The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World // Melinda Gates

Melindy knihu čtu na jeden zátah, vřískajícím netvorům navzdory. Poutavé vyprávění o hrdinkách ze světa chudoby a jak jim Gates Foundation pomáhá na základě individuálních příběhů, sběru dat a investicí v lokálních neziskovkách. Zároveň mne zaujal Melindy osobní příběh a její snaha o rovnocennost v partnerství.

Úryvky z osobního života

Before I met Bill, I was in an unhealthy relationship. The guy encouraged me in some ways but held me back on purpose in others. He never wanted me to eclipse him. He didn’t see me as a woman with my own dreams, hopes, and gifts. When I look back, it’s clear to me that I had lost a lot of my voice and confidence, and it took me years to see what I had lost and get it back.

He saw me as someone who could play a useful role in his life, so there were certain ways he wanted me to be, and when I wasn’t that way he could be extraordinarily abusive. I’m sure that’s one of the reasons I get so angry today when I see women being put down or kept in certain roles. I see myself in them. When I started my relationship with him, I was young. There was no chance of my being myself or finding my voice at that point in my life. I was confused. I felt awful, but I didn’t understand why.

When I was in high school in Dallas, I met with a college guidance counselor I knew who wanted to offer me some advice. After I told her about the schools I was hoping I might attend, she told me I couldn’t get into any of them and should scale back my ambitions. She said I should focus on going somewhere closer to home. If I had not been surrounded by people who lifted me up, I might have taken her advice and sold myself short. Instead I stormed out of that talk furious with her and twice as determined to reach my goals. That wasn’t my power; it was the power of the people who had shown me my gifts and wanted me to flourish. That’s why I am so passionate about teachers who can embrace girls and lift them up—they change the course of their students’ lives.

When I was pregnant, we went for a trip to China. On the way home, during one of our talks, I shocked Bill when I said, “Look, I’m not going to keep working after I have this baby. I’m not going back.” He was stunned. “What do you mean, you’re not going back?” And I said, “We’re lucky enough not to need my income. So this is about how we want to raise a family. You’re not going to downshift at work, and I don’t see how I can put in the hours I need to do a great job at work and raise a family at the same time.”

I realize in looking back that I faced a life-forming question in those early years: “Do you want to have a career or do you want to be a stay-at-home mom?” And my answer was “Yes!” First career, then stay-at-home mom, then a mix of the two, then back to career. I had an opportunity to have two careers and the family of my dreams—because we were in the fortunate position of not needing my income.

When Jenn started kindergarten in the fall of 2001, we found a school that was ideal for her, but it was thirty or forty minutes away and across a bridge, and I knew I would be driving back and forth from home to school twice a day. When I complained to Bill about all the time I would be spending in the car, he said, “I can do some of that.” And I said, “Seriously? You’ll do that?” “Sure,” he said. “It’ll give me time to talk with Jenn.” So Bill started driving. He’d leave our house, drop Jenn at school, turn around, drive back past our neighborhood and on to Microsoft. Twice a week he did that. About three weeks in, on my days, I started noticing a lot of dads dropping kids off in the classroom. So I went up to one of the moms and said, “Hey, what’s up? There are a lot of dads here.” She said, “When we saw Bill driving, we went home and said to our husbands, ‘Bill Gates is driving his child to school; you can, too.’”

Bill’s dad has always had a very strong belief in women’s equality, which was obvious to anyone who knew him, but we uncovered even more evidence of it a few years ago. To me, it says a lot about the values in Bill’s childhood home that his parents gave us as a wedding gift a sculpture of two birds looking out intently toward an unknown place with their gaze eerily together. I put the sculpture by our front door because I like it so much. To me it represents the singular focus of a couple looking to the future together.

Great wealth can be very confusing. It can inflate and distort your sense of self—especially if you believe that money measures merit. Yet Bill is one of the most grounded people I know, and it comes from a clear perspective about how he came to be where he is. Bill worked incredibly hard and took risks and made sacrifices for his success. But he always understood that there is another ingredient in success, and that is luck—absolute and total luck. When were you born? Who were your parents? Where did you grow up? What opportunities were handed to you? None of us earned those things. They were given to us.

