Archive for the ‘student post’ Category

Women, Politics, and a Way Forward

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

by student contributor Laura Kilbury

event2On July 30 at The Elliott School, women and men rose early in the morning to be a part of the Empowering Women through Political Participation & Empowering Politics through Women’s Participation conference hosted by The Global Gender Program.

The panelists who spoke at the conference were leaders in their field of academia and practice. The conference was honored to host panelists: Homa Hoodfar from the University of Concordia, Rosalyn Cooperman from the University of Mary Washington, Theresa Reidy from University College Cork, Maryam Batool from Lahore College for Women University, Mona Tajali from University of Oxford, Loubna H. Skalli from American University, Gretchen Bauer from University of Delaware, Uzma Ashiq Khan from Lahore College for University Women, Katsuo Nishikawa Chaves from Trinity University, Toni Michelle C. Travis from George Mason University, Kanisha Bond from University of Maryland, Zille Zahra Naqvi from Lahore College for Women University, and Jane Henrici from George
Washington University.

event3The conference concerned a wide variety of topics and several different contexts and point of views. The panelists discussed politics in a broad and gendered lens rather than that of its narrow tunnel of “power” relations. All the panelists brought ideas and conclusions to the table that gave breath to the trends, histories, present realities, and futures of women in political activity at all levels and platforms. With diverse topics that ranged from there were many channels of thought in the conference, however, all panelists came to the same end of “What did work?”

The conference provided a forum for questions. And just as the presentations were thought provoking the questions were a mirror to that continuum. “Why…”

Why are we not there? How can we get there? Raising the better question as to what is there and exactly how far away it is?

Questions such as, “Giving the barriers in sub Saharan Africa- why do you think those countries have overcome those barriers and in the United States- why have we not had a female president?” or “We want men to support women- how do we get men to be more supportive?”

eventIn response to the question on male support, Mona Tajali, who presented, Feminist Party Ideology and Women’s Political Representation: The Case of Turkey’s People’s Democratic Party (HDP), shared Selahattin Demirtas’s quote during a national when asked who the woman, Figen Yoksedat, (Turkish official co- chair) was standing next to him. “She does not stand next to me, but I stand next to her.” Statements like this, are vital for keeping the dialogue alive and thriving on the importance of women empowerment in the realm of politics.

Homa Hoodfar, the Keynote Address speaker, said it best, “Even if the picture is not pretty we cannot afford to be discouraged.”

susanThe day’s event was brought to a close by Susan Markham, Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment at USAID. This was Markham’s second year providing closing thoughts on GGP’s summer conference. Markham briefly detailed her path into politics and her continued focus on women and gender. There is no country that has finished improving women’s empowerment and gender equality, rather all countries still have work to do to ensure a level playing field.

The Global Gender Program would like to thank all the panelists and participants in the conference. Your ideas and questions from presenter to the questioner provided a space of ideas and discussion that is vital for the continuation of empowering women.

Informational Lunch brings together Cultures and Conversation

Monday, July 27th, 2015

by student contributor Lesli Davis
 

On Tuesday, the Global Gender Program hosted an informational lunch meeting titled “Global Norms about Gender Equality and Local Responses.” The meeting aimed to bring together GGP affiliates and local organizations to discuss gender standards amongst cultures worldwide.

super sixFeatured prominently in the lunch meeting were six visiting students and scholars from Lahore College for Women University (LCWU) in Pakistan. The six visitors are here in the U.S. as part of a three-year partnership between GW and LCWU through the State Department. While visiting, they will take gender courses at GW and learn about American culture.

Also present at the lunch were representatives from a number of local organizations and institutions, including Women Thrive Worldwide, American Association of University Women, United States Agency for International Development, and International Food Policy Research Institute. Various area universities were also represented, such as George Mason and American University.

Participants discussed various topics relating to gender equality in Pakistan, the United States and globally. Extensive conversation revolved around the participation of women in religion, politics, and in other public spheres. Everyone left with a full belly and increased cultural understanding.

Where are the Women?

Monday, July 20th, 2015

by student contributor Laura Kilbury

 

carolyn-maloney-3Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney entered the room at the Wilson Center’s event,  Restoring Hope and Dignity: New Developments and Best Practices in Addressing Maternal Morbidities, just coming off the house floor on July 14th.

She spoke with such fervor about women’s rights in the United States, using her coin phrase, “Where are the women?”

 

Where are the women?

