Donna de Varona


Donna de Varona, founding member and first president, Women’s Sports Foundation

Donna de Varona, a television sports commentator and two-time Olympic gold medalist in swimming, stood up for women’s and girls’ sports this year. She helped preserved Title IX, the law requiring schools receiving federal funds to offer women and men the same opportunities.

Having lobbied for the law’s passage in 1973, de Varona served on the Secretary of Education’s Commission on Opportunity in Athletics, formed to study the effect of Title IX on men and women. When the majority of the commission found that the law should be altered to preserve opportunities for men, de Varona and Julie Foudy, captain of the U.S. women’s soccer team, produced a minority report advocating strong enforcement of the law in its current form. Secretary of Education Rod Paige decided not to issue any recommendation that did not have the consensus of the task force.

In July 2003, the Bush administration announced the law would be left unchanged.

The year after Title IX became law, de Varona co-founded the New York-based Women’s Sports Foundation. Other founders included female sport stars, such as tennis legend Billie Jean King.

“I felt that women needed an organization that represented just us,” says de Varona, a weekly commentator for the Sporting News Radio.

The foundation advocates equal access and participation for women and girls in sports and fitness and provides education, advocacy, research and leadership programs to ensure women’s success.

As a pre-teen, de Varona was swimming laps around the other swimmers in a San Diego recreational pool. Encouraged by her father to participate in sports, de Varona, at 13, became the youngest competitor at the 1960 Olympic Games. Four years later, at age 17, she won two Olympic gold medals and smashed 18 world swimming records.

Making a career switch often not available to women, de Varona in 1965 became the first female sports broadcaster to appear on network television. De Varona, by then nearly a legend in her sport, says it was not that difficult breaking into the male-dominated broadcasting profession. Moving up the ranks, however, was.

“I was typecast as a swimming expert,” she says. Eventually, however, she managed to become an ABC on-air analyst, writer, producer and host.

Based in New York, de Varona also is a weekly commentator for the Sporting News Radio–the number-one rated “Sports Talk” radio network in the United States.

Thirty years after the passage of Title IX, de Varona still believes that women’s sports and fitness issues are getting short shrift.

“Just pick up a sports section,” de Varona says with a laugh.

Abigail E. Disney considers herself a pragmatist. As president of The New York Women’s Foundation, which funds the city’s community organizations dedicated to economically empowering women and their families, Disney always looks for evidence that a project will succeed.

Abigail E. Disney, president, New York Women’s Foundation

Abigail E. Disney

Disney’s approach to philanthropy focuses on supporting what women “could do for themselves,” an outlook shared by those involved with The New York Women’s Foundation.

As an example, she cites the Amethyst Women’s Project Inc., an outreach program that distributes information on HIV/AIDS prevention and provides information on available counseling services to drug addicts, sex workers and homeless women in Coney Island.

After Aida Leon, a former sex worker, heroin addict and drug dealer, completed a course of treatment, she went back to the sidewalks of Coney Island. There, with funding support from the Women’s Foundation and others, she began reaching out to women living her prior life. In addition to handing out prophylactics and information flyers in English, Spanish and Russian, Leon follows up with women after they are released from treatment centers. For Disney, it’s a prime example of the importance of funding women.

“If you fund women, you fund communities,” she says, “If you fund men, you fund individuals.”

The grandniece of Walt Disney, the founder of the Disney media empire, Abigail E. Disney has played her own role in developing media. In 1998, when Ms. Magazine’s publication was suspended, Disney, along with 13 other female investors, stepped in. By May 1999, Ms. Magazine was back in circulation after receiving funding from the female investment group, known as Liberty Media for Women. In 2001, the magazine was sold to the Feminist Majority Foundation, based in Los Angeles and Arlington, Va., and is still publishing.

Disney joined The New York Women’s Foundation in 1992 and discovered an organization that relied on consensus in decision-making. The style was “like breathing air for the first time,” she says.

Last year, under Disney’s leadership, the foundation granted over a million dollars to New York-based women’s organizations.

Connie Duckworth, entrepreneur

Connie Duckworth

Connie Duckworth‘s personal passion has always been women’s economic empowerment. When she returned, as a member of the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, from Afghanistan, Duckworth asked herself, “What can I, as one person, do?”

Duckworth, the first woman to become a sales and trading partner at Goldman Sachs, the elite Wall Street financial services firm, found a way, an entrepreneurial way.

It began a few months later, when she founded Arzu–meaning “hope” in Dari–an organization to help market rugs woven by Afghan women. All surplus proceeds from the sales around the world help provide education, healthcare and other crucial services to Afghan women and their families via Afghan Women Leaders Connect, a special program of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, located in New York.

Now an author, mentor and entrepreneurial investment banker, the 20-year-veteran of Goldman Sachs, Duckworth always loved the challenge of the trading floor.

“It doesn’t matter who you are because, if you are willing to compete, it is a pretty level playing field,” she says.

Elected as the first female sales trading partner in Goldman Sachs history in 1990, she took on what she calls, her “night job” to make Goldman Sachs more family friendly. As the co-chief operating officer of the company’s diversity committee from 1990 until 1995, she helped put together generous maternity-leave and adoption-leave policies. She also set up Wall Street’s first back-up child care center in her building.