A person close to us asked me if I was the “time cop” in the family. My answer was yes. I was the time cop. I had spent years making sure everything in the house got done, that the kids got dressed, did their homework, and showed up where they needed to be. But things had shifted a fair bit since the early days when that was my duty alone. The kids began to take more responsibility, and so did Bill. So I asked our friend to put that question to Bill to see what he’d say. His answer was subtler than mine, and wiser. He said, “We try not to have anybody be the time cop for somebody else. We certainly talk about the calendar, but we never want to have something where one of us is cast in the carefree role and the other is in this bothersome role. Better to have it as a mutual challenge.” That was one of the most affirming messages I’ve heard from Bill about equal partnership. We try to share the roles, especially the disagreeable ones. We try to make sure we don’t make one person do the dirty work. One of the defining features of hierarchy is that you take the powerful and exciting jobs for yourself and impose the crummy tasks on others. That’s a purpose of hierarchy. So when you come together to share the unpleasant work, it’s an attack on hierarchy. Because what’s the point of hierarchy if it’s not getting someone else to do what you don’t want to do? What is hierarchy but a way to escape your share of the responsibilities?

This is the most personal chapter in the book for me, and I found it painful to write. I’m a private person, which I guess is another way of saying I’d rather keep some things to myself so I won’t be judged. There were times when I decided to include something in the book and then was alarmed when I printed it out and reread it. But I’ve left everything in—for two reasons. First, I believe that women gain equality not couple by couple but by changing the culture, and we can change the culture by sharing our stories. That’s why I’m sharing mine.

Citace z jednotlivých kapitol: The Lift of a Great Idea

Being a feminist means believing that every woman should be able to use her voice and pursue her potential, and that women and men should all work together to take down the barriers and end the biases that still hold women back.

I remember seeing a mother who was carrying a baby in her belly, another baby on her back, and a pile of sticks on her head. She had clearly been walking a long distance with no shoes, while the men I saw were wearing flip-flops and smoking cigarettes with no sticks on their heads or kids at their sides. As we drove on, I saw more women carrying heavy burdens, and I wanted to understand more about their lives.

It took us years to learn that contraceptives are the greatest life-saving, poverty-ending, women-empowering innovation ever created.

“If you don’t set your own agenda, somebody else will.” If I didn’t fill my schedule with things I felt were important, other people would fill my schedule with things they felt were important.

Whenever you include a group that’s been excluded, you benefit everyone. And when you’re working globally to include women and girls, who are half of every population, you’re working to benefit all members of every community. Gender equity lifts everyone. From high rates of education, employment, and economic growth to low rates of teen births, domestic violence, and crime—the inclusion and elevation of women correlate with the signs of a healthy society. Women’s rights and society’s health and wealth rise together. Countries that are dominated by men suffer not only because they don’t use the talent of their women but because they are run by men who have a need to exclude. Until they change their leadership or the views of their leaders, those countries will not flourish. Understanding this link between women’s empowerment and the wealth and health of societies is crucial for humanity. As much as any insight we’ve gained in our work over the past twenty years, this was our huge missed idea. My huge missed idea. If you want to lift up humanity, empower women. It is the most comprehensive, pervasive, high-leverage investment you can make in human beings.

“What do you know now in a deeper way than you knew it before?” I love this question because it honors how we learn and grow. Wisdom isn’t about accumulating more facts; it’s about understanding big truths in a deeper way.

When women can decide whether and when to have children; when women can decide whether and when and whom to marry; when women have access to healthcare, do only our fair share of unpaid labor, get the education we want, make the financial decisions we need, are treated with respect at work, enjoy the same rights as men, and rise up with the help of other women and men who train us in leadership and sponsor us for high positions—then women flourish … and our families and communities flourish with us.

Empowering Mothers: Maternal and Newborn Health

Hans Rosling, who died in 2017, was a trailblazing professor of international health who became famous for teaching experts facts they should already know. He became well known for his unforgettable TED Talks (more than 25 million views and counting); for his book Factfulness, written with his son and daughter-in-law, which shows us that the world is better than we think it is; and for their Gapminder Foundation, whose original work with data and graphics has helped people see the world as it is. For me personally, Hans was a wise mentor whose stories helped me see poverty through the eyes of the poor.

First, though, I should let you know that Hans Rosling was less taken with me than I was with him, at least at the start. In 2007, before we knew each other, he came to an event where I was going to speak. He was skeptical, he later told me. He was thinking, American billionaires giving away money will mess everything up! (He wasn’t wrong to be worried. More on that later.)

