Melinda Gates Writes An Essay About The Way Society Undervalues Women’s Time


Every year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation release an annual letter detailing the work they have been doing over the past 12 months in order to update those not necessarily in the know about global poverty rates and what is happening in the developing world.

For Melinda specifically, she has dedicated her career to advocating for the rights and health of women and girls in countries like India, a country which has the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world as a result of complications due to pregnancy or childbearing.

To coincide with the 2016 Annual Gates letter, Melinda wrote an essay for news website Mic where she pointed out the most overlooked aspect of the gender gap – women’s time. Aside from financial poverty, Melinda says being “time poor” is a great tragedy that if fixed, would make an enormous difference on what women in developing countries are capable of achieving.

Melinda’s revelation came about after spending a few days with a Tanzanian couple, where the wife spent almost every hour of every day keeping the household and family running. She would make all the meals, chop wood for fire, make sure their six kids were fed, cleaned the house and prepped for the next day. This left the wife no time to work or earn a living, and it also placed a burden on her daughters who would spend their time helping their mother, rather than concentrating on their homework.


It became a pattern Melinda would see in many different cultures and something she was adamant about shining a light on.

“The human potential that’s lost because of this way of life, and the damage done to low-income countries that are trying to prosper, is impossible to calculate. It’s the gender gap nobody’s talking about. I’m trying to change that. Every year, Bill and I write a letter about the world’s progress against poverty. This year, I’m shining a light on the ways we undervalue women’s time—and the ways it holds us all back,” she writes.

She also mentions that this is not just a developing world problem, it happens in the US as well.

“American women spend an average of 4 hours a day doing unpaid household work, while American men spend just 2.5 hours. The time adds up. Women spend an extra 500 hours every year doing unpaid household work—hours they could be spending on something else,” she said.

Although there has been immense progress for women in the United States in terms of the gender assumptions placed on women, where they are the primary caretakers of the children and the home and do all the cooking and shopping, these norms still sadly exist in unspoken ways, and to a damaging effect long term.


“Girls do 100 hours more chores than boys in a year. Boys are 15 percent more likely to be paid for their chores. Mothers may no longer be chained to the stove, but they still do three times more cleaning and four times more laundry than men. Only one out of every 50 people you see in TV commercials doing laundry or running after kids is a man,” she said. And in regard to the laundry TV commercials, we’ll get to that in just a minute.

The unspoken expectations placed on women and men in modern relationships are still very present, she argues. And although time-saving technology is a great help, Melinda says there is a much greater need to uproot the foundation of biased gender norms in order to alleviate global poverty levels, which many experts say will change drastically when we focus on the financial empowerment of women worldwide.

One way we can all do our part in changing the status quo, is by making a conscious effort to redistribute the unpaid labor evenly in our families, partnerships and communities. It also plays a major part in the ongoing conversation around paid family leave which has become a focus of the 2016 US presidential campaign given that America is one of only 2 countries in the world not to have a federally-mandated paid family leave scheme.


Studies show that men who take paternity leave have a stronger relationship with their children throughout life. And a recent McKinsey report suggests that, as the time gap narrows, more American women join the paid labor force and become corporate leaders – potentially contributing $12 trillion to the global GDP by 2025,” says Melinda.

In addition to this, a report from Harvard University in 2015 showed that kids with a mother who is employed outside the home benefit more than those with mothers who do not work. Girls are more likely to be part of an equal partnership and find jobs with higher pay. Boys are more likely to help out around the home and have an equal share in parenting duties in the future.

Melinda says it starts with awareness, and then us taking action.

“Once an invisible problem stops being invisible, we can finally start to solve it.”

Now back to the laundry commercial thing, you may have come across a video that has been going viral over the past month. Laundry detergent brand Ariel made a commercial released in India where the message was all about men and women sharing the load in domestic situations.


“Share The Load” is shot from the point of view of a father who is visiting his adult daughter and her family. He watches her one evening as she rushes around making dinner, answering phone calls, tidying the house and answers work emails (simultaneously) while her husband sits on the couch and watches TV. In the narration, we hear the father of the woman express how sorry he is to have raised a daughter so intelligent and capable, yet who was subtly taught she had to bear the load of all the domestic duties by herself.

It is an emotional video, and sure it is promoting a consumer product, but it is the message that is really important and exemplifies what Melinda Gates is talking about.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg shared the video on social media calling it “one of the most powerful videos I have ever seen. [It shows] how stereotypes hurt all of us and are passed from generation to generation.”

We can all have a impact on shaping the future of the world by allowing boys and girls to grow up knowing they are not limited by certain roles.

“When little girls and boys play house they model their parents’ behavior; this doesn’t just impact their childhood games, it shapes their long-term dreams,” said Sheryl in her post.

Watch the video below and share it with all your friends and family members.

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