The event was centralized on the practices of female genitalia mutilation (FGM) and how organizations such as Johnson and Johnson are partnering with UNFPA and USAID to tackle this issue with smart and creative strategies, such as kits and training specialized doctors through fellowship programs.

Maternal morbidities – illnesses and injuries that do not kill but nevertheless seriously affect a woman’s health – are a critical, yet frequently neglected, dimension of safe motherhood. For every woman who dies, many more are affected acutely or chronically by morbidities, said Karen Hardee, president of Hardee Associates at the Global Health Initiative.Hardee was joined by Karen Beattie, project director for fistula care at EngenderHealth, and Marge Koblinsky, senior technical advisor at John Snow, Inc., for a discussion moderated by Ann Blanc, director of EngenderHealth’s Maternal Health Task Force.

Maternal Illnesses Cost $7 Billion a Year

Maternal morbidities include anemia, fistula, uterine rupture, genital or uterine prolapse, and maternal mental health. These conditions not only affect the patient but also their families, communities, and society at large, said Hardee, who estimated the global cost of these conditions to be around $6.8 billion annually.

Obstetric fistula – a hole or tear that connects the vagina to either the bladder or rectum – is caused by prolonged, obstructed labor without timely medical intervention. Although solid prevalence data is lacking, Karen Beattie estimated that there are two million cases worldwide and 50,000 to 100,000 new cases each year.

Obstetric fistula is a question of equity, Beattie said, and a “clear example of a health system’s failure to support women’s needs in childbirth. …Women with fistula are most often the most impoverished and vulnerable members of society.” EngenderHealth found, for example, that delays in care in Tanzania were due not so much to geography but rather lack of money for services and lack of transportation.

Obstetric Complications Affect 20 Million Women

A study on maternal morbidity in Bangladesh, carried out by the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR,B), determined that seven percent of women who delivered in a facility suffered a severe obstetric complication. More than 60 percent of these complications were due to dystocia, or severe obstructed labor, according to Marge Koblinsky. Furthermore, approximately 40% of all women suffered some kind of postpartum problem.

Maternal mortality is just the “tip of the iceberg,” according to Koblinsky. The study found that for every maternal death, approximately 38 women suffer obstetric complications – equivalent to an estimated 20 million women worldwide. Furthermore, the level of neonatal deaths was five times higher among women who had suffered a complication, even up to two years post-delivery.

The economic cost for the families of women who had suffered an obstetric complication was very high. The poorest quintile of the study sample spent as much as 35 percent of their annual income to pay for treatment, said Koblinsky. Obstetric complications and their consequences also resulted in negative social outcomes for the women and their families, including stigma, verbal abuse, domestic violence, divorce, and isolation.

Prevention, Follow-Up Are Key

In order to adequately address maternal morbidities, health experts need to know where programs that reduce mortality will also reduce morbidity, and where additional programs are needed, said Hardee. However, this analysis requires more accurate estimates of incidence, prevalence, and cost data.

In the case of obstetric fistula, the focus should be on prevention, said Beattie. Other key interventions include providing access to family planning, using a partograph correctly and consistently, catheterizing the mother immediately after prolonged or obstructed labor, and increasing access to emergency obstetric care. More resources for training and service provision are also critical.

The Bangladesh study recommended postpartum follow-up for up to a year, financial protection for the poorest women, and family counseling, particularly in the case of a child’s death. “Perinatal death has a huge impact on the woman,” said Koblinsky. However, “it’s not just the woman; it’s the family that needs the counseling, for her postpartum depression, but also to alleviate the domestic violence that can ensue, as well as the social impact.”

Furthermore, programs should “address the antecedents of poor maternal health,” said Hardee, including nutrition, sanitation, education, and gender-based violence, as well as the silence surrounding women’s birth experiences. We must “shatter that gender norm and have women actually talk about these things,” Hardee concluded.

So back to Maloney, “Where are the women?” and more importantly what can and should be done?

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GGP Welcomes Visitors from Pakistan

Monday, July 13th, 2015

Through funding from the U.S. State Department, six members of the Department of Gender and Development Studies at Lahore College for Women University (LCWU) in Pakistan, have come to Washington. During their six week stay, the visiting scholars will take courses at GW, see a bit of America, and make friends here.

super six

Please join us in welcoming:

Amna Saeed, MS Scholar at LCWU

Amna currently studies Gender and Development Studies. Her BS thesis was titled “Resilience, Subjective Well-Being and Happiness Among Slum Dwellers.” She presented her thesis at the international conference, The Current Challenges For Psychology: From Crisis To Solution, in March 2015.

