This book left me speechless. My mind is ruminating on all I have just read and I scour through my notes. I have ferociously scribbled and highlighted, and It is so lovely to be introduced to Melinda Gates foremost and her story is beyond admirable. It is profound.
The first time I heard of Melinda Gates was via The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. As a Management Consultant at the time, I was on a project that took me to Northern Nigeria, Kano State to carry out an assessment of the Board of the Primary Health Care Development Agency.
This project involved visiting primary health care centers, and extensive interviews with the Board to assess their effectiveness for the role. I remember when i saw the client sponsoring this project; “Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation”, I was truly surprised. I did some research on the foundation, and saw the tremendous work they had done at the time towards eradicating polio in Nigeria, and was further inspired when it eventually happened. I saw the investment of resources; time, funding, network, medication, that this foundation gave to problem that “wasn’t theirs”. It was so profound to me.
Fast forward six years later, my senior friend (my friend uses this term for her mentors and i love it), gave me this book as a gift. She mentioned I had said I enjoyed Michelle Obama’s book - Becoming, and thought I might like to read this. I remember her saying she finds both women’s story unique and different. After reading it, i share the same sentiment.
This book wasn’t a straight read for me, it took me a while. I read this book in roughly two months. This wasn’t because the book wasn’t great, it was! But for a few other reasons. One, my schedule has been a bit hectic, so finding time to read at a stretch has been hard. I mean, i want to read and i can't because i need the time for something else.
Secondly, it was a hard copy book and it was harder to carry around than a kindle, but i did miss reading hard copy and honestly, it is way more experiential. Finally, and most importantly, I had a lot of notes to take while reading this book. At some point, I had to switch to a highlighter. There are so many gems.
For me, I was pleasantly surprised to be introduced to Melinda Gates. I never knew who she really was, beyond an accompanying name of a massive foundation, and boy - is she much more than that. Her personality comes so strongly (not loudly) in the book, as someone who is so deeply in touch with her core self, and who she is. She comes across as an introvert, and an empathetic person. I admire her spirit from the words that I read.
Melinda touches a lot with this book, and really untangles and deconstructs the poignant realities of women's suffering across her outreaches with the foundation.
She also touches on her personal life, on gender roles and expectations, women in the workplace and marriage dynamics. Most of the book cover more precarious eventualities with her work at Bill and Melinda Gates like legal restrictions against women, physical abuse in marriages, child marriage, lack of access to contraceptives for women, lack of access to education, female genital mutilation among other grave consequences of the subjugation of women. Melinda does an amazing job of clearly showing the thread that unites all these great ills - bias against women.
She shares stories of brave women in incredibly difficult situations, she empathizes and humanizes them throughout the book. There are so many heartbreaking stories in the book, and very quickly you realize your own privilege to be holding a book, merely reading about these great ills that have befallen women, and continue to befall them.
Melinda is also honest and talks about her own journey towards equality in her marriage, her journey with gender equity and her faith as a catholic, and how religion is used as a major (and potent) tool to perpetuating the imbalance.
Here are a few quotes i highlighted. There are so many amazing quotes that didn't make it here.
On A Little Girl Who Dared To Ask For Education
“It takes courage to ask for what you want, especially when it is more than what people think you should have”
On Unmasking Stigma
“I’ve come to learn that stigma is always an effort to suppress someone’s voice. It forces people to hide in shame. The best way to fight back is to speak up, to say openly the very thing that others stigmatize. It is a direct attack on the self censorship that stigma needs to survive”
“The first defense against a culture that hates you, is a person who loves you”
“One of the defining features of hierarchy is that you take the powerful and exciting jobs for yourself and impose the crummy tasks on others.”
“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”
A man who is dominant is probably not going to say “hey, let's be equal, take some of my power”
On Inclusion and Gender Bias
“I believe that when people who are bound by the rules have no role in shaping the rules, moral blind spots become the law, and the powerless bear the burden”
“It's a clear choice, challenge the bias or perpetuate them”
“When I meet women who have faced heavy gender bias, I often see it in the way they look at me. Or don’t look at me. It’s not easy to unlearn a lifetime of being meek”
“Discrimination against women is perpetuated not only in the laws that exclude women but also in the absence of laws that support women”
On Building Male Allies
“But women can’t do it alone. Every successful effort to bring in outsiders has always had help from insider activists who do the work of reform from within”
These quotes and review do not do this book justice, so I suggest you read the book.
I definitely recommend.
I'm officially putting it into the universe that I would love to sit, and have coffee with Melinda Gates.
Read My Review of Michelle Obama's - Becoming