Seven Who Use Their Lives to Change Ours

Print More

Allison Anders

Allison Anders, Filmmaker

(WOMENSENEWS)–For her breakthrough movie for the Showtime Network, Allison Anders filmed a graphic rape of an pre-teen girl and for the first time was able to put to rest her own violation.

At the same time, in “Things Behind the Sun,” filmed in the same Florida town where she was raped, Anders provides a rare and vivid portrayal of how a single act of sexual violence can maim and twist a victim’s–and even a witness’s– inner workings.

“I had dealt with my childhood rape in therapy, through acting out sexually, through self-medication, through spiritual work, by talking about it, by making public confessions, by every means possible, but I was still in a dark place,” she recalls. Somehow, by reliving her rape through creating a fictional version of it, she has now been able to move on, she says, putting the event behind her.

Anders’ previous films had been released to art houses and garnered her a MacArthur “genius” award in 1997, but this film she wanted to reach the widest possible audience. Her unflinching portrayal of sexual violence that debuted this fall shone a bright light on the dark place for all to see her pain and by inference the suffering of thousands of rape victims. It also produced a prize Anders did not expect: She was embraced by Generation Five, a new organization committed to ending child sexual abuse in five generations.

In her teens, Anders fled her home and the memory of a gang rape by school friends to hitchhike across the country. She even managed to get to England. She was sustained by women of pop music such as Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane and Joni Mitchell.

Before the Showtime feature, Anders had made five well-received five films, most of them with strong women characters: “Gas, Food, Lodging,” reflecting her own experience as a single mother; “Mi Vida Loca,” (My Crazy Life) focusing on girl gangs in Southern California and a series of films set in the world of popular music.

She mentors young women filmmakers who approach her and parents her two daughters in their 20s, Tiffany, pursuing a music career, and Devon, a childcare worker, as well as an 11-year-old son, Ruben, whom she adopted after the filming of “Mi Vida Loca.”

“One of the girls died when I was still filming, and her home girls talked me into taking her kid,” she explains.

“I’ve learned a lot about men,” she says with a laugh. “You know what he said to me last week? I made some generalization about men, and he was like ‘Oh, Mom, that’s so sexist!'”

Shafiqa Habibi

Shafiqa Habibi, Founder,
Women’s Radio and Television Broadcast Organization

Shafiqa Habibi is one of Afghanistan’s most prominent journalists, male or female, with more than 30 years of experience. Known as the laureate of news, she was a reporter, public speaker and reader of poetry—an art popular on Afghanistan radio and television. She won four prizes and two medals for her work before the Taliban came to power in 1996.

Habibi graduated in the 1966 from Kabul University with a degree in journalism and immediately went to work for Radio Afghanistan. She was reporting when the veil for women was made voluntary 1959 and when women gained the right to vote in the 1964 constitution; she was reporting when women became members of Parliament and cabinet ministers.

As Radio Afghanistan became paired with TV Afghanistan, and joined by major radio and TV stations in all the major cities, Habibi was responsible for the flow of information throughout the country, through relentless years of civil war.

Throughout, Habibi made a point of encouraging and promoting women in broadcast journalism, and founded the Women’s Radio and Television Broadcast Organization in 1994 to protect women’s rights by holding conferences and cultural meetings. At its height, just before the Taliban came to power, the group had 190 members, 100 of whom were reporters and producers, and the rest, engineers and administrators. During the brutal civil wars and the rape campaigns of the rival militias, she says, it was impossible to do any reporting about crimes against women.

“Those who were responsible for abuses of women were the ones with the guns,” she explains.

When the Taliban seized power in 1996, Habibi’s voice was stilled for five years and the nation’s radio network was used to broadcast the Taliban’s order for women to return to their homes, cease all employment immediately and wear the burqa, the head-to-toe version of traditional Pashtun desert clothing.

During the Taliban’s reign, Habibi started an underground women’s organization, which she translates as the Feminine Association, and ran crafts schools throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan, where women could manufacture items that they could sell.

When the U.S. bombing of Kabul began, Habibi escaped to Peshawar, Pakistan, the heart of the Afghan refugee community in that country, where her association now maintains an office. She soon began to take part in the international conversation on the future of her homeland. She attended the December Afghan Women’s Summit in Brussels and traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress, a number of whom promised assistance in restoring nationwide broadcasting. Afghanistan now has one radio station and one television station functioning.