I purposely didn’t go into these visits with fixed views; I tried to go with curiosity and a desire to learn. So did Hans, it turns out, and he started much earlier than I did and with greater intensity.

When Hans was a young doctor, he and his wife, Agneta—who was a distinguished healthcare professional in her own right—moved to Mozambique, where Hans practiced medicine in a poor region far from the capital. He was one of two doctors responsible for 300,000 people. They were all his patients, in his view, even if he never saw them—and usually he didn’t. His district had 15,000 births a year and more than 3,000 childhood deaths. Every day in his district, ten children died. Hans treated diarrhea, malaria, cholera, pneumonia, and problem births. When there are two doctors for 300,000 people, you treat everything.

What extreme poverty really means is that no matter how hard you work, you’re trapped. You can’t get out. Your efforts barely matter. You’ve been left behind by those who could lift you up. That’s what Hans helped me understand.

Poverty is not being able to protect your family. Poverty is not being able to save your children when mothers with more money could. And because the strongest instinct of a mother is to protect her children, poverty is the most disempowering force on earth. It follows that if you want to attack poverty and if you want to empower women, you can do both with one approach: Help mothers protect their children.

Vishwajeet and the Saksham team had studied births in poor rural parts of India and saw that there were many common practices that were high risk for the baby. They believed that many newborn deaths could be prevented with practices that cost little or nothing and could be done by the community: immediate breastfeeding, keeping the baby warm, cutting the cord with sterilized tools. It was just a matter of changing behavior. With grants from USAID and Save the Children and our foundation—and by teaching safe newborn practices to community health workers—Saksham cut newborn mortality in half in eighteen months.

But Vishwajeet and Aarti’s program for mothers and newborns showed me how much can be achieved by sharing simple practices that are widely known throughout the world.

Before launching the program, Saksham hired a local team of top students who spent six months working with the community to understand their existing practices and beliefs around childbirth. Vishwajeet told me, “Their cup is not empty; you can’t just pour your ideas into it. Their cup is already full, so you have to understand what is in their cup.” If you don’t understand the meaning and beliefs behind a community’s practices, you won’t present your idea in the context of their values and concerns, and people won’t hear you.

In the 1940s, the great polio challenge was product development, namely, finding a vaccine. Delivery didn’t matter. There was nothing to deliver. It wasn’t a question of privilege or poverty. The scientific innovation hadn’t happened yet. There was no protection for anyone against polio. As soon as Jonas Salk developed his polio vaccine in 1953, the passionate effort to protect people from polio shifted from product development to delivery, and in this case, poverty did matter. People in wealthy countries were vaccinated quickly. By the late 1970s, polio had been eliminated in the US, but it continued to plague much of the world, including India, where the vast landscapes and large population made polio especially hard to fight. In 2011, defying most expert predictions, India became polio free. It was one of the greatest accomplishments in global health, and India did it with an army of more than 2 million vaccinators who traversed the entire country to find and vaccinate every child.

What inspires me most about Agnes’s work in Rwanda, Ati’s work in Indonesia, and Vishwajeet and Aarti’s work in India is that they all show how a passionate emphasis on delivering services can ease the effects of poverty. This underscores the value of Hans Rosling’s stories about extreme poverty: When you begin to understand the daily lives of the poor, it does more than give you the desire to help; it can often show you how.

Saving lives starts with bringing everyone in. Our societies will be healthiest when they have no outsiders. We should strive for that. We have to keep working to reduce poverty and disease. We have to help outsiders resist the power of people who want to keep them out. But we have to do our inner work as well: We have to wake up to the ways we exclude. We have to open our arms and our hearts to the people we’ve pushed to the margins. It’s not enough to help outsiders fight their way in—the real triumph will come when we no longer push anyone out.

Every Good Thing: Family Planning

When I talk to women in low-income countries, I see very little difference in what we women all want for ourselves and our children. We want our kids to be safe, to be healthy, to be happy, to do well in school, to fulfill their potential, to grow up and have families and livelihoods of their own—to love and be loved. And we want to be healthy ourselves and develop our own gifts and share them with the community.

When women can time and space their births, maternal mortality drops, newborn and child mortality drops, the mother and baby are healthier, the parents have more time and energy to care for each child, and families can put more resources toward the nutrition and education of each one. There was no intervention more powerful—and no intervention that had become more neglected.