The benefits “have become so institutionalized that people don’t remember that we didn’t have those things,” she says.

Three years ago, she co-founded 8 Wings Enterprises, a private equity investor group focusing on women-led enterprises. Passing along her wealth of business expertise, Duckworth has mentored scores of women looking for business guidance and investment. She also has just finished her term as board chair of Chicago-based Committee of 200, a professional organization of top-echelon female business leaders.

Now living in Lake Forest, Ill., the mother of four has found yet a new way to share her business savvy, co-authoring “The Old Girls’ Network: Insider Advice for Women Building Businesses in Man’s World in 2003.”

Duckworth’s drive to succeed in business comes from watching her mother go from everything to nothing after divorcing her father. Her educated mother went into a freefall from the comfortable middle class to minimum-wage poverty. Duckworth, then a student at the University of Texas in the mid-1970s, promised herself, “I will always have the means to support myself.”

Shirin Ebadi, 2003 Nobel Peace Prize winner

Shirin Ebadi

Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi has never been one to back down from a challenge. After accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2003, she pledged to fight harder than ever to secure the rights of women in Iran.

The 56-year-old lawyer has made headlines with some of the high-profile cases she has taken on in defense of women’s rights.

“If you ask Iranian women, ‘Are you satisfied with your legal situation?’ about 90 percent will say no,” she says.

One highly publicized case was that of Leila Fathi, an 11-year-old Kurdish girl who was raped and killed by three men. Because of an Iranian law that values a woman’s life at half that of a man’s, the family had to pay “blood money” as compensation for the death penalty imposed on the three men. In an attempt to raise the necessary funds, the father and Leila’s disabled brother both tried to sell their kidneys. To this day, the girl’s killers have gone unpunished because the victim’s family has been unable to come up with the money. Ebadi is working with the girl’s family to overturn the “blood money” law.

“Islam is not the problem,” says Ebadi. “It is the culture of patriarchy. Some clerics have interpreted Sharia law in a way that discriminates against women.”

This longtime advocate for law reform was one of the first female judges in Iran, serving as the president of the Tehran city court from 1975 to 1979. However, when the conservative clerics seized power during the 1979 revolution, Ebadi was demoted to court assistant. The clerics deemed women “too emotional” to hold high ranking positions in the legal system. The demotion spurred Ebadi to begin to campaign for the rights of women in Iran.

In a country where two-thirds of the population is under 30, the Tehran University graduate is a particular inspiration to many young women. Of the students accepted to universities in 2003, over 60 percent were women.

In her Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Ebadi made her position clear that women’s full participation is key to Iran’s future.

“To disregard women and bar them from active participation in political, social, economic and cultural life would in fact be tantamount to depriving the entire population of every society of half its capability.”

Jane Fonda, founder, Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention

Jane Fonda

During the 1980s, former movie star, Vietnam activist and exercise guru Jane Fonda made many women sit up and take notice of their physical health with her best selling workout videos. Now she directs her energies toward improving the reproductive health rights of women nationally and across the globe.

In an effort to reduce the pregnancy rate among teen-agers in Georgia, Fonda founded the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention in 1995. As its chair, Fonda uses advocacy and activism to target issues such as poverty, violence and sexual abuse. Unlike contraception, which Fonda believes is only for those who have the “wherewithal and motivation” to use it, tackling what she calls these “above-the-waist issues” helps all women make informed choices about their pregnancies.

Fonda proudly points to The Doula Project based in Georgia as an example of a program that educates women about their reproductive choices. The project matches a trained paraprofessional from the community–or what is known as a “doula”–the Greek word for birth attendant–with an expectant young mother. The doula, who is the same ethnicity as the mother, helps prepare the pregnant mother for what to expect when her baby is born. After staying with the mother during labor, the doula visits the mother for four months following the birth to ensure the mother and child are adjusting to each other. Fonda calls this a “win-win” situation, in which the mother receives support and advice and the doula has the satisfaction of playing an important social role.

Fonda says that 100 percent of the girls working with a doula go on the breastfeed their children. The success of programs like these, says Fonda, ensures girls are given the support and education to make informed choices in their future reproductive decisions.

“Hope is the best contraceptive,” she says.

In the early 1990s, two conferences helped shape Fonda’s activism for reproductive rights and population control: the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing and the International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo, Egypt. The Beijing conference was dedicated to ensuring the fundamental rights of women around the world, and the Cairo conference focused on family planning, gender equity and access to reproductive health services. As a woman only just beginning to comprehend the urgency of women’s empowerment, these conferences stirred a powerful realization in Fonda.

“If women have no legal rights or negotiating status, they are viewed as chattel,” says Fonda.

In 1995, Fonda formed the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, taking the lesson of giving girls a voice in their reproductive options to heart. Five years later, armed with her desire to take her message of reproductive rights international, she traveled to Nigeria to produce and narrate a 15-minute documentary, “Generation 2000: Changing Girls’ Realities.”

The film touches on grassroots and government efforts to educate adolescent Nigerian girls about empowerment, sex education and health services.