Most of the others in the country have lost their transmitters from the bombing. After technical difficulties, she says, her primary challenge is staff and personnel because virtually all educated people fled the country. Of the 190 women journalists in her organization, there are 15 to 20 remaining in the country, though many of them are in Peshawar and may consider returning if the peace is real. Habibi is quietly hopeful about the future, given the international attention that Afghanistan is currently receiving. The challenge now, she says, for journalists inside and outside of Afghanistan, “to ensure that the violations of women during the Taliban–the rapes, the injustice–are not repeated.”

Janet Hanson

Janet Hanson, Founder,
Milestone Capital Management and 85 Broads

The booming economy of the 1990s was just beginning to really roar when Janet Hanson left the elite Wall Street investment bank of Goldman Sachs to start her own business. Milestone Capital Management is now the only U.S. woman-owned firm in the $2.3 trillion U.S. money market fund sector to special exclusively in institutional cash management. As of December, Milestone employs ten professionals and manages over $2 billion in assets.

”One of the definitions of milestone is ‘turning point,’ which perfectly captures how we think about our business and our unique position in the marketplace,” Hanson says.

Small, agile, and flexible enough for new approaches, the firm permits Hanson “to do things a little differently,” she says. One example: She does not have to create a parental leave policy—that often is too short and too rigid– to be applied across the board to hundreds or thousands of employees. By contrast, Hanson creates an environment where each employee can make personal choices to balance their lives with their family with their professional goals and work obligations.

Hanson joined Goldman Sachs in 1977, a time when macho on Wall Street was not even thought to be a problem and women in financial services were few and relatively isolated from one another. But four years later Hanson was named a vice president and in 1986 became the first female sales manager in Goldman’s history. She also organized the first international conference of the firm’s women professionals. Two years later she left to start her own family and returned in 1991 as vice president of marketing in the firm’s asset management division. In 1994, Hanson took a leap rare for women in the financial services industry—she launched her own financial firm, Milestone Capital, serving the highly competitive institutional market— major corporations, banks, investment managers, insurance companies, and nonprofit foundations.

The idea for “85 Broads,” an independent and informal network of current and former Goldman Sachs women professionals, came to Hanson in 1999 as a unique way to create the equivalent of the “old boy network” for women – “but it’s not ‘old’ and it’s not the ‘male hut.’” Drawing on the resources and technology of Milestone Capital, she built a password-protected website for members of 85 Broads (a humorous reference to Goldman’s world headquarters address at 85 Broad Street in Manhattan) to use in “cyber networking” and staying connected 24 hours a day, every day, with other successful women around the world.

Members of 85 Broads use proprietary network software to post individual profiles and search the global member database according to business school, career specialties, geographic location and any other criteria of importance or value to the individual member. In addition to website functions and networking tools, global and regional events also provide members at all stages of their careers and lives with a platform for “telling their own unique stories of success.” Event speeches and sessions are transcribed on the site in interactive formats so that members all over the world can “participate” long after the actual events are over.

Barriers to women’s advancement in business that are often cited include not only access to informal networks but also lack of mentors and role models. Hanson’s solution is “Co-mentoring.” Through her Broad-2-Broad initiative, women with degrees from leading graduate business schools can access the 85 Broads network to begin the important process of finding co-mentors before they even start their full-time careers.

“We call it co-mentoring because younger women now have incredible technical skills and business abilities that can be of immediate value to women with longer career experience–who in turn can be an invaluable source of intelligence and insight to women at the most critical early stages of their careers,” Hanson says. “This partnership approach works much better for women than more traditional senior-junior formal mentoring programs, in large part because there are so few ‘senior’ women to mentor and so many ‘junior women’ to be mentored.”

Demand for membership in 85 Broads has been tremendous. The network now includes 2,500 women, and Hanson receives many requests daily for membership from women who are not current or former Goldman Sachs employees. She is actively working with other groups of women and their companies to help them launch similar networks.

Hanson believes that these networks will play a significant role in providing the type of career and business opportunities that informal networks among men typically have.

“Our focus is very positive. We have used our network to create a community of career champions with unique voices and inspiring stories. You’ll see women gain significant momentum as more networks like these are developed,” she says.

Mavis Nicholson Leno

Mavis Nicholson Leno, Chair,
End Gender Apartheid Campaign

In 1996, Mavis Nicholson Leno attended a dinner for the historic “Women’s Issue” of The New Yorker magazine, featuring for the first and perhaps the last time for years to come a host of accomplished women authors.

Leno happed to sit next to Peg Yorkin, co-founder and continuing major force in the Feminist Majority. By the end of the luncheon Leno not only knew about Yorkin’s organization, but she was onboard to participate in their campaign to defeat the California’s proposition abolishing affirmative action by the state’s public institutions.

