As the founding president of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, Blu Greenberg is one of the more vocal proponents for eliminating the problem of the agunah (chained wife), a woman whose husband refuses to grant her a writ of divorce.
Greenberg insists that religious law can be reinterpreted by rabbis to remove all potential for abuse. Greenberg says that currently each woman with a recalcitrant husband must take her case through an arduous process in the religious courts.
Author of “On Women and Judaism: A View from Tradition,” and many other books and articles, Greenberg has tackled and defined the issues of Judaism and feminism. In fact, Greenberg also says she looks forward to the advent of Orthodox female rabbis.
The Orthodox New Yorker’s concern for the rights of women extends beyond the borders of the Orthodox community.
In 1989, her concern for peace in Israel led her to help form the Dialogue Project to foster conversations between Jewish and Palestinian women. For Greenberg, the experience was an eye-opener. After talking to Palestinian women, she learned to embrace a two-state solution for peace yet realized that many painful issues were far from being resolved.
As part of her peace-seeking efforts, Greenberg also founded last year One Voice: Jewish Women for Israel. The New York-based organization brings together 11 national Jewish women’s organizations dedicated to becoming a positive voice for Israel within the United States.
“Women are a force,” says Greenberg, “We wanted to show our solidarity and identity.”
A graduate of Brooklyn College and City University, with a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology and from New York’s Bernard Revel Graduate School Yeshiva University, with a master’s degree in Jewish History, she has authored several books and articles tackling such difficult issues within her faith as the lack of women’s leadership, women’s role in communal liturgy, the laws on abortion and the survival needs of the Jewish family.
As an instructor in religious history at the College of Mount St. Vincent in New York, Greenberg was asked in 1973 to be the keynote speaker at the first National Jewish Women’s Conference held in New York. In preparing for the conference, Greenberg began to identify the issues particular to women in Orthodox Judaism, and the impact of feminism on traditional religion.
For Greenberg, the conference was the first opportunity to meet face-to-face with other feminists of other Jewish feminists. Rather than simply condemning Jewish Orthodoxy or turning their backs on it, women were saying they wanted more from their faith.
With the realization that one could be a feminist and “have love for Judaism,” her life’s path was set.
“Activism is so seductive,” says Greenberg. “An organization can change the world.”
Christine Helen Grumm learned the art of fund-raising by the age of 2. As a child of missionaries, she and her sisters would help raise money at mission festivals in Hawaii by doing the hula for an appreciative audience.
These days, San Francisco-based Grumm, the executive director of the Women’s Funding Network, promotes funds for organizations committed to positive social change for women and girls.
Grumm uses her “iceberg analogy” to describe the role of the network. Like an iceberg, she says, 15 percent of women are entrepreneurs, senators and leaders at the top of their professions, while the other 85 percent are submerged. The network’s role is to assist the women at the top to lift up those still under water, often by spotlighting the good work going unnoticed.
Currently, Grumm is excited about a new tool she is helping develop at the Women’s Funding Network that uses various quantitative indicators to measure the effectiveness of social change efforts. In time, Grumm believes this tool will help social-change organizations gather tangible evidence about the results of their programs.
“Social change starts with one woman at a time, but it doesn’t end until you open the window and millions of women go through it,” Grumm says.
Grumm has drawn on her Lutheran faith throughout her personal and professional life. One network initiative that is particularly important to her seeks to unite secular women and women of faith under a common social-change agenda to tackle issues such as poverty and violence.
“Power is when, for example, faith-based women hook up with secular women to bring to the table the collective power of women,” Grumm says.
Grumm realized early on in life that women’s causes needed attention and funding. As a teen-ager in California during the 1960s, Grumm was placed “smack dab” in the women’s, civil rights and anti-war movements.
“I’ve been really lucky. When movements happen, I happen to be in the place,” says Grumm. Women’s philanthropy was a natural progression from being involved in all of these movements. “If we are going to have social change, we need money.”
Before joining the network, Grumm was the executive director of the Chicago Foundation for Women, the “good housekeeping seal of women’s organizations.” Under Grumm, the foundation gave away $1 million a year in grants to Chicago-area women and girls and developed an $8 million endowment.
Through her work at the foundation, and her current work at the network, Grumm has taught donors and grantees to “look at women as assets instead of deficits.”
Helen LaKelly Hunt‘s Sister Fund stands out as a major innovator in funding organizations dedicated to fostering the spiritual, economic, social and political growth of women and girls. Her style of philanthropy is to give to nontraditional programs and often to start-ups. She says this can not only change the lives of grantees but also those of the donors as they “recognize what a difference their gift can make.”
