For the last fifteen years, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has worked to improve standards of living around the world. As a partner with CARE, the Foundation funds a variety of innovative programs addressing health, financial, and other issues affecting some of the world’s poorest people. This summer, co-founder Melinda Gates visited rural Malawi to see CARE Pathways’ work in action.
At its core, Pathways is about shifting gender norms to create sustainable, equitable change. In a September Science article, Melinda describes her own evolving perspective: from a focus on exclusively technological solutions to development challenges to an appreciation for the complexity of cultural and social norms and roles. Because of entrenched gender inequalities, technology alone does not necessarily ensure better outcomes for women and girls and, in fact, may marginalize them further. It is at this intersection that Pathways works: providing improved technologies and education in coordination with activities to promote gender equity.
Melinda was able to witness two of these unique activities during her visit to Malawi. One exercise asked participants to reverse mealtime roles, so that men are only able to eat leftovers, just as their wives often are. The women participating told Melinda that this activity alone was often enough to begin changing their husbands’ behavior. The second activity involved creating a “cash flow tree,” promoting a dialogue between husbands and wives about household management and involving wives in financial decision-making. As Melinda wrote in a recent Marie Claire article, “Taken together, these conversations are helping shift gender norms across entire communities.”
Salome Mhango, Pathways Program Manager at CARE Malawi, says, “[Melinda] sat on a mat and the women themselves could not believe that a person of such caliber could lower herself to their level. She listened to women’s stories with empathy…When she talked with male champions the message was clear: be change agents to confront the deep rooted negative cultural and social norms that impinge on women and girls.”
Addressing the structural barriers that affect women and girls is no small task, but, upon her return from Malawi, Melinda stressed a renewed commitment to focusing on gender at the Foundation. Partners, like Pathways and other CARE programs, will continue to address gender inequalities in innovative ways. Writes Melinda in her Science article: “We cannot achieve our goals unless we systematically address gender inequalities and meet the specific needs of women and girls in the countries where we work.”
Photographs from Melinda’s visit can be seen on her Instagram account.