WASHINGTON — The U.N.-sponsored global gathering to promote gender equality generated about $40 billion in pledges Wednesday to help women and girls achieve that goal, partly fueled by a significant $2.1 billion contribution from Bill and Melinda Gates’ namesake foundation.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation said it will spend the money in the next five years on health and family planning programs, economic empowerment projects and other initiatives.
The pledge was made at the Generation Equality Forum convened by UN Women in Paris, where private donors, government officials and civil society leaders are meeting to make financial and political commitments to help reach gender equality worldwide.
The $40 billion was pledged by various stakeholders, UN Women said, calling the commitments the “largest-ever collective infusion of resources into global gender equality.”
Some of the pledges come from other foundations, including the Ford Foundation, which said Wednesday it will spend $420 million in the next five years on gender equality initiatives. Separately, the George Soros-founded Open Society Foundations and PayPal have each pledged more than $100 million.
Jeannie Sager, the director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University, says the litany of announcements promise greater action for gender equality, and adds to the collective urgency the U.N. has championed on the issue. U.N. goals for 2030 include achieving gender equality.
The event comes nearly a year after the U.N. commemorated the 25th anniversary of the landmark 1995 Beijing women’s conference. About 190 countries adopted a roadmap at the 1995 event to achieve gender equality but no nation has reached the goal.
“The world has been fighting for gender equality for decades, but progress has been slow,” Melinda French Gates said in the Gates Foundation announcement, adding that it was time to “reignite a movement and deliver real change.”
Advancing gender equality is a core area for the Seattle-based foundation, the largest private charitable group in the United States with an endowment of nearly $50 billion. It gives about $5 billion annually through its philanthropic work, but it’s future - and leadership structure - have been called into question following Bill and Melinda’s recent divorce.
French Gates and Ford Foundation President Darren Walker are scheduled to speak at the three-day Forum. Vice President Kamala Harris and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke at Wednesday's opening event.
Harris told the forum that “addressing gender equity and equality is essential to addressing every other challenge we face, which is certainly true in light of the current threats to democracy."
“Gender equality strengthens democracy," she said in virtual remarks, stressing that U.S. commitments “will yield results -- real, tangible results -- that improve the lives of women in the United States and women around the world."