I asked Adissa if she had any advice for the younger women who were there, and she said, “When you can’t take care of your children, you’re just training them to steal.”

In Comstock’s eyes, and the eyes of his allies, women were entitled to very few roles in life: to marry and serve a man, and bear and take care of his children. Any detour from these duties brought disrepute—because a woman was not a human being entitled to act in the world for her own sake, not for educational advancement or professional accomplishment, and certainly not for her own pleasure. A woman’s pleasure, especially her sexual pleasure, was terrifying to the keepers of the social order. If women were free to pursue their own pleasure, it would strike at the core of the unspoken male code, “You exist for my pleasure!” And men felt they needed to control the source of their pleasure. So Comstock and others did their best to weaponize stigma and use it to keep women stuck where they were, their value derived only from their service to men and children.

Unmarried women weren’t given the legal right to contraceptives until Eisenstadt v. Baird in 1972.

“Do you want to know why I use contraceptives?” Then she held up her baby and said, “Because I want to bring every good thing to this child before I have another.” 

There isn’t any reliable research that says women benefit when they have children they don’t feel ready to raise. The evidence says the opposite. When women can decide whether and when to have children, it saves lives, promotes health, expands education, and creates prosperity—no matter what country in the world you’re talking about.

Lifting Their Eyes: Girls in Schools

One of our teachers was Sona, a 10-year-old girl from Kanpur who lived in a very poor village that was home to one of the lowest castes in India. As soon as the group stopped, a cluster of women gathered around them, and Sona—the only girl among them—walked up to Gary and handed him a toy parrot. She had found the raw material in the trash, bent and carved it into the form of a bird, and now offered it as a gift. When Gary thanked her, Sona looked him in the eyes and said, “I want a teacher.”

The best schools lift up the students who never thought they could rise. And when you see that happen, it can make you cry with joy.

Mothers and fathers who’ve never achieved their goals can easily plant their own doubts in the minds of their kids. When those doubts get into kids’ heads, they’re hard to change. People who are the victims of doubt often feel targeted, and the psychologist at Betsy Layne told me that many students felt that the world not only didn’t care about them but was rooting against them.

Unless there is an explicit effort to include everyone, schools will never be a remedy for exclusion; they will be a cause of it.

The government would treat education as if it were a job and pay families to send their kids to school. Payments would be based on what children could earn if they were working for pay—a third-grader might earn $ 10 a month, a high schooler $ 60. They called the program Oportunidades—“ opportunities.”

I don’t have any idea how people find the guts to speak up against waves of tradition, but when they do, they always end up with followers who have the same conviction but not quite the same courage. That’s how leaders are born. They say what others want to say, and the others then join them. That’s how a young woman can change not only her life but her culture.

That is the secret of an empowering education: A girl learns she is not who she’s been told she is. She is the equal of anyone, and she has rights she needs to assert and defend. This is how the great movements of social change get traction: when outsiders reject the low self-image society has imposed on them and begin to author a self-image of their own.

She insists that every girl know her rights—the right to study, the right to play, the right to walk around freely, the right to be safe, the right to speak up for herself. They’ve been told their whole lives that they are the lowest of the low, but here they are taught “You have the same rights as other people. And you must use your skills to defend your rights.” Defending yourself is not just an abstract lesson. Sister Sudha makes the girls learn karate. They’re often targets of sexual violence at home or in the field, so Sister wants them to know that they have the right not to be attacked—and they have the power to take on their attacker.

For me, love is the effort to help others flourish—and it often begins with lifting up a person’s self-image.

The Silent Inequality: Unpaid Work

In India, women spend 6 hours a day doing unpaid work, while men spend less than 1. In the US, women average more than 4 hours of unpaid work every day; men average just 2.5. In Norway, women spend 3.5 hours a day on unpaid work, while men spend about 3. There is no country where the gap is zero. This means that, on average, women do seven years more of unpaid work than men over their lifetimes. That’s about the time it takes to complete a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.

I hope the exposure to other people and places shapes what the kids do, but even more I want it to shape who they are. I want them to see that in the universal human desire to be happy, to develop our gifts, to contribute to others, to love and be loved—we’re all the same.