Recipients of The Sister Fund’s first round of grants in 1993 included the New York-based Sakhi for South Asian Women, which provides leadership development, advocacy and outreach to South Asian victims of domestic violence. Another was the New York-based Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, designed to promote social and economic rights for lesbians. The Sister Fund also supports Women’s eNews.
A particular favorite of Hunt’s is the New York-based Women’s Advocate Ministry, Inc., a crisis-intervention program for single mothers jailed for smuggling drugs for their husbands or domestic partners. The program keeps imprisoned women in touch with their families and lobbies against the Rockefeller drug laws. Those laws, instead of providing treatment services for offenders, mandate harsh prison sentences for those in possession of drugs or those who sell small amounts of them.
Hunt traces her philanthropic interests to a galvanizing experience she had in the 1970s, while visiting a Dallas domestic shelter. As she toured the shelter, she was stunned to discover that it had been denied government funding because Dallas did not admit to having domestic violence. Watching women in the shelter work so hard to better the lives of abused women, Hunt saw her own power to help.
“If I stood up and took action,” she recalls thinking at the time, “I could impact other people.”
Hunt, along with her sister Swanee Hunt, became involved in philanthropy as female heirs to the vast Hunt oil fortune in Texas. Together, in 1981, they created the Hunt Alternatives Fund, to “support disenfranchised populations in the cities where we lived,” says Hunt.
In addition to Hunt Alternatives Fund and The Sister Fund, Helen Hunt has co-founded three other funds for women’s organizations: the Dallas Women’s Foundation in 1987, The New York Women’s Foundation in 1985 and the National Network of Women’s Funds–now the Women’s Funding Network–in 1985.
Helen LaKelly Hunt founded The Sister Fund to focus on “the role of women’s spirit–weaving a woman’s faith into her activism.”
Hunt received her doctorate in theology this year from Union Theological Seminary in New York. Her thesis focused on spirituality as a catalyst for feminists and female abolitionists such as Lucretia Mott and the Grimke sisters.
Because organized religion was often a formidable foe of women’s activism, women of faith and secular women were often at opposite ends of the spectrum, says Hunt.
“I felt like a lot of women of faith felt outside the feminist agenda,” she says. “And we can’t afford the divide.”
As president of the annual Global Summit of Women, Irene Natividad brings together female government ministers, representatives of nongovernmental organizations, micro-entrepreneurs and business leaders to network and form alliances with other women.
Natividad, a Philippine native, pays intense attention to summit arranging, down to the seating plans. For instance, she will position someone in business next to a head of a nongovernmental organization so they are exposed to each other’s ideas.
“We teach NGOs that business people are not all bad people or that NGOs are not gnats which you need to appease,” she says.
Natividad says the turnout of 671 women from 80 countries for this year’s summit held in Marrakech, Morocco, in May, in a climate of war, was a “testament to women’s courage and their willingness to learn from each other.”
Through networking breakfasts and meetings, the three-day summit was bristling with the energy of women coming together to form alliances.
At the 2002 summit in Barcelona, Dr. Sima Samar, the former minister of women’s affairs in Afghanistan, spoke about the role of Afghan women in the economy. After the speech, Natividad–on the spur of the moment–held a contest to see which country could raise the most loan money for Afghan women. A table of Serbian women won.
“When were going through hard times, we received assistance from people around the world,” was their explanation, Natividad recalls.
Natividad’s dedication to promoting women stems from her days working at the Washington-based National Women’s Political Caucus–an organization that she says “breeds women candidates.” In 1985, Natividad was elected president of the now 32-year-old bipartisan organization dedicated to promoting women’s participation in the political process. She was the first Asian American to head the national political organization. The goal of the caucus, says Natividad, was to recruit and train women at the local level running for political office.
Natividad went on to chair WomenVote in 1988, 1996, 2000 and 2004–a nonpartisan, nonprofit program that seeks to bring more women–particularly women of color–to the polls. The get-out-the-vote campaign conducts phone calls, advertisements, public-service announcements and produces publications prodding women to keep voting.
“I didn’t know how to do one thing,” she says. “When I was in college, I had three jobs. I did them all with the same amount of passion.”
Four years ago, Margarita Quihuis became founding director of the San Francisco-based Women’s Technology Cluster–an organization that incubates start-up technology businesses founded by women and links them to potential investors, mentors and other businesswomen.
Of the 800 incubator programs present during the late 1990s, only the Cluster focused on women in technology. Quihuis raised $67 million.
The Women’s Technology Cluster at first selected only 10 companies for funding from a field of 900 entries. By January 2000, five Cluster companies disproved skeptics who said that Quihuis’ organization was a charity when they were selected to present at Springboard 2000, a venture-capital fair showcasing some of the most promising female-founded business enterprises.
