the United States were women. Today, it’s 19 percent.

  • There are likely a lot of reasons for the drop. One is that when personal computers made their way into American households, they were often marketed as gaming devices for boys, so boys spent more time on them and it gave boys exposure to computers that girls didn’t get. When the computer gaming industry emerged, many developers started creating violent war games featuring automatic weapons and explosives that many women didn’t want to play, creating a closed cycle of men creating games for men.

  • The United States is one of only seven countries in the world that do not provide paid maternity leave—joining the company of Papua New Guinea, Suriname, and a handful of other island nations. This is startling evidence that the United States is far behind the rest of the world in honoring the needs of families.

  • The lack of paid leave in the US is symptomatic of a workplace culture that also struggles with sexual harassment, gender bias, and a general indifference to family life. All these issues are aggravated by one reality: fewer women in positions of power.

  • Every society says its outsiders are the problem. But the outsiders are not the problem; the urge to create outsiders is the problem. Overcoming that urge is our greatest challenge and our greatest promise. It will take courage and insight, because the people we push to the margins are the ones who trigger in us the feelings we’re afraid of.

  • Women must leave the margins and take our place—not above men or below them, but beside them—at the center of society, adding our voices and making the decisions we are qualified and entitled to make.