An entire section of the Gates Foundation’s annual letter addresses Covid’s bleak impact on women.
Philanthropist Melinda Gates is also the founder of Pivotal Ventures, an incubation company dedicated to social progress. [Credit: Russell Watkins, Wikimedia Commons]

Melinda and Bill Gates are sounding the alarm on economic inequalities faced by women during the pandemic.

The couple’s 13th annual letter, released last week, calls for action against Covid’s dramatic and disparate impact on women. Since February 2020, 5.4 million women in the United States have reported they are out of work.

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“All around the world, women who have been fighting for power and influence over their lives are seeing decades of fragile progress shattered in a matter of months,” the letter reads.

One major concern addressed in the letter is a prevailing issue that has been magnified by the pandemic: women’s unpaid labor.

“With billions of people now staying home, the demand for unpaid care work—cooking, cleaning, and childcare—has surged,” Gates, a mother of three, writes. 

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She and her husband warn that the government’s failure to recognize women’s absence from the workforce hurts the economy as a whole. “Globally, a two-hour increase in women’s unpaid care work is correlated with a 10 percentage point decrease in women’s labor force participation,” according to the letter.

Governments need to treat child care with just as much importance as infrastructure and fiber optic cables, they add.

The Gates Foundation actively works towards women’s economic development, and Melinda Gates has committed $1 billion to the issue.

[Related: Why Melinda Gates Just Committed $1 Billion to Promote Gender Equality]

“If governments ignore the fact that the pandemic and resulting recession are affecting women differently, it will prolong the crisis and slow economic recovery for everyone.”