The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates – Book

When I post on Linkedin.com I often see posts from Bill Gates. Lately it seemed that he kept trying to get me (yes me personally ha-ha) to read The Moment of Lift, a recently published book by his wife Melinda Gates. Sometimes I leave billionaires out of my personal pursuits because their lives are so distant from mine that they don’t really feel like real people. It is exclusionary but I always figure they don’t really mind because it doesn’t impact their lives in any negative way and I am not real to them either. But prejudice in any form is probably not good for the soul and billionaires who are also philanthropists, trying to make life better in some way for all us on this tiny planet at the edge of this universe deserve some attention, even if it is just to see whether or not they are just making huge cosmic errors out of misguided arrogance. Now I am being arrogant. Anyway I read Mrs. Gates’ book and it really did give me a moment of lift, in fact more than one moment. When people use their huge fortunes to make a difference for people at the bottom of the economic heap it makes the inequalities of our current economy seem less obscene. And their experiences can teach us about realities in places we can’t afford to go.

I was deep into Chapter 3 of Gates’ book when Alabama decided to make abortion illegal in that state except in rare cases for the health of the mother. Melinda Gates was talking about the effect of women’s lack of control over their reproductive health and what a profound effect that has on the success of an entire family and even the village in which the family lives. If a women gets pregnant many times with little space in between it means she can’t pay proper attention to each child so the children often do not thrive. Infant mortality rates are really high in such cultures and the family is not able to progress, to send the children to school, to grow more crops or work harder to save money and the family does not thrive either. Generation after generation this is a reality that keeps families poor.

Gates was working in Africa and Asia, in countries where these patterns are very noticeable and small efforts can make a big difference. She began with finding ways to provide free vaccines to children. But she found that the mothers were begging to get regular access to contraceptives so they did not wear themselves out having baby after baby. Access to contraceptives is not something you might think would have such profound positive outcomes wherever it is available, but evidence shows us that it does.

So I cheated a bit and made use of Melinda’s new book to try to drum up readers for my recent blog post “Alabama and Melinda Gates” because I wanted to shine a light on what is happening with Roe v Wade.

https://www.thearmchairobserver.com/alabama-and-melinda-gates/

Melinda Gates is a very spiritual person. She is a devout Catholic who completed her college degrees at a Catholic college. But she is not a missionary. If she was about the business of spreading Catholicism she might not be so open to listening to women in the African and Asian places she visits, she might care more about fulfilling her own needs than the needs of the people she meets. However she has learned to let socially active people she meets at conferences and in her travels, people who know where to look in Africa and India to enlist the Foundation’s help for programs that already exist. These people become her mentors and they take her with them to meet the village people and see programs that are successfully allowing poor people around the world to have a future that is not simply a repeat of the lives people in that area have lived for generations, lives that can’t plan ahead, lives that can only get through each day and sometimes not even that.

There is no sense in talking about this as a work of literature. It is not intended to be considered in that way. But the book made me aware that not all billionaires are selfish people sailing around on yachts, drinking and dining at swanky restaurants, or building survival dwellings in isolated places. It gave me a lift to learn about the intimate problems of women on other continents (although we certainly have some of these problems on our own continent) and to hear about programs that were trying to lighten women’s loads and free them up to enjoy feeling that they could make personal contributions to their families and their culture, that life did not have to be drudgery and heartache or full of repetitive and difficult tasks that wear down the spirit.

So you might find that you also get to experience some of The Moments of Lift that Melinda Gates offers in her book if you spend a few days immersed in the life of the wife of a billionaire. One more point – just because this book is mostly about the things women face does not mean that men should not read Gates’ book. Perhaps they need to hear about these issues even more that women do. Many women’s lives are still under the control of men, and men’s lives also change for the better when women become partners rather than property.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Goodreads

 

 

Alabama and Melinda Gates

It could be a coincidence that I began reading Melinda Gate’s book The Moment of Lift while Alabama men were busily using bogus science to break an American law that has given women control over their own bodies for the past 40 years, but I think other forces might have been in motion in the universe. The reproductive rights that American women won in the 1960’s and 1970’s gave the United States a reputation for being one of the most enlightened places in the world for women and girls. Both contraception and the right to an abortion did as much to open up higher education and personal wealth to American women as World War II did to open up factories, office jobs, and family security.