You pay for childcare in the marketplace. You pay for gas to run a stove. You pay a factory to make food from grain. You pay for water when it comes through a tap. You pay for a meal served in a restaurant. You pay for clothes washed in a laundry. But if a woman does it all by herself—caring for children, chopping firewood, grinding grain, fetching water, cooking meals, and washing clothes—no one pays her for it. No one even counts it, because it’s “housework,” and it’s “free

MenCare, a group headed by Gary Barker, urges men around the world to take on caregiving tasks—and has persuasive data on why men should want to do that. Men who share caregiving duties are happier. They have better relationships. They have happier children. When fathers take on at least 40 percent of the childcare responsibilities, they are at lower risk for depression and drug abuse, and their kids have higher test scores, stronger self-esteem, and fewer behavioral problems. And, according to MenCare, stay-at-home dads show the same brain-hormone changes as stay-at-home moms, which suggests that the idea that mothers are biologically more suited to taking care of kids isn’t necessarily true.

In Journey of the Heart, an extraordinary book on relationships, John Welwood points out what he calls “a natural balancing process” between partners. He writes: “Anything that one partner ignores, the other will feel a greater need to emphasize. Whatever quality of being I deny, such as power, softness or playfulness, my partner will find herself feeling an urge to express more strongly.” This dynamic is what allows some partners to ignore things that they actually do care about, because they know their partner will do the work for both of them. A common example might be a partner who likes social engagements but doesn’t do anything to plan them because he knows his partner cares more about them and will plan them if he doesn’t. But leaving to your partner something that you also care about leads to separation. When one partner leaves the care of the children to the other, or one partner leaves the role of earning income to the other, they are cutting themselves off from their power—or cutting themselves off from their children. Perhaps the biggest cost is that the two are cutting themselves off from each other.

The gender imbalance in unpaid work is such a compelling subject for me in part because it’s a common burden that binds many women together, but also because the causes of the imbalance run so deep that you cannot solve them with a technical fix. You have to renegotiate the relationship. To me, no question is more important than this one: Does your primary relationship have love and respect and reciprocity and a sense of teamwork and belonging and mutual growth? I believe all of us ask ourselves this question in one way or another—because I think it is one of the greatest longings of life.

Whatever we learn and read and see, we share with each other. If we had split our roles, we’d be working in separate worlds, and the two would rarely meet. It might have been equal, but it wouldn’t have been an equal partnership. It would have been more like parallel play: I won’t mess with your stuff and you don’t mess with mine.

„Look, no matter how badly I’m doing, I want you to look like you’re awed by every word.” I was very open with him about how vulnerable I felt, and he never teased me or took advantage of my insecurities.

The goal for me is not the rise of women and the fall of man. It is the rise of both women and men from a struggle for dominance to a state of partnership. If the goal is partnership between women and men, why do I put so much emphasis on women’s empowerment and women’s groups? My answer is that we draw strength from each other, and we often have to convince ourselves that we deserve an equal partnership before we get one.

When a Girl Has No Voice: Child Marriage

Sure, I can say that I’m funding the work of local people and the insiders are taking the initiative. But the work of insiders can be opposed by other insiders, and I choose to back one group over another. How is this not the “I know best” arrogance of a wealthy, Western-educated outsider? How am I not using my power to impose my values on a community I know almost nothing about? There’s no denying that I hope to advance my beliefs. I believe that all lives have equal value. That all men and women are created equal. That everyone belongs. That everyone has rights, and everyone has the right to flourish. I believe that when people who are bound by the rules have no role in shaping the rules, moral blind spots become law, and the powerless bear the burden.

Seeing Gender Bias: Women in Agriculture

When farming advice and financial support began to make a difference for the women, they started looking for new battles to fight. When I visited, they were lobbying to get better roads and clean drinking water. They’d recently put in an application with the local government for the village’s first toilets. They’d started a campaign against their village’s alcohol abuse problem—calling on the men to stop drinking, pressuring government officials to enforce the laws, and even working with the local women who sell alcohol to help them find new ways to make a living.

Creating a New Culture: Women in the Workplace

There are nine friends of us, and we’ve been meeting on the second Wednesday of the month for almost twenty years now, reading books, taking trips, going on retreats, exploring ways of putting our faith into action.

Being yourself sounds like a saccharine prescription for how to make it in an aggressive culture. But it’s not as sweet as it sounds. It means not acting in a way that’s false just to fit in. It’s expressing your talents, values, and opinions in your style, defending your rights, and never sacrificing your self-respect. That is power.