The proposition passed, however, Leno “found the feminist organization I had been looking for.”

Leno agreed to serve as a board member and at her first meeting in February 1997, the organization’s dynamic president Eleanor Smeal gave the board a rundown on what women were beginning to experience in Afghanistan under its then-new Taliban rulers.

The organization had not at the time ever taken the lead on an international issue of this magnitude, Smeal told the board, and no one was sure how to do it. However, Smeal pressed for the board’s support, saying the women in Afghanistan were depending on them.

“When I heard that, I knew I had to try to make it happen,” says Leno.

Leno describes herself as “a lifelong feminist, politicized at the age of 7 when I told my father I wanted to be a jockey when I grew up.” A Los Angeles sitcom writer in the 1970s, Mavis Nicholson was also active in the burgeoning women’s movement in Southern California. Her life changed forever one night at Catch a Rising Star, a Los Angeles comedy club, when she met a struggling young comedian named Jay Leno, now the star of NBC’s Tonight Show. For 15 years after their marriage, she traveled the country in support of her husband, before deciding to return to the feminist activism of her youth.

“The thought of these women hoping for our help in vain would be like staring into the eyes of a drowning person and turning away from her. I told the board that I had never done anything like this before and had no idea how I would get started. However, I would take the project on and somehow make it visible to the public, help raise funds for it and have it politically acknowledged for the atrocious abuse of human rights that it was.”

Leno and her husband donated $100,000 to help jump-start the Stop Gender Apartheid campaign, which quickly became, as she puts it, “the biggest junkyard dog in the history of advocacy.”

The State Department confirms that the campaign has generated more mail on the subject of women in Afghanistan than on any other single issue.

“The thing I am most proud of with the campaign,” says Leno, “is that women across the free world did what I dreamed was possible. They crossed political, national, cultural and religious lines to stand together and speak with one voice to demand the restoration of Afghan women’s rights.”

Susan Sifuentes Trigueros

Susan Sifuentes-Trigueros,President,
Hispanas Organized for Political Equality

Susan Sifuentes-Trigueros likes to go where she has a “certain level of discomfort.” That passion for the new has taken her from the accounting department at the Southern California Gas Company to human resources to public affairs.

It also has taken her to become a leading force in the election of Latinas to public office.

As part of her job at the gas company’s public affairs division, she was required to join the board of community organizations. When she found Hispanas Organized for Political Equality, or HOPE, “it became a passion,” she says. It also became a balancing act, as Sifuentes-Trigueros managed the activist organization’s explosive growth while continuing to work full time.

Under Sifuentes’ tenure, the organization has taken root as a larger, more professional organization, doubling its volunteers and fundraising income and hiring an executive director. It also launched the crucial HOPE Leadership Institute, which encourages and prepares women to run for public office. In its first few years of operation, the institute already has several success stories among its graduates: U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin, two school board members and two preparing a 2002 run for the California State Assembly.

Sifuentes grew up in Compton, Calif., a community that was then, even more than now, primarily African American. She also grew up with a sense of her Latina identity as being potentially explosive. Her mother did not speak to her in Spanish, partially as a result of a childhood in which a teacher put tape over her mouth for speaking Spanish.

“I never learned my native language,” says Sifuentes. “I have very few regrets, but that is one of them–not speaking my own language.” However, she says growing up in Compton did give her a sense of how to approach, and try to understand diverse cultures

HOPE is currently planning a Latina Youth Lobby Day in Sacramento and Washington and a parallel track of leadership development for Latinas who want to advance in corporate environments.

“HOPE keeps me really busy,” says Sifuentes. “We joke that it stands for Husbands Orphaned for Political Equality.”

When asked what keeps her going, building an organization while working full time at a demanding corporate position, her answer is simple: “I have three daughters: They’re 5, 13 and 15 years old. They’re really the impetus.”

Pat Summitt

Pat Summitt, Head Coach,
University of Tennessee

Six National Collegiate Athletic Association titles, including an unprecedented three in a row. A team that experts and fans called the best collegiate women’s basketball team of all time. Game wins that dominate the opposition by an average of 30 points. A team that brought home America’s first Olympic gold medal in women’s basketball, only one year after its coach played on the same team.

Pat Summitt is now in her 28th season as head coach of the University of Tennessee women’s basketball team, the Lady Vols, and stands unmatched as the top female coach in America. She has been named The Associated Press Coach of the Year, invited to a White House luncheon given by then First Spouse Hillary Clinton. She produced 10 Olympic basketball players, led nine of her last 13 teams to the Final Four championships, and was the first female coach placed on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Because of their record-breaking winning streak, Summitt’s team was the subject of an HBO documentary, “A Cinderella Season: The Lady Vols Fight back.” In 1998 Summitt wrote the best-selling book, “Reaching the Summitt,” in which she chronicled her businesslike method of coaching and gave motivational advice.