I was there when it happened. I came from a poor family. My mom had eight children, probably at least four more than we could afford. My mom did not want to be a working mother. She was shy and nervous and suffered from low self-esteem. She was a good mom. All the kids in the neighborhood liked to hang out at our house. Several working mothers trusted her enough to pay her to look after their babies and in this way she contributed to the family income without having to, as she put it, “work out (of the home)”

But I was embarrassed when my mom got pregnant for the eighth time. I knew the economies we already had to make in our household, the old cars held together with bubble gum and bobby pins, the day-old bread, the cans of unlabeled food cheap at the supermarket that made dining a sometimes disappointing mystery, the struggle to shoe us all, the clothing contributed by neighbors. It wasn’t nice of me to react in this way but I was a young teen and it was tough to hold it in.

Melinda Gates, pregnant with the Gate’s first child, on the way back from a trip to China, told Bill Gates that she did not plan to keep working after she had the baby. Of course, as she reminded her husband, they were fortunate because they did not need her income. This is the way women were raised. If you had children you should stay home with them. It didn’t take Melinda Gates long to change her mind. At first she did not identify as a feminist, now she describes herself as “an ardent feminist” and she has earned the props to back it up.

She describes being a feminist in this way, “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.” Melinda Gates, a devout Catholic does not speak up much for abortion rights, which would be hard to reconcile with her faith but she doesn’t speak up against them either. She has invested time and money using the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation set up in 2000 to make sure that women everywhere have access to contraception.

After a trip to Africa Melinda discovered that millions of children around the world are dying because “they are poor and we weren’t hearing about it because they were poor.” This led the foundation to invest in vaccines and delivery systems. At vaccination centers Melinda met women who had walked long distances to get their children’s shots but also their own shots, an injection of long-acting birth control so that they could plan their families.

“Increasingly on my trips, no matter what their purpose, I began to hear and see the need for contraceptives. I visited communities where every mother had lost a child and everyone knew a mother who had died in childbirth. I met more mothers who were desperate not to get pregnant because they couldn’t take care of the kids they already had. I began to understand why, even though I wasn’t there to talk about contraceptives women kept bringing them up anyway.”

She continues, “[w]hen women in developing countries space their births by at least three years, each baby is almost twice as likely to survive their first year –and 35 percent more likely to see their fifth birthday.” She tell us about a long-running public health study dating from the 1970’s. Half the families in villages in Bangladesh were given contraceptives and the other half were not. Twenty years later, the benefits accrued to the half on contraceptives; mothers were healthier, children were better nourished, families had more wealth, women had higher wages, sons and daughters had better schooling.

Melinda Gates does not only discuss reproductive rights in her book. She goes on to discuss schooling and equal pay for women, but she also talks about what is happening in America right now. “It’s a mark of a backward society –or a society moving backward—when decisions are made for women by men. That’s what is happening right now in the US.”

She tells us that if the policies of this administration are successful “more than a million low-income women who now rely on Title X funding to get contraceptive services or cancer screenings or annual exams from Planned Parenthood will lose their healthcare provider.” And she also tell us this, “for women outside the United States, the administration has proposed cutting its contribution for international family planning in half and cutting its contributions to the UN Population Fund to zero.”

“The administration also proposed eliminating the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, which would end a crucial supply of contraceptives for teens who need them.”

Reading The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates on the very days when a law outlawing abortion is being sent to the governor of Alabama for her signature seems to argue for the possibility of “divine intervention”. The opponents of abortion feel that the Supreme Court is ripe to overturn Roe v Wade and they are making their moves, hoping the case which will assuredly be filed against this unconstitutional law will make it to the Supreme Court and that the Supreme Court will make abortion illegal in America.

Backwards, backwards. I don’t believe women will go there for long. These same men and women who oppose abortion also oppose contraception. If they win on the abortion issue, contraception could well be their next target. And women around the world who are just beginning to have the tools to fight the oppression of women and how it affects their families, and the woes of poverty for their children, whether these barriers arose from tradition or malign intent, or religion, will go down with us.

Photo Credit: From a Google Image Search – Wired

You can find me at Tremr.com as brissioni.