When you’re funding start-ups, there is so little data on what works in early-stage investing that the funders give money to the people they know—guys who went to the same schools and go to the same conferences. It’s an old-boys’ club with younger boys. In 2018, Richard Kerby, an African American venture investor, polled 1,500 venture capitalists and found that 40 percent had attended Stanford or Harvard.

That’s why I’m investing now in venture capital funds, including Aspect Ventures, that invest in women-led companies and companies formed by people of color. This isn’t charity on my part. I expect a good return, and I’m confident I’ll get one because women are going to see markets that men won’t see, and black and Latina and Asian women will see markets that white entrepreneurs won’t see. I think we’ll look back in ten years and see it was crazy that more money wasn’t flowing toward markets understood by women and people of color.

 If you care about equality, you have to embrace diversity—especially now, as people in tech are programming our computers and designing artificial intelligence. We’re at an infant stage of AI. We don’t know all the uses that will be made of it—health uses, battlefield uses, law enforcement uses, corporate uses—but the impact will be profound, and we need to make sure it’s fair. If we want a society that reflects the values of empathy, unity, and diversity, it matters who writes the code.

Unfortunately, the effort to create a culture that advances the interests of women faces a challenging barrier: Research suggests that women may have more self-doubt than men, that women often underestimate their abilities while many men overestimate theirs.

“Women often find action harder than men because we are more risk-averse, because the fear of failure is enormous for us. It seems to be bigger than it is for men.”

The tendency to underestimate our abilities, for those of us who may have it, plays a role in keeping us back, and it’s hard not to imagine that it’s a result of a male-dominated culture that seeks to marginalize women. These efforts are often indirect; they can be subtle and insidious—not attacking women directly but attacking the qualities and characteristics of women who are most likely to challenge men.

Daring Greatly: “If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.” That is the game, and I am a player. Perfectionism for me comes from the feeling that I don’t know enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not hardworking enough. Perfectionism spikes for me if I’m going into a meeting with people who disagree with me, or if I’m giving a talk to experts who know more about the topic than I do—something that happens often for me these days. When I start to feel inadequate and my perfectionism hits, one of the things I do is start gathering facts. I’m not talking about basic prep; I’m talking about obsessive fact gathering driven by the vision that there shouldn’t be anything I don’t know. And if I tell myself I shouldn’t overprepare, then another voice tells me I’m being lazy. Boom. Ultimately, for me perfectionism means hiding who I am. It’s dressing myself up so the people I want to impress don’t come away thinking I’m not as smart or interesting as they thought. It comes from a desperate need to not disappoint others. So I overprepare. And one of the curious things I’ve discovered is that when I’m overprepared I don’t listen as well; I go ahead and say whatever I’ve prepared, whether it responds to the moment or not. I miss the opportunity to improvise or respond well to a surprise. I’m not really there. I’m not my authentic self.

I want to create a workplace where everyone can bring their most human, most authentic selves—where we all expect and respect each other’s quirks and flaws, and all the energy wasted in the pursuit of “perfection” is saved and channeled into the creativity we need for the work. That is a culture where we release impossible burdens and lift everyone up.

The most powerful positions in society are often occupied by men who do have wives who do not work outside the home.

Let Your Heart Break: The Lift of Coming Together

I spend some time in Laos and Burma, and my new friend said to me, “So now that you’ve been here a few days, if you were a woman and you were born here, what would you do to keep your children alive? What lengths would you go to?” I was startled by the question, so I stalled for a minute and tried to put myself in that scene. Okay, well, I would get a job. But I’m not educated. I can’t even read. But I would teach myself to read. But with what books? And I’m not going to get a job because there are no jobs. I’m in a remote region. I was trying to come up with an answer when she interrupted my thinking and said, “Do you know what I would do?” I said, “No. What would you do?” She answered, “Well, I’ve lived here for two years now. I know the options. I would be a sex worker. It would be the only way I could put food on the table.” It was a shocking thing to say. But after taking the whole trip in and reflecting for a while, it struck me that saying the opposite thing would have been even more shocking. If you say, “Oh, I would never do that,” then you’re saying you’d let your kids die—that you wouldn’t do everything in your power to help them live. And you’re saying something else, too. You’re saying, “I’m above these people.” She had worked with sex workers on other health crises, so her question to me had an edge to it, implied but still powerful: “How can you partner with them if you think you’re above them?”

