Book Review: The Moment of Lift – How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates
I read Melinda Gates’ book, The Moment of Lift, twice. Which is a first for me, I don’t ever read books twice! Not only did I read it twice, but I have gone back to reference it multiple times, with more sentences highlighted then I wish to admit, and I recommend it to many close friends and family members. Gates’ writing is poetic, her stories awe inspiring, and her knowledge and passion contagious. You will be flipping the pages as you read one of the best books on women’s issues. In this book you will not only learn about the impact of empowered women on all of society, but also how to institute change management in societies where culture, norms and religion have overridden science and equality. You will follow along stories that may break your heart or may even get your blood boiling, and you will follow stories that give you the biggest lift of hope you have felt in a long time. You will read journeys of women seeking family planning, educational rights, and career equality and wonder how we still have some of these problems persisting today. The book directs you to root causes you never thought of, presents eye opening data, challenges you to find creative solutions to persisting problems, and leaves you wanting to jump out of your seat to make a difference. Whether you are a man or a woman, you will be delighted and educated on many topics while reading The Moment of Lift.
Gate’s proves that women’s inequality is still a prevailing force to reckon with, but that it’s a worthwhile cause to fight for the growth of all humanity. Gates demonstrates throughout the chapters that “When women can decide whether and when to have children; when women can decide whether and when and whom to marry; when women have access to healthcare, do only our fair share of unpaid labor, get the education we want, make the financial decisions we need, are treated with respect at work, enjoy the same rights as men, and rise up with the help of other women and men who train us in leadership and sponsor us for high positions – then women flourish … and our families and communities flourish with us.”
“If you want to lift up humanity, empower women. It is the most comprehensive, pervasive, high-leverage investment you can make in human beings”Melinda Gates, Moment of Lift, Chapter 1
Challenging Deeply Held Norms
“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”Melinda Gates, The Moment of Lift
The first takeaway from Melinda’s book is about how we can institute change in other peoples deeply held cultural and religious beliefs. As humans we love to follow tradition, even if it’s outdated, and we are slow to change deeply held political beliefs that may not have much research to back it. Gates recounts a story of a woman in a poor state of India, who was found unconscious with a cold newborn. When a newly trained, young and local healthcare worker arrived, she asked for family members to give skin to skin contact to the baby, a proven technique to prevent hypothermia in newborns. The new healthcare worker was taken aback by family members saying “no” because they were afraid the evil spirits gripping the baby would take them over if they held it. The health worker provided the skin contact and saved the baby’s life. That moment changed the way all the women in the village thought about newborn care, they threw out old beliefs, and were eager to learn the best practices for their children. This story is so beautiful because the families and women were doing the best they knew for their babies, but their beliefs couldn’t be any more wrong. Melinda explains that when we want to change people’s minds or behaviors on ancient beliefs we have to be transparent, hear grievances, acknowledge failure, let local people lead, emphasize shared goals, appeal messages to people’s experiences, and emphasize science. The practice also has to work clearly and quickly. Telling someone “you’re an idiot for thinking that” will only give them reason to stick more strongly to their wrongly held beliefs, close off anything else you have to say, and does not show them a path forward into what’s correct. So before laughing at someone for thinking if they pat their head three times and stick out their tongue they will get rid of their headache, try listening and understanding their thought process. Then graciously offer a more science based approach that will give them a better result.
Family Planning and Religion
“Women around the world who are trying to reshape their faith, who are wrestling with the interpretation of scripture from the grip of male monopoly, are doing some of the most heroic work for social justice and economic opportunity in the world today.”