Arshia Yasin, MS Scholar at LCWU

Arshia received her Bachelor’s Degree in Gender and Development from LCWU. Previously, she served as a school teacher and held an internship at the AGHS Legal Aid Cell. Her research interests are female subordination in domestic life and distress level of women.

Maryam Batool, Lecturer at LCWU

Maryam holds a Masters Degree in Women’s Studies. Her area of research is women’s health. Currently, she teaches classes in Gender and Health, Basic and Advance Statistics, and Socio-Cultural Issues.

Samina Riaz, Lecturer at LCWU

Samina is a PhD scholar and holds a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology. Her areas of research are leadership, psychology of gender, and developmental psychology. Previously, she served as a school teacher for ten years.

Zarnab Rana, MS Scholar at LCWU

Zarnab currently studies Gender and Development Studies. As a part of her academic work, she completed an internship in the Social Welfare Department of Punjab. Her research interests are violence against women, women’s subordination, social and cultural issues, and social institutions.

Zille Zahra Naqvi, Assistant Manager at LCWU

Zille holds her Master’s Degree in Gender and Development Studies. Her areas of research are women’s sexuality and women and peace. Previously, she worked as a Senior Coordinator at ASR Resource Centre and as a Lecturer at the Government Fatima Jinnah College for Women Lahore.

 

The visit comes as part of a three-year partnership, funded by the U.S. State Department, between GW’s Global Gender Program and the Gender and Development Studies Department at Lahore College for Women University. Through the affiliation, the two universities hope to promote enhanced research and teaching on global gender issues, as well as increased cross-cultural understanding.

The Hidden World of Cambodia’s Sex Workers

Monday, July 13th, 2015

by student contributor Laura Kilbury

screen-shot-2015-06-05-at-6.27.20-pm-3On Thursday, July 9, for a Talk at Pulitzer Center, Steve Sapienza, a video journalist, showed his project, “The Hidden World Of Cambodia’s Sex Workers: New Risks, New Hope” which focuses on the impact of anti-trafficking laws on the health and safety of sex workers.

In 2008, Cambodia passed a law that closed its brothels. The goal was to prevent human trafficking. Instead, it upended a government program designed to distribute condoms and screen for sexually transmitted diseases like HIV at brothels. When the sex workers scattered, there was no easy way to reach them. Out of the shadows emerged a volunteer organization called SMARTgirl, comprised of active and former sex workers, that has been working to fill the void.

Sapienza, the Pulitzer Center’s senior producer, wanted to see how the outreach and prevention efforts were faring. In February 2014, he traveled to Phnom Penh to produce a short film, which premiered on NPR.org.

This Talk Pulitzer also featured Sebastian Kohn, a program officer with the Open Society Foundations Public Health Program who studies sex work decriminalization issues, and Antigone Barton, the writer and editor of Science Speaks and a former Pulitzer Center grantee. In 2007, Sapienza and Barton collaborated on a series of Pulitzer Center-supported stories related to HIV and sex work in the Dominican Republic.

With 40,000 women reportedly working as sex workers underground has room for more risk and concern. This has disrupted violence health services. As Sapienza reiterated, the most important thing is to “reach the unreachable”.

In this Talk, the speakers discussed the new realities of the sex workers and the futures of the laws. Is this good? Is this bad?

While some countries are making prostitution legal in order to give the women more agency and control over their environment, what happens when it is completely outlawed? Or should it be that protective measures are placed at these types of venues?

Sapienza seems to believe that it has caused more harm than good. Citing that the women are now off the grid to a degree and cannot have their health checked, which is the greatest concern of all. However, Sapienza is hopeful that something good will come out of this. Organizations like SMART girls are training women with skills and programs. Sapienza believes that this a positive thing and provides for a new hope.

This conversation comes back to a long held debate over the role and legality of brothels and prostitution. What is the best way? Is there a best way?

Kudos to Aisling Swaine

Monday, July 13th, 2015

AislingKudos to Professor Aisling Swaine for the release of a co- authored publication in the International Feminist Journal of Politics. The publication is titled, Monsters, Myths, Selfies and Grand Declarations. It is a conversational piece with Henri Myrttinen on the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, also known as the ESVC Summit, which was hosted in London in June 2014.

