By WeNews Staff
Monday, January 2, 2012
Profiles of seven outstanding women leaders dedicated to improving lives of women and girls: Carol Jenkins, Ida B. Wells Award, Elizabeth Colton, Pat Mitchell, Deborah Santana, Deborah Tolman, Beverly Willis, Monica Winsor
Deborah Santana has just returned from Kenya, where she narrated and co-produced the award-winning documentary, "Girls of Daraja," celebrating an all-girls secondary school in East Africa.
The boarding school accepts Kenyan girls with top academic scores and exceptional leadership skills but no means to continue their education. The academy provides shelter, food, health care and counseling services, which allows students to focus on their academic and personal potential without being hindered by the everyday barriers of poverty.
"I will continue to visit the school because when I meet people who inspire me, they fill me with positive energy to go out and change the world," she says.
Santana is founder of Do a Little, a nonprofit donor-advised fund that serves the needs of women in health, education and happiness. Founded in 2008, the inspiration for Do a Little came from her travels.
"So many people are completely disempowered around the world and in America. My mission is for women. Women are still marginalized. I believe that women should be leaders; women need more power, education and access to health and reproductive care," Santana says.
In 2005, she published her memoir, "Space Between The Stars: My Journey to an Open Heart." For Santana, her writing and spirituality keep her closely intertwined with her work on behalf of women.
"Writing my memoir gave me strength to be who I am in my fullest. If we can all live who we are to the fullest and we can feel whatever it is calling us to be passionate about life, then we can create the change we need to make the world a better place," she says.
Santana's progressive upbringing and home environment helped inform her gender lens.
"My mother worked my whole life and it was my father who stayed at home with two girls, which was very unusual at the time," she says. "My father was African American and my mother Irish English, so I grew up in a household with tremendous power and feminism without even labeling it. I was not only a woman, but a biracial woman."
In addition to "Girls of Daraja," Santana has produced "Road to Ingwavuma," which chronicles a seven-day trip of artists exploring South Africa's triumphs and struggles after the fall of apartheid.
To Santana, her writing, her philanthropy and her filmmaking are equal components of her work towards a peaceful and just world.
--By Stephanie Yacenda
Deborah Tolman has devoted her academic career to research and writing about the way in which society understands, views and responds to women's sexuality, particularly teens.
A professor of social welfare and psychology at Hunter College and The Graduate Center at CUNY, Tolman is also an activist. She is a co-founder of SPARK, a girl-fueled movement against the sexualization and objectification of women and girls in the media.
"I grew up before Title IX and did not know that I could be as strong with my body as I was with my mind. As an adult, I stumbled into body competence by accident and have been pursuing it, along with my emotional and intellectual growth, ever since," she wrote in a SPARK blog. "I love feeling as strong in my body as I do in my mind."
She added that she is dedicated to girls knowing--no matter what media or other people tell them--that their bodies are first and foremost theirs, that they are entitled to their own thoughts, feelings, desires and emotions, and they are fabulous.
"Every time I interview someone and hear their outrage at the inequality that they feel or their disassociation from their own bodies, I am saddened. This is not something I hear occasionally; it is constant," she says.
Growing up in Massachusetts, Tolman remembers: "I was always aware of the disparity between boys' and girls' sexuality and the ways people reacted. I kept thinking that it wasn't fair. I began asking questions and I wasn't going to stop until I had answers."
She received her doctorate in applied developmental psychology from Harvard's Graduate School of Education. From there she went on to be the founding director of the Center for Research on Gender and Sexuality at San Francisco State University. Tolman has also served as senior research scientist and associate director of the Center for Research on Women at Wellesley College.
Her current research includes longitudinal studies of the impact of television's sexual content on adolescents and a development study of gender, relationships and sexuality. The second study focuses on how messages about masculinity and femininity affect boys' and girls' abilities to pursue healthy relationships.
Her book on adolescent girls' sexuality, "Dilemmas of Desire: Teenage Girls Talk about Sexuality," was awarded the 2003 Distinguished Book Award from the Association for Women in Psychology.