Melinda did an excellent job putting into poetic words what so many of us women have felt and seen often in our culture and religions. I have often found myself disappointed in the church for their lack of response to women’s issues. I have been disappointed with the lack of women in leadership, bible verses used to tell women how they should live their lives and their sexuality (child bearing, stay at home moms, purity balls), the lack of support for women who have been abused and raped and yet the criticism for young pregnancies and contraceptives. Melinda goes on to argue that “Disrespect for women grows when religions are dominated by men”. I agree that an equal share of genders in religious leadership would be more in line with a healthy, equitable society. I also believe there are many church goers and leaders who are working to improve this, but there is a long journey ahead. One problem is that false interpretations of scripture have put men in dominance, and women in the shadows. “One of the weightiest moral questions facing male-dominated religions today is how long will they keep clinging to male dominance and claiming it’s the will of God.” I cannot help but think that this kind of gender imbalance is what can ultimately lead to normalizing assault, abuse and rape of young women from male dominance, and lead to detrimental sexual insecurities for young girls. I have heard many say there is an obsession with female sexuality in the church, and I have to agree. “Shaming women for their sexuality is a standard tactic for drowning out the voices of women who want to decide whether and when to have children”. Melinda’s words had me reflecting deeply on what women’s rights and the church have in common. Loving our neighbor, loving the women and young girls in our world to me means giving them rights, not shaming them. Her book had me reflect and refine my views on very controversial topics in the church. One of them being, that I could never look into the eyes of a young sexually assaulted girl and tell her she must bear the financial and physical burden of following through, giving up her future and possibly the child’s as well because “the bible says so”. Instead, I will love her, I will help her, I will guide her through her decision. That feels most right, most Godly, most loving to me. I understand others who interpret scripture differently, but this approach is one that considers women’s rights and equality and I know I am not alone in my thoughts. To me, a young girl who has the right to choose, takes back her future, her education, her passions, her life, her future kids lives and she may just change the world. Without that choice, she is trapped. A woman who has the right to choose, goes to college, can space out her children, finishes her degree and does remarkable things like find the cure for cancer she always dreamt of. Without that choice, we lose out on some of the best talent in the world, all because politicians or religious leaders told her so. “It’s the mark of a backward society – or a society moving backward – when decisions are made for women by men.” I dream of a world of gender equality in the religious and political sector. Regardless of your beliefs, Melinda will truly challenge the way you think and reflect on the topic of family planning, and women’s rights and religion, a topic that has been avoided for too long.
In conclusion, Melinda Gates touches on many other topics than the ones listed above, ranging from women’s education, to child marriages, to poverty, equal partnerships and working women. I cannot do justice for her eloquently put words, so I urge you to take some time to fill your mind with some truly beautiful and insightful information in her book The Moment of Lift. For now, enjoy some more of my favorite quotes from Melinda Gates book:
“Change comes from when men see the benefits of women’s power – not just what women can do that man cannot, but a quality of relationship that comes in an equal partnership that cannot come come in a hierarchical relationship, a sense of bonding, of community, solidarity, and wholeness born of a promise that I will help you when your burdens are high, and you will help me when your burdens are low”
“As women gain rights, families flourish, and so do societies. That connection is built on a simple truth: 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. Gender equity lifts everyone. Women’s rights and society’s health and wealth rise together.”
“What extreme poverty really means is that no matter how hard you work, you’re trapped. You can’t get out. Your efforts barely matter. You’ve been left behind by those who could lift you up.”
“Overcoming the need to create outsiders is our greatest challenge as human beings. It is the key to ending deep inequality. We stigmatize and send to the margins people who trigger in us the feelings we want to avoid.”
“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. When a culture of dominance is broken, it activates power in all of us. So the goal for me is not the rise of women and the fall of man. It is the rise of both women and men from a struggle for dominance to a state of partnership.”
“We need to do more than identify the abusers; we have to heal the unhealthy culture that supports them.”
“No country in the last fifty years has emerged from poverty without expanding access to contraceptives”
“If you hired workers at the market rate to do all the unpaid work women do (cleaning, caregiving, cooking, shopping, etc), unpaid work would be the biggest sector of the global economy.”
“That is the secret of an empowering education: A girl learns she is not who she’s been told she is.”
“I don’t have any idea how people find the guts to speak up against waves of tradition, but when they do, they always end up with followers who have the same conviction but not quite the same courage. That’s how leaders are born. They say what others want to say, and then others then join them.”
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