Everytime I hear Melinda Gates speak, or read something she’s written, I learn something new. It was while listening to a short interview with Gates on Call Your Girlfriend, that I became passionately inspired to explore the concept of unpaid labor and the socioeconomic impact it has on women across the globe.
Gates was responding to questions from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation 2016 annual letter in which they each discuss an area of foundation focus for the following year. In this letter, Melinda Gates discusses the topic of unpaid labor in an incredibly engaging way. If you’re confused about what we mean when we’re talking about unpaid labor, Gates does a terrific job of describing it,
“Unpaid work is what it says it is: It’s work, not play, and you don’t get any money for doing it. But every society needs it to function. You can think of unpaid work as falling into three main categories: cooking, cleaning, and caring for children and the elderly… Now, this work has to be done by somebody. But it’s overwhelmingly women who are expected to do it, for free, whether they want to or not.”
I particularly like how she describes the inherent value of this work. She doesn’t suggest that women stop doing this work, but rather that we start by “doing three things economists call Recognize, Reduce, and Redistribute: Recognize that unpaid work is still work. Reduce the amount of time and energy it takes. And Redistribute it more evenly between women and men.”
As a stay at home mom, and a feminist, I found this incredibly compelling. I’ve always known that the work I do is valuable to my family, but I’ll admit that I often feel societal pressure to do more, because my work is not monetized. I’m intrigued by the idea of recording and measuring this work and the value it has, not only to our individual families, but to the social and economic well being of women and men alike.
I’m grateful to Melinda Gates for saying exactly what I needed to hear at exactly the right time, but I’m also grateful for her example. She’s a woman of immense privilege, who is choosing to spend much of her time advocating against inequality and seeking ways to help more people lead healthier and more productive lives. You may disagree with the notion of the super wealthy influencing global policy, and I respect that. It’s an important conversation to have. From where I’m sitting, Melinda Gates is using her voice to make a positive impact in the world. She doesn’t have to, but she’s doing it anyway. While my voice is not as loud, I’m inspired to follow her lead.