Melinda French Gates to donate $1bn in women's rights

A woman in a floral dress holds a microphone
Melinda French Gates believes women's issues are underfunded [Reuters]

Billionaire philanthropist Melinda French Gates announced Tuesday that she is committing $1 billion (£782.4m) over the next two years to women’s causes and gender equity around the world.

About $200 million (£157m) will go to organisations fighting for gender and reproductive rights in the US.

In a New York Times guest essay, Ms French Gates said she felt compelled to support US reproductive rights following the 2022 Supreme Court decision that overturned the constitutional right to an abortion.

The annonucement comes two weeks after Ms French Gates said she would step back from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the philanthropic powerhouse she co-founded with her former husband, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

The money will be distributed through her company, Pivotal Ventures, through 2026.

Ms French Gates plans to give $20m (£16m) to a “diverse group of 12 global leaders” to distribute to organisations of their choice before the end of 2026.

The company said it will set aside another $250 million (£196m) in the autumn to global organisations focused on women’s mental and physical health.

Ms French Gates said she chose the first grant recipients working in the US to “protect the rights of women and advance their power and influence”.

“When we allow this cause to go so chronically underfunded, we all pay the cost,” she wrote in the New York Times. “As shocking as it is to contemplate, my 1-year-old granddaughter may grow up with fewer rights than I had.”

One grant recipient is the Center for Reproductive Rights, which advocates for abortion rights and currently represents 50 women in lawsuits challenging abortion restrictions and other reproductive health measures in several states.

Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams, the Center's chief communications and marketing officer, said the money is needed now more than ever.

“The attention and the public debate about reproductive rights and abortion is greater than ever,” Ms Ghedini-Williams said. “That’s not necessarily being reflected in donations, which is why this is so wonderful right now, when we need to continue fueling this fight.”

Other recipients include MomsRising, an organisation to support women’s economic security; the National Women’s Law Center, which focuses on law as a means to improve gender equity; and The 19th, a nonprofit media outlet dedicated to gender and policy news.

The National Domestic Workers Alliance, which advocates for millions of nannies, housecleaners, home-care workers and others in the US, also received a grant.

The flexible terms and multi-year security the grant provides are a significant help to the group, but the message it sends is even more important, said Ai-jen Poo, president of the organisation.

“Boldly resourcing women forces the question of, ‘why haven’t we done this before?’” she said. “It's long overdue when women are more than half the workforce, half the electorate and doing 70% of the care work in our communities and our families.”