The summit occurred over the course of four days and several invited experts were at the meetings. The significance of this summit is that was a first. Not only were there experts, but there were also survivors that came to the summit, which was remarkable. In this publication, the question arises as to whether or not this was cause for celebration or if more questions should in fact be asked.”

The publication reports on the ideas and reactions to the summit with Aisling Swaine as an invited delegate and expert in the meetings and Myrttinen as a voice of NGOs in the event.

“I saw the Summit as a significant marker of progress. It was a symbolic embodiment of a slow attitudinal shift on the issue of conflict-related sexual assault. The presence of governments from around the world showed the weight now granted to this issue and the rightful position it has taken in state-level policy, domestic or foreign”, writes Swaine in the publication.

In upcoming August another one of Swaine’s articles, Exploring an Expanded Spectrum of Conflict- Time Violence Against Women, will be published in Human Rights Quarterly. In this she asks the questions: why does it matter whether violence is counted as conflict related? UNSCR resolutions list only strategic violence as a tactic of war, but what about political violence? Or private violence? According to Aisling this creates a hierarchy of harms.

In Monsters, Myths, Selfies and Grand Declarations, Swaine discusses the moving forward from this summit.

“What comes to be seen as “acting” under the Time to Act banner adopted by the Summit will be key. We know that the impacts of sexual violence are great, that they are far-reaching and that they extend beyond the temporal period for which any one conflict can secure the international community’s gaze”

Hillary Clinton talks gender at George Mason University

Monday, July 6th, 2015

by student contributor Laura Kilbury

Obama Announces Appointments Of Clinton, Gates, Nat'l Security Team“I’m on the side of everyone who’s ever been knocked down but refused to be knocked out,” she said. “I’m not running for some Americans, but for all Americans.”

The 2016 presidential race came to Virginia on Friday June, 26, ushered in by the roaring voice of Gov. Terry McAuliffe introducing Hillary Clinton. In her campaign stop in the state, the Democratic front-runner called for the protection of gay and abortion rights.

Clinton headlined the state Democratic Party’s annual Jefferson-Jackson event, previously a formal dinner but this year held as a campaign event at George Mason University’s Patriot Center. The rally was billed as a “people’s event” and felt like a mix of high school pep rally and political convention; teleprompters and large projection screens adorned the stage while crowds ate popcorn in an arena where people usually watch basketball and concerts.

Clinton also touched on women’s equality in her speech, emphasizing women’s reproductive choices.

“Well, one thing’s for certain, we don’t need any more leaders who shame and blame women rather than respect our right to make our own reproductive health decisions.”

Snowballing off the release of the new book, The Hillary Doctrine, by Valerie Hudson and Patricia Liedl, one wonders how women’s equality- domestic and international- would be structured on Clinton’s agenda should she be elected as President.

The Hillary Doctrine:Sex and American Foreign Policy, To the day that the Hillary Doctrine becomes “unremarkable”

Monday, June 29th, 2015

by student contributor Laura Kilbury

hillary

On the 24th at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Valerie Hudon and Patricia Leidl discussed their new book, The Hillary Doctrine: Sex & American Foreign Policy, and its paramount importance for the United States in junction with national security priorities.

During her confirmation hearing to become secretary of state, Hillary Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in no uncertain terms, “I want to pledge to you that as secretary of state I view women’s issues as central to our foreign policy, not as adjunct or auxiliary or in any way lesser than all of the other issues that we have to confront.”

The “doctrine” comes from a proposition that Clinton made at the TEDWomen Conference in December 2010: “The subjugation of women is, therefore, a threat to the common security of our world and to the national security of our country.” In countries where women are chronically mistreated, or systematically excluded from leadership roles, there tends to be far greater state fragility, outbreaks and reoccurrences of conflict, and environments where extremists can flourish, including even terrorist organizations.

Research for the book began in 2010, and the content was largely written in 2013, after Hudson’s co- author Patricia Leidl completed fieldwork in several countries. Hudson emphasized the role that qualitative data played in their research. Data on cultural norms, customs, practices and laws were missing from the current research, so Hudson and Leidl created a massive database to fill this niche. One might wonder why the idea that women’s security affects national security is called the Hillary Doctrine. Hudson explained that though Clinton was the third female Secretary of State, she was the first woman in that role who made women’s issue priorities for the Department. The book, though not about Secretary Clinton herself, explores the effects that her belief in this idea has had on American foreign policy.

