I don't normally do book reviews. However, because I'm a recent book author, a colleague sent me an advance copy of the manuscript for Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's new book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity Worldwide and suggested that some of the themes might be of interest to me.
It was. In fact, the book is stunning. Not because it's a compelling read, which it is. Not because it immediately leapt on to the bestseller list (as an author, I pay more attention to such things now). The book belongs on the "must-read" list because it offers perspective, insight, and clear-eyed optimism for why and how each of us can and should meet one of the great moral and humanitarian challenges of our times.
In case some of you don't know Nick or Sheryl, they are Pulitzer Prize winners who earlier this year won the prestigious Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Lifetime Achievement for their work chronicling human rights in Asia, Africa and the developing world. Nick also writes a widely read and influential column for the New York Times.
You can go to other book reviews to hear what the literary professionals think. I just want to give you my perspective as a husband, father, lawyer, and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
What Nick and Sheryl have done is lay out a case for why empowering women in the developing world is both morally right and strategically imperative. Their essential message is that Lifting Women Lifts the World. I couldn't agree more.
As someone who is soon to turn 84, I have spent a lot of time thinking about women and their role in society. My first wife, Mary Maxwell Gates, was a force of nature. It seemed perfectly natural to me that she would become a community leader and a trailblazer as one of the first women ever invited onto corporate boards. Mary was my partner, and she modeled to all of our children that there is nothing that women can't achieve. In many ways, my children took for granted that women can do anything.
I think they also saw that when a man partners with a strong woman, everyone benefits. This is not to say that women can't do amazing things without a man - they do, everyday. Some of the most successful and inspiring women I know are not married or partnered. However, because of my own experience, what I find remarkable is that more men around the globe don't realize how much stronger they would be if partnered with a strong woman. Way too often and in too many corners of the globe, women are denied the opportunity to reach their full potential. It's wrong and it's backward, and of course, the irony is that by keeping women down, men lose out too.
We're seeing remarkable evidence of what can happen when men and women partner together - our president and his wife Michelle being a wonderful example. My own son and his wife (both of whom I report to) are true partners in the work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. My current wife Mimi Gardner Gates is my partner in all of the things that are important to me now.
The authors titled their book after an old Chinese proverb that says "Women hold up half the sky." It's time that people around the world recognize the full implication of that wise proverb and work together to ensure that women everywhere are able to rise to their fullest potential -- for themselves and so that we all can benefit from the contributions they will make to global society. Finally, and in that vein, to everyone around the world who has asked me what it takes to raise a successful son like Bill Gates, my first response is: Make sure he can learn from a strong woman.