Summitt grew up in Ashland City, Tenn., playing basketball with her three older brothers and one sister. She says she was unaware of the imbalance between men’s and women’s sports until high school when her brothers got recruited for college scholarships and she didn’t.

“Now as I look back, it makes me mad,” says Summitt. “Having gone through it, I really appreciate the changes that have been made. Girls today? They don’t have a clue. And that’s fine.”

Dezie Woods-Jones

Dezie Woods-Jones, Founder,
Black Women Organized for Political Action

A stylish woman with a ready laugh, Woods-Jones traces the roots of her determined political activism back to the 1960s Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee that became known for its toughness and its successes in breaking down racial segregation the South.

A native Californian, Dezie Woods-Jones heard the call to action and left home to join the civil rights movement, eventually becoming national fundraising chair of the committee.

“It was all about engagement of folks, getting them motivated in order to change things and make things better,” she recalls. After her marriage to Robert Jones, she moved with him to the San Francisco-Bay Area and joined the campaign to elect a young firebrand named Ronald V. Dellums to the Berkeley City Council.

Woods-Jones and a prominent Bay Area journalist, Edith Austin, set out to organize women in support of Dellums’ campaign. The result was Bay Area Women for Dellums, a hard-working, hard-fundraising core of 10 women who devoted themselves to making it happen.

“Well, he won, and one thing led to another, and soon enough it was time to send Ron to Congress,” Wood-Jones says. Before they knew it, the women had together raised over $75,000 for the effort–an extraordinarily large amount in 1968. Dellums, a Democrat, served 27 years in Congress.

After Dellums won that year, it wasn’t lost on either Woods-Jones or Austin that it had only happened with the hard work and good organizing of women.

“We realized it was time to get more women involved in the political arena,” she says. The two organized a meeting in the Bay Area Black Cultural Center. “We thought we’d get maybe 20 or 30 women. Instead, we got 200.” The result was Black Women Organized for Political Action, which at its formal opening in April of 1977 had 350 members.

Over the years, the organization has raised money, knocked on doors and run phone banks for candidates such as Oakland’s Barbara Lee and Los Angeles’ Dianne Watson running for the state legislature and, eventually, Congress.

Woods-Jones–with the help of her organization–went on to serve on the Oakland City Council and as vice mayor of Oakland. After an unsuccessful run for the California Assembly in 1996, Woods-Jones has concentrated on her work as assistant chancellor of Peralta Community College and nurturer of the next generation of her nearly 25-year-old group.

This past October, at the group’s Conference for Women’s Empowerment, hundreds of community and civic leaders gathered to hear addresses by some longtime members. The new Training Institute for Leadership Enrichment, while continuing to nurture candidates, is organizing small meetings for women in all sectors–nurses, professionals, clerks–to encourage them to engage in the political process.

“Just look at the fact that African American women die of breast cancer and heart attacks at much higher rates than the general population. Do you understand how critical this is?” She asks, all humor gone from her voice.

Chris Lombardi is a free-lance writer in New York. She coordinated Women’s Enews Fall 2000 election coverage and helped cover the Beijing + 5 conference on women. Her work has been published in Ms. Magazine, the Progressive and Inside MS.

Intern Allison Steele assisted in the reporting and writing of these profiles. Steele will graduate from New York University in May. She has worked as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, the Kansas City Star and the New York Times. She hopes to apply her background in journalism to a career in social work and legal defense.

For more information:

Allison AndersFilmmaker:
http://www.bellenet.com/anders.html

Shafiqa Habibi
Salon.com:
http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2001/12/05/brussels_women/index1.html?x

Also see Women’s Enews, December 11, 2001: Afghan Women Demand Food, Schools, Health, Power
http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/751

Janet Hanson
Milestone Capital Management:
http://www.milecap.com/design/difference/milestonedifference.php

Mavis Nicholson
Leno National Women’s History Project:
http://www.nwhp.org/events/news/leno_bio.htm

Susan Sifuentes-Trigueros
Hispanas Organized for Political Equality:
http://www.latinas.org/

Dezie Woods-Jones
Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA):
http://www.bwopa.org/Hx.htm

Pat Summitt
Sports Stars USA Home
http://www.sportsstarsusa.com/basketball/summit_pat_head.html


Comments are closed.