In the most populous country in Africa, Fonda believes, “The fundamental way to reduce population growth is to empower women.” For Fonda, the girls leading the charge for reproductive rights were the vanguard of change for Nigeria. This truly eye-opening example of women’s empowerment hit home for Fonda, who believes women in the United States could take a lesson or two from the Nigerian girls.

“In America, the culture teaches us to do what a man wants,” says Fonda, who divorced CNN founder and Time Warner Vice Chair Ted Turner after 10 years of marriage in 2001.

Many women consider Fonda a women’s rights icon, but this 66-year-old two-time Oscar winner readily admits that she didn’t internalize feminism until she turned 60. Today, as she writes her memoirs, she believes, “the hardest thing to do is the look at how patriarchy has affected you.”

She adds, “When you ask yourself the question about how you live as equals, you might find yourself alone–without a man.”

Anne Sutherland Fuchs, chair, New York City Commission on Women’s Issues

Anne Sutherland Fuchs

After a career of publishing top-ranked magazines for U.S. women, Anne Sutherland Fuchs has taken on the task of advising the mayor of the largest city in the nation about the well-being of its 4.2 million female inhabitants (52 percent of the population), a third of whom are immigrants and a majority of whom are women of color.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg says he asked Fuchs to head up the commission because she “is uniquely qualified to evaluate and advise the commission . . . so that the women of New York can experience all the opportunities this city has to offer.”

Named as chair last June, Fuchs’ first major project for the New York City Commission on Women’s Issues was producing a survey identifying the city’s largest employers most committed to meeting women’s needs, including healthcare, child care and job advancement.

“As more organizations establish specific strategies to support women employees, New York City’s position as the city of choice for women will become stronger,” says Fuchs. When this happens, she says, women will surely have a better quality of life.

The survey found the top five companies for women were: American Express, AOL Time Warner, Deloitte and Touche, JP Morgan Chase and New York University.

The survey found that, among its respondents, only 30 percent of managers were female and only 12 percent of the companies offered paid time off to care for sick children.

“There is still much more work to be done,” says Fuchs. “In particular, the number of women in managerial and key decision-making positions could be better and more employers could be encouraged to offer child care support and back-up services.”

When she was named publisher of Woman’s Day Magazine in 1985, Fuchs became the first female publisher of a major U.S. magazine. Fuchs also was responsible for the branding of several large-circulation women’s magazines, including: O, The Oprah Magazine; Marie Claire Magazine; Vogue Magazine and Elle. A career of heading up these magazines, Fuchs says, means that she “has been living with women’s issues from the get go.”

Anne Glauber, chair, Business Council for Peace

Anne Glauber

Anne Glauber has always believed that business and peacekeeping mix. As the chair of the New York-based Business Council for Peace, Glauber brings together business women in the United States and enterprising women in war-torn countries to help build a sustainable peace.

In Rwanda, the council is stepping in to help women in reconstructing the lives of their families and rebuilding their country. After the 1994 Rwandan genocide, 70 percent of the adult population was female–over 50 percent were widows. In the wake of the destruction, a group of Hutu and Tutsi widows came together to help rebuild their country. In addition to adopting the orphaned children of their former enemies, these widows are making baskets to support themselves. The sale of one basket feeds a family of four for a month, says Glauber.

In October 2002, the council stepped in to help these women market and sell their baskets internationally. To date, $50,000 worth of baskets has been sold with most of the proceeds going back to the Rwandan widows.

Now the council works with the widows, the United Nations Development Fund for Women and Vision Eziba–the U.S.–based handicraft retailer–to market their goods internationally.

“We provide visibility for women where they are typically invisible,” says Glauber.

Glauber’s work in Rwanda began after she helped bring together women dedicated to peace-building at the 2002 Global Peace Initiative of Women in Geneva. There, Glauber, the senior vice president of Ruder Finn, the New York-based public relations organization, and director of the company’s global issues communications group, decided it was time to bring business women to the table.

The Business Council for Peace, launched out of the 2002 meeting, links women from all sectors of business, including, technology, marketing, finance and communications. Within a year, the New York-based council has grown to 90 enthusiastic members devoted to providing their business resources to helping women in conflict and post-conflict countries. Glauber is delighted to see the positive response from women involved in the council.

“I am amazed to see how many women leaders are joining the effort, feeling they have a personal stake in it.”

With current initiatives in Rwanda, the Middle East and Afghanistan, Glauber believes the council is providing a unique service by providing business skills to help women build sustainable businesses in their war-torn countries.

“We’ve absolutely been able to make an impact,” says Glauber.

Carline Bennett, a free-lance writer in New York, is a former intern at Women’s eNews.

For more information:

Donna de Varona–
Women’s Sports Foundation:

Abigail E. Disney–
The New York Women’s Foundation:

Connie Duckworth–
Afghan Women Leaders Connect:

Shirin Ebadi–
The Nobel Peace Prize 2003:

Jane Fonda–
Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention:

Anne Sutherland Fuchs–
New York City Commission on Women’s Issues:

Anne Glauber–
Business Council for Peace: