In their foundation’s annual letter, Bill and Melinda Gates speculate as to what they, as two of the world’s richest and most successful people, would like more of. For Bill, it’s more energy, while Melinda wishes she had more time. “Sure, everyone wants more time and energy,” they say, “but they mean one thing in rich countries and something else entirely when looked at through the eyes of the world’s poorest families.”
18 per cent of the world population is currently without electricity; that’s around 1.3 billion people. “If I could have just one wish to help the poorest, it would be to find a cheap, clean source of energy to power the world,” says Bill. “Without access to energy, the poor are stuck in the dark, denied all of these benefits and opportunities that come with power.”
“I’m so optimistic about the world’s ability to make a miracle happen that I’m willing to make a prediction,” he continues. “Within the next 15 years — and especially if young people get involved — I expect the world will discover a clean energy breakthrough that will save our planet and power our world.”
Melinda, meanwhile, is out to address the imbalance in unpaid labour carried out on a daily basis all over the world. Whether it’s carrying water, cooking and cleaning, or picking up kids from school, there are a myriad of tasks which are perceived by society as “women’s work,” and it hits the world’s poorest women hardest. She’s even noticed it in her own home; while her husband and children helped out in cleaning up after dinner, she found that she would always stay to finish up. This attitude, she says, has to change.
“Whether you’re in a western country where that gap can be 90 minutes or in the developing world where there can be a five hour gap, if we don’t talk about how it robs women of their potential, then we’re not really looking at the issue,” she tells the Telegraph. “And if we don’t redistribute the work, if we don’t really say; there needs to be a different balance here, we’re not going to get all the way. We’re not going to let all women reach their potential all around the world or get the big GDP gains that we want.”
In the Gates household, redressing the balance means “nobody leaves the kitchen until Mom leaves the kitchen.” Elsewhere in the world, it means calling these tasks what they are, i.e. work, and ensuring that our children don’t grow up with the same stereotypical notions of gender, which lead women to take on more burdens through sheer expectation.
It boils down to three Rs, says Melinda; Recognise, Reduce, and Redistribute. “In the end, the goal is to change what we think of as normal — and not thinking it’s funny or weird when a man puts on an apron, picks up his kids from school, or leaves a cute note in his son’s lunchbox.”