The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on Wednesday pledged $2.1 billion in spending on gender equality over five years, one of its largest single commitments in two decades of work, amid an economic crisis that has driven women out of work in record numbers.
“We are very concerned that the global recovery is failing women,” said Anita Zaidi, president of the foundation’s gender equality division. “We have to use this moment to reignite attention on women and girls’ issues.”
The foundation announced its commitment at the Generation Equality Forum in Paris, convened by U.N. Women, a United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality, where more than $40 billion has been pledged from governments, firms and other philanthropies.
Gender equality has been a longtime priority for Melinda French Gates, who announced in 2019 that she would invest $1 billion over a decade toward advancing the issue through her firm, Pivotal Ventures, noting that gender-focused work has been perennially underfunded. The Gates Foundation’s funding will go toward increasing access to contraceptives and reproductive health, expanding job training and promoting women’s leadership in various fields including health, law and economics.
The foundation noted that the need is heightened as men worldwide regain jobs lost during the pandemic and women continue to lose theirs; two million more women expected to leave the work force this year.
“Women face structural barriers that have made them more vulnerable to the pandemic’s impacts,” Ms. French Gates wrote in a report released Wednesday. “Eliminating these barriers will jump-start the recovery.”
The Gates Foundation’s commitment comes at an uncertain time for the organization, which had a $49.9 billion endowment in 2020. Mr. Gates and Ms. French Gates announced they were divorcing in May and are weighing changes to the foundation’s governance. This month, Warren Buffett, the chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway and a longtime trustee of the foundation, stepped down.