Beyond our conversations, what struck me most about Gita and the other women(sex workers) I met was how much they wanted to touch and be touched. Nobody in the community touches a sex worker except to have sex with her. No matter what caste they’re from, sex workers are untouchable. For them, touching is acceptance. So when we hugged, they held on. I’ve seen this again and again when I’ve met with sex workers of all genders. We talk and take a photo and hug—and they won’t let go. If I turn to greet someone else, they hold on to my shirt or keep a hand on my shoulder. In the beginning I found it awkward. After a while, though, I melted into it. If they want to embrace a bit longer, I’m all in.

These women were in agony, but they were also full of empathy, and that eased their isolation. By coming together and sharing their stories, they gained a sense of belonging, and the sense of belonging gave them a feeling of self-worth, and the feeling of self-worth gave them the courage to band together and demand their rights. They were no longer outsiders; they were insiders. They had a family and a home. And slowly they began to dispel the illusion that society imposes on the disempowered: that because they are denied their rights, they have no rights; that because no one listens to them, they are not speaking the truth.

How did the women’s movement succeed in bringing peace while the men’s warring factions could not? Leymah’s story says it all. When the women were wounded, they were able to absorb their pain without passing it on. But when the men were wounded, they needed to make someone pay. That’s what fed the cycle of war. I am not saying that women alone have the power of peacemaking and men alone are the cause of war. Absolutely not. I am saying that, in this case, the women were able to absorb their pain without passing it on and the men were not—until they were prevailed upon by the women!

Many successful social movements are driven by the same combination—strong activism and the ability to take pain without passing it on. Anyone who can combine those two finds a voice with moral force.

Nelson Mandela was once asked if he was still angry at his captors after he was released from prison, and he answered yes, he was still angry for a time, but he realized that if he stayed angry, he would still be a prisoner—and he wanted to be free.

“When I am hurt, when I am in pain, when I am angry with someone for what they have done to me, I know the only way to end these feelings is to accept them.”

“Don’t resist the feeling; accept the suffering.” If you don’t accept the suffering, hurt can turn to hatred. This is what the life of Christ means to me. The high priests wanted to break him. They did everything they could to hurt him and humiliate him. And they failed. His ability to absorb pain was beyond their ability to inflict it, so he could answer their hatred with love.

If there is a point of unity across humanity, it’s that all of us have been outsiders at some time in our lives—even if only as kids on the playground. And none of us liked it. We tasted it just enough to be terrified by it. In spite of that experience, though, many of us don’t have any idea what it feels like to be wholly excluded.

“In my own community, with many severely handicapped men and women, the greatest source of suffering is not the handicap itself, but the accompanying feelings of being useless, worthless, unappreciated, and unloved. It is much easier to accept the inability to speak, walk, or feed oneself than it is to accept the inability to be of special value to another person. We human beings can suffer immense deprivations with great steadfastness, but when we sense that we no longer have anything to offer to anyone, we quickly lose our grip on life.” We all want to have something to offer. This is how we belong. It’s how we feel included. So if we want to include everyone, then we have to help everyone develop their talents and use their gifts for the good of the community. That’s what inclusion means—everyone is a contributor. And if they need help to become a contributor, then we should help them, because they are full members in a community that supports everyone.

Every issue in this book is a door women must walk through, or a wall we must break through, to become full contributors—the right to decide whether and when to have children, to marry or not marry, to seek opportunity, attend a university, control our income, manage our time, pursue our goals, and advance in the workplace—any workplace. For the sake of women trapped in poverty and for women at every level of society who are excluded or intimidated by powerful men, women need to meet, talk, organize, and lead—so we can break down the walls and open the doors for everyone.

The supreme goal for humanity is not equality but connection. People can be equal but still be isolated—not feeling the bonds that tie them together. Equality without connection misses the whole point. When people are connected, they feel woven into each other. You are part of me and I am part of you. I can’t be happy if you’re sad. I can’t win if you lose. If either of us suffers, we suffer together. This blurs the borders between human beings, and what flows through those porous borders is love.


Tereza Volfová
Maminka. Přítelkyně. Lékařka. Ráda kreslím, píšu a směju se. Nejvíc sama sobě.

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