Empowering Change: Insights from the 13th Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture

Caroline and I were fortunate to attend the 13th Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture, held in Cape Town on November 17th. The highlight of the event for me was the insightful fireside chat between Nozipho Tshabalala and Melinda French Gates, where the focus centered on gender equality and its implications for society.

The dialogue began with a stark reality: gender-based violence is a pervasive issue that not only silences women but also leaves them in a state of enduring trauma. Melinda urged women to step into their own power, emphasizing that a woman’s empowerment at home contributes to the overall health and prosperity of the family.

Melinda stressed the importance of instilling a sense of power in girls from a young age. Earning their own money and taking control of their spending and saving not only changes perceptions of women but also fosters independence and resilience. She underscored the need to value girls and women on par with boys and men and encouraged engaging in conversations with young boys about the men they aspire to become, emphasizing the need for positive role models.

The call to action extended beyond individual empowerment to the creation of women’s networks for opportunities. Melinda highlighted the disparity between women’s social networks and the opportunity networks often enjoyed by men. She emphasized the need for more flexibility in the workplace, recognizing the time poverty faced by many women, juggling responsibilities such as child and elder care alongside their jobs.

In addition to financial autonomy, Melinda stressed the importance of access to contraception, revealing innovative approaches in Nigeria that leverage cell phones to facilitate discussions on this critical topic. Mothers who are able to feed and clothe fewer children are able to create more prosperity for the family.

She lamented the lack of female representation in peace negotiations and decision-making roles within communities, citing compelling statistics that revealed the positive impact women have on sustained peace.

Melinda urged us to stop saying “It’s impossible.” She reminded us that change is within our grasp, stressing that love is a verb — an action that manifests in encouraging women and making them believe in the possibility of achieving their goals.

Furthermore, Melinda challenged us to be open to changing our minds and advised us to learn how to manage our emotions to prevent us from affecting others negatively. The lecture left us inspired to wage justice on bad decisions, advocating for collaboration among philanthropists, civil society, and government to generate large-scale change. 

Melinda’s closing words echoed a quote from her final high school speech: “If you leave the world better by lifting up one person, that is a successful life.”

The 13th Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture was a call to action, reminding us that positive change begins with us and that collaboration amplifies impact. Let us heed Melinda’s words and strive to make a meaningful difference in the lives of those around us.