"We need to change the way we think and talk about young people and try to expose and refuse the moral panic and anxiety that surrounds them, as well as our compulsion to control and contain them," she says.
-- By Victoria Fitzgerald
Beverly Willis is a fearless and irreplaceable advocate for the contribution of women to the built environment. To ensure that the legacy of women in architecture lives on, she founded the nonprofit organization the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation (BWAF) in 2002, and embarked upon a journey to push the boundaries of the "male dominated, macho culture of the building industry" and support the rise of female executives in the world of architecture.
After over 30 years of leading her own architecture and development firm, Willis had an epiphany: "I looked around and realized that women architects were not in the history books. That meant my legacy, like those before me, would be lost upon my death."
In 10 years, BWAF has grown from providing a grant program for individuals and national organizations doing research to delivering numerous core programs about women in architecture, including education, research and outreach.
BWAF has also collaborated on projects with major exhibitors, including the Museum of Modern Art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the National Building Museum. It works with several member organizations as well, including Professional Women in Construction, the Society of Architectural Historians and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture.
Willis grew up in the oil fields of Texas and Oklahoma amidst the oil boom of the 1920s.
"Oil derricks were my backyard swings and I loved climbing them," she says.
She learned to pilot an airplane at the age of 15 and, with basic know-how about the workings of motors, Willis set off to Oregon State University to study aeronautical engineering. She later transferred to the University of Hawaii and switched to art.
While in charge of a design project for the military in Hawaii, Willis annoyed an architect by giving him instructions and he snarled, "If you think that you are so smart, why don't you become an architect?" She knew a good idea when she heard it, and shortly after took the five-day exam and passed, becoming a licensed architect.
Willis is the winner of numerous design and leadership awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from Professional Women in Construction in 2011 and Top Women in Real Estate from NY Residential Magazine in 2010. Willis is also a founding trustee of the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., and a leader of the BWAF Industry Leaders Roundtable, a group of the world's largest engineering and architecture firms.
Her future goal is to help the foundation change the patriarchal culture of the design and building industry to one that values a woman's vision, and her thoughts and work. Meeting this challenge, she says, will take a continuing and collaborative effort from all women and men alike.
--By Victoria Fitzgerald
For Monica Winsor, philanthropy is a bit like yoga: stretching oneself to find balance and to be in touch with one's authentic self. The certified yoga instructor is a founding vice chair of Women Moving Million, a loose-knit organization of women who have each agreed to channel a $1 million donation to nonprofits dedicated to improving women's lives and to encourage others to do the same. To date, more than 180 women have made the pledge.
The founder of her own consulting company to assist philanthropists as they make their decisions where to invest, she "has that conversation" with donors in her professional life, as well as her volunteer work with women of means, about what touches them deeply and to lead them through their "own personal inquiry." The desired result, Winsor says, validates the values of the donor and assists them in supporting what feels "authentic and important to them."
For Winsor, that has meant donating to and raising money for women and girls. Her commitment began as a volunteer at a domestic violence shelter while she was a student at Brown University taking women's studies courses. After college, she worked in Kenya with FXB International, a Geneva-based organization that equips individuals with training and resources so they can achieve lasting self-sufficiency and stability. There, she learned the value of "practical" philanthropy, but also further appreciation for the importance of women's well-being to communities.
At the same time, she became a trustee of two family foundations and within several years, the single mother of two daughters. But Winsor knew she wanted to go her own way as a philanthropist, even though supporting organizations focused on helping women and girls had not been a part of the family's giving history.
In 2008, she found herself at a gathering for women of wealth, sitting between Gloria Steinem and feminist philanthropist Helen LaKelly Hunt. The purpose was to begin what has become Women Moving Millions. Winsor signed on quickly.
Her work encouraging more women to make the commitment permits her to continuously practice her personal values of fairness, effectiveness and social justice. She also believes that the structure of women's organizations often reflects their values and tends to be less hierarchical and more collaborative.
"I like bringing voices in from the margin," Winsor says.
--By Rita Henley Jensen
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