Melinda French Gates says she’s donating $1bn in support of women, families

Philanthropist says it is ‘frustrating’ that some believe it is not the right time to discus gender equality.

Melinda French Gates has announced that she will donate $1bn over the next two years to people and organisations working on behalf of women and families, including on reproductive rights.

In an op-ed published in the New York Times on Tuesday, French Gates said she felt “compelled” to support abortion rights in the United States after the US Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to overturn Roe v Wade.

“For too long, a lack of money has forced organisations fighting for women’s rights into a defensive posture while the enemies of progress play offence. I want to help even the match,” French Gates wrote.

French Gates said the US continues to have “unconscionable” rates of maternal mortality, particular among Black and Native American women, while the number of teenage girls experiencing suicidal thoughts and persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness is at a decade-high.

“Despite the pressing need, only about 2 percent of charitable giving in the United States goes to organisations focused on women and girls, and only about half a percentage point goes to organisations focused on women of colour specifically,” she wrote.

French Gates also expressed dismay with those who say it is “not the right time” to talk about gender equality.

“It’s frustrating and shortsighted. Decades of research on economics, well-being and governance make it clear that investing in women and girls benefits everyone,” she wrote.

“We know that economies with women’s full participation have more room to grow. That women’s political participation is associated with decreased corruption.”

French Gates said she has begun distributing $200m in grants through her organisation, Pivotal Ventures, to US-based organisations, including the National Women’s Law Center, the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

French Gates said she has also selected a dozen people, including former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Afghan women’s education advocate Shabana Basij-Rasikh, to receive a $20m grant that they can distribute as they wish.

French Gates made the announcement two weeks after she said she would step down from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the philanthropic organisation she co-founded with her ex-husband, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, in 2000.

As part of her divorce agreement finalised in 2021, French Gates received $12.5bn from Bill Gates to support her philanthropic efforts upon stepping down from the foundation.

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