The first part of the book—based on interviews with government officials like Swanee Hunt, Andrew Natsios, Paula Dobriansky, and Melanne Verveer—consists of a helpful history of how women’s issues became prominent in U.S. foreign policymaking during the 1990s. This included milestones like UN Security Council Resolution 1325, the first resolution to address the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women, as well as the role of women in conflict prevention and resolution; the publication of the first U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security; and the difficulties and haphazard manner that the military and USAID have experienced in incorporating women’s issues into foreign operations.

The second section focuses on the theory and cases that explore whether the Hillary Doctrine is justified. Hudson discussed that her past research reveals the doctrine is in fact based on a solid premise. She presented the theoretical argument for what she and Leidl termed fempolitik, arguing that the realization that women’s security is closely linked to national security is a pillar of clear- eyed realpolitik. This then provides an argument that contends that that male-female relationships are a foundational issue, while poverty, explosive violence, ill health and other widespread problems are the macro consequences of women’s insecurity.

The third and last section of the book focuses on the implementation of the Hillary Doctrine from 2009-2013. Jen Klein, advisor to Secretary Clinton on global women’s issues, explained in an interview for the book that the State Department adopted four initial principles to guide their work on women. These principles stated that their work (1) would be non-partisan, (2) would not impose U.S. views or laws on others (indeed, the policies focused on the agenda enshrined in CEDAW, which the U.S. has not ratified), (3) must be based in evidence, even though the Department also thought it was the right thing to do, and (4) must demonstrate that the benefits created by such policies also apply to national security, not just women’s security. Though these principles were paired with strategic frameworks from major government organizations, Leidl explained that the disconnect between high-level policy and the actual work on the ground manifested itself in a fairly predictable fashion, citing some terribly ineffective initiatives.

At the end of the event, Leidl and Hudson noted some of the top priorities moving forward in a “to do list” fashion. These included using the bully pulpit to discuss women’s issues, developing hard targets and performance benchmarks on women’s inclusion, focusing on male accountability, and adding a jus ex bello element to the just war theory, one that focuses on the harms after war has ended that disproportionately affect women.

The authors then (with a confirming laugh in the room) eminently said that that the most important and elusive ingredient for implementing the Hillary Doctrine “can only come from the White House itself.” If a President Hillary Clinton is sworn into office on January 20, 2017, then there will be no more bureaucratic hurdles preventing the fuller implementation of the Hillary Doctrine. Would we learn if it isindeed a rhetoric, or the basis upon which U.S. foreign policy is developed and implemented?

At the end of the event, Hudson made a final and provoking note, “Here’s to the day the Hillary Doctrine becomes unremarkable.”

What will it mean in the future when it is the norm to look at our national security through a genderedlens? When placing women at the forefront of a national security agenda is the way to look at things that is when the Hillary Doctrine will persist.

 

Smart Women, Smart Power: Townsend

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

by student contributor Laura Kilbury

townsend

A common face on CNN, Fran Townsend, former Homeland Security and counterterrorism adviser to President George W. Bush, spoke candidly Thursday evening at CSIS’s Smart Women, Smart Power conversations series.

Townsend’s rise is particularly shiny when one looks into her childhood. She was the first person in her family to graduate high school. Her mother was a bookkeeper and her father was a roofer. When Townsend graduated from law school, her mother received her GED. Townsend had no knowledge up to that point that her mother hadn’t graduated from high school.

Townsend came to the White House from the U. S. Coast Guard, where she had served as the first Assistant Commandant for Intelligence. Prior to that, Townsend spent 13 years at the U. S. Department of Justice under the administrations of President H.W. Bush, President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush.  She served in a variety of senior positions including as Counsel to the Attorney General for Intelligence Policy. Townsend began her prosecutorial career in 1985, serving as an Assistant District Attorney in Brooklyn, New York.

Being the first woman to be the director of Homeland Security, Nina Easton, the moderator, asked Townsend if she “felt the burden?”

“I had to be right every day”, Townsend responded.

The post 9/11 era of counterterrorism has given Townsend a unique and valuable perspective in the field of international and national security. A perspective that she admits as, “provocative”. She believes that we need to take the situation with ISIS “more seriously” and that we need a “strategy”. Noting that the thing that makes ISIS “dangerous” is their ability to mobilize and recruit others, including women, to their cause.

