Meet Phoebe Gates, Stanford student and reproductive rights advocate.
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Phoebe Gates and I’m in my second year at Stanford University majoring in Human Biology. At the same time, I’m building a company focused on making shopping sustainable fashion easier for the consumer, because let’s be honest, sustainable shopping should be fast and fun.
Beyond this, I’m working on ways to support the fight for women’s reproductive rights. Our country took a major step backward last year when Roe v. Wade was overturned, so I’m thinking about how I can use my platform and voice to support the activists fighting back to reclaim our reproductive rights, this time for good.
How do you create your own identity as an activist/environmentalist?
I’m aware that my family name brings a platform and I’m thinking about how I might use this to spotlight the awesome activists doing incredible work day in, day out. For example, I was just in Louisiana and met a med student named Alexis who is part of a group called Med Students for Choice. In the face of insane obstacles, she and her fellow medical students are organizing to help future physicians receive the exposure and skills training to meet the full range of women’s health needs, including abortion. That’s activism that doesn’t make the headlines, but it’s brave, it’s bold, and it’s going to save lives.
You’re a big advocate for FemTech. Can you tell us what it is?
FemTech is about developing technologies that intentionally address the ways that women experience the world in a different way to men, primarily within the realm of medical care. This is vital because the world is basically designed for a default white, heterosexual male and this is especially a challenge within clinical care. Women are more likely to be misdiagnosed, face longer wait times, and their pain is often disregarded. Continued neglect of how symptoms manifest for women and different gender identities is quite literally costing us lives.
For example, cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death for women in the U.S., yet there weren’t many technologies designed specifically to identify the disease in women and take into account their different physiology. Thanks to a FemTech approach, companies have now developed sensors that can be slipped into a bra to track and help identify cardiovascular disease more easily in women. Other examples include apps to help women track their menstrual cycle and its impact across all elements of their health, improved diagnostic tests for endometriosis, and web platforms to connect Black women with doctors they can trust.
Designing solutions to address the disparities in health care is long overdue. It’s about time an industry developed the tools critical to address the needs of 50% of the population.
What can others learn from your generation?
Some of the sharpest most effective campaigning right now is led by my generation. Just look at last year’s midterm elections! Young people motivated each other to turn out and vote, to stand up for reproductive rights, and we completely changed the game. We defied everyone’s expectations and stereotypes about us. It was our generation who made the difference.
What does it mean to be a champion for the climate?
It means pushing boundaries and trying new things that people said couldn’t be done. We need action that’s bigger, bolder, and more ambitious than ever before. That’s why I try and focus on organizations championing reproductive health and making real change. After all, gender equity and climate justice are undeniably intertwined. If you care about the climate, invest in it, support a local organization, buy sustainably. Your time is money too–use it to fight for causes you care about.
What are some ways you integrate sustainability into your daily life?
I actively seek out brands who are intentionally and boldly thinking about how to mitigate their impact on the planet, for example, by supporting agriculture that protects and restores nature impacted by the fashion industry, reducing water use, or moving to a carbon positive business model. I try to buy from B-Corp certified brands and when I search for clothes online, I start by searching and filtering by items that have a low-impact on the environment. I also try to wear second-hand clothes when I can. This allows me to find those coveted pieces that match my eye and that frankly don't have the same environmental cost.
Tell us about a time you got someone else into sustainability.
When I was younger, I got immersed in the hunt for environmentally conscious clothing. I became the girl that my friends could send any item of clothing to and I would find them matches for the same price, from more sustainable brands, or from a selection of secondhand sites. My phone still blows up before every school formal when my friends want to find a particular piece. Now, I’m beginning the journey of creating a company with Sophia Kianni, one of my best friends and a youth advisor to the UN on climate change. Together, we are creating a product that leverages technology to make sustainable shopping easier and more fun for the consumer. More on this later, but excited to launch this in the coming months!
How do you influence others to think about sustainability in their daily lives?
It’s easier said than done, but try to invest in products where you understand their environmental effect. And while individual action is key, it's also crucial to address the systemic causes of climate change. Advocate for political solutions such as renewable energy, green infrastructure, and carbon pricing that can create a more sustainable future for everyone. These are the kind of solutions that will change the world.
How can people reading this support the work that you do?
I’ve been fortunate to meet incredible activists throughout the U.S. who are pushing back against voting restrictions, making the case for better sex ed, or claiming back our reproductive rights. They do amazing work on a tight budget. Three organizations I met recently who are doing incredible work include: @MSVotes, fighting back against voter disenfranchisement in Mississippi; Teen Health Mississippi, who are pushing for comprehensive sex ed in a state where leaders claim abstinence is good sex ed, and of course, Planned Parenthood, who are still there for women and pregnant people every day. If you can spare dollars at the moment, these organizations will make those dollars go really far.