As Townsend discussed the victories and shortcomings of the U.S.’s policies regarding terrorism and security, there was one vital point missing from the conversation. The subjugation of women is a threat to general security of the world and to our own national security. When one looks at the countries that our nation deems a security threat, there is a common theme: the systematic oppression of women.

The ultimate purpose of the Smart Women, Smart Power series is to shed light on prominent and inspiring women and the achievements they have garnered. These women are successful and bright, and more importantly, they give hope that more women can share in these roles.

Until we put women and the forefront of our national security agenda, instability in states will perpetuate. The moment that we realize that the security of women equals the security of the world, we will see no progress in the fight against terror.

Melinda Gates: Smart Women, Smart Power

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

It’s Good to be Uncomfortable

by student contributor Laura Kilbury

 

Melinda GatesOn May 20, The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) welcomed Melinda Gates to the center’s ongoing discussion series, “Smart Women, Smart Power”. CSIS started this program on December 8, 2014 as an initiative to intensify the voices of leading women in the realms of foreign policy, national security, and international business.

Melinda Gates appeared on stage for a 90-minute interview Tuesday May 20, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as part of the CSIS-Fortune, “Smart Women Smart Power” series. Gates revealed steps the Gates Foundation, of which she is Co-Chair of, is currently taking to realign its vast resources to make investment in women and girls a top priority. “We are making strides for women and girls, but not on a global scale,” she said.

While Melinda Gates working in tandem with the Gates Foundation is making major strides for women in countries around the world, it is necessary to look at the strides Gates has made in the United States as a woman in technology.

Melinda French Gates grew up in Dallas—one of four children—with a homemaker mother who regretted never going to college and an aerospace engineer father. Gates’ father was progressive for the time. Her father valued having women on his teams, saying that his team “did better” when women were playing an integral part. She joined a computer science club at her Catholic girls school. “I love logic,” she says. “Computer science to me was like a puzzle. I like the logic of it and working your way through.”

In the discussion Gates talked about how computer science has a way of making one feel “uncomfortable”. However, she quickly said, “It’s good to be uncomfortable”.

Her parents, determined to send all four kids away to college, ran a real estate company on the side so they could afford tuition. Melinda and her sister were assigned to keep the books on their Apple 3 computer and painted the company’s rental properties on weekends. “I learned the flows of money, profit and loss. I knew what my parents bought [the homes] for and hoped to get,” she recalled. When she attended Duke, she added an MBA to her computer science and economics degrees—and made a speedy climb up the Microsoft ladder for nine years.

Gates was originally tracked for a job at IBM, but a recruiter steered her elsewhere. “I had a standing offer with IBM in Dallas,” Gates recalled. “I had turned down all the other companies except one.” That company was Microsoft.

Gates says the IBM hiring manager “stopped me dead in my tracks and asked, ‘Do you want my advice? IBM has a fantastic career track, but you have to go up each ladder of the chain.” Microsoft, said the recruiter, is a young, rapidly growing company with the promise of faster advancement for women.

She took the Microsoft MSFT-1.10% job—and history was made. and now—a quarter century later—she is co-steering a $42.3 billion foundation widely recognized as a game-changer in global poverty.

That effort will include a renewed effort to disperse contraception, though the foundation will not fund abortion. “I believe in and use contraceptives,” said the devout Catholic, who called family planning “vital in developing countries.”

In the wide-ranging conversation, Gates defended genetically-modified crops—increasingly the target of protests here and in Europe—as critical to eradicating hunger in poor countries. She also criticized the anti-vaccine movement and offered this positive bit of news: “We are getting very close in polio eradication. This would be an amazing success in global health.”

Melinda Gates took her first trip to Africa when she became engaged to Bill Gates. The journey was meant to be a fun and adventurous safari with other couples, but ended up offering inspiration and a life lesson.

“We loved the animals and the savannah, but you couldn’t help but ask questions—like why whole towns were shut down,” she says. In a Maasai cooking tent, the group bonded with villagers so well that one young man asked: “Can you come back in a few weeks? We are going to have a cutting ceremony for my sister.”

“We were all devastated” by the reference to genital mutilation, Gates says. “It made me realize I knew nothing about that culture. It started Bill and me on a series of learning journeys and questions.”

Now, though, she plans to double down on the poverty-eradicating bet they made 15 years ago. They argue that over the next 15 years, the lives of people in poor countries will improve more than at any other time in history. “When I look at Africa, I don’t just see the destitute stories,” Melinda Gates says. “I focus on the ingenuity and change of the communities.”