The San Francisco-based research firm, VentureOne, reports that in 1995, 1.7 percent of all venture capital went to female-founded companies. By the end of the decade, with help from the Women’s Technology Cluster and others, the share had expanded to 7.2 percent.
“We put a spotlight on the most promising companies,” says Quihuis.
Quihuis, a Mexican-American, credits both her drive to succeed and her passion for technology to her father. A veteran of the 1960s civil rights movement, her father married into a family with eight women–his wife and her seven sisters. When her father insisted that his sisters-in-law go to college, Quihuis, still a little girl, listened. Later, her father told her that engineering was where the jobs were, and Quihuis, always good at math, decided to pursue a degree in petroleum engineering at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.
She went on to build her engineering experience at Stanford’s Office of Technology Licensing and Raychem Corporation, a global manufacturing company. At Raychem, headquartered in Menlo Park, Calif., Quihuis developed expert systems for the aerospace industry and ended up writing a complex database for the U.S. Air Force.
In 2002, Quihuis co-founded the Open Capital Network in Palo Alto, Calif., to create new technologies and investment opportunities geared to improving the lives of people in the developing world. In this role, she keeps gender in mind as she develops technologies for emerging global markets. For instance, the network is developing a global virtual assistant network, which will help over 10,000 women in the developing world earn $10 a day working as virtual assistants over the Internet. This model allows women, especially those in cloistered societies, to earn money from their homes.
“If you don’t take gender into account in any of your solutions, you are likely to fail,” she says.
Quihuis is also founder of the nearly two-year-old First Wednesdays–an informal network of female venture capitalists who meet monthly to discuss business. Believing a need for such an organization existed, Quihuis went through her address book and invited all the female venture capitalists she knew to lunch. Forty five showed up, each one amazed to discover other women like herself.
“There is a power of just gathering,” Quihuis says.
After an earthquake toppled the Iranian city of Bam in December, Iranian journalist Shadi Sadr and a group of concerned Iranian women organized a relief effort to collect food and supplies for women and children in the devastated southern Iran city.
It’s only natural for Sadr to help organize women. As editor in chief of Women in Iran, a Tehran-based daily news Web site, Sadr gives voice to many women’s issues long swept under the rug in Iran.
With over 70,000 visitors a month, the barely 2-year-old Web site is the national and international gold standard of women’s coverage in Iran. Running stories about stonings of women, abortion and sexual abuse, the site confronts many of the issues the conservative government tends to ignore.
The Web site also acts as a “pressure group,” says Sadr. The Islamic Republic of Iran, for instance, falsely claimed in a United Nations report in 2003 that the country had safe houses for women and children who were victims of domestic abuse. In response, Sadr and some of her Web site colleagues wrote an open letter to the president of Iran refuting the claim. After the letter appeared on the Women in Iran Web site, the government pledged to create real women’s shelters.
Four years ago, when Sadr found out she was pregnant with a girl, she cried for a week. She was saddened by the idea of a daughter facing the strictures of growing up in a country where her gender would prevent her from doing such simple things as riding a bicycle in the streets. But through her tears, Sadr resolved to give her daughter a “better Iranian women’s life” by writing about women’s issues.
The 29-year-old has also shown the ingenuity and the nerve to stand up to conservative authorities in a country where any sites deemed threatening to national security or sexually explicit are filtered. After discovering her site had been filtered in July 2003, Sadr set out to reopen it.
When the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology denied filtering the site, Sadr persuaded a journalist who was also a member of parliament to show her site was inaccessible to other parliamentarians. The journalist also produced articles showing the site did not publish anti-government or sexually explicit content. The next day, after proving to members of the parliament that her site was indeed filtered, Sadr received a call from a representative of the ministry informing her that access to the site would not longer be restricted.
Sadr’s introduction to journalism began at the age of 15 when she won a journalism contest by a youth magazine, Sorush-e-Nojavan (Youth Summons). As the winner, she contributed literary articles on youth to the magazine.
“I didn’t choose journalism; it chose me,” says Sadr.
Sadr went on to write for various reformist newspapers during her 20s. After repeatedly climbing the ladder within one newspaper organization, she would find herself barred–like all women in Iran–from becoming an editor in chief or sitting on the editorial board.
“I could no longer tolerate my male colleagues’ jokes about women being worth half of a man, simply because I needed their blessing to print my articles,” says Sadr of her decision to found the Women in Iran Web site.
Today, Sadr keeps up her journalism by contributing to two publications; a monthly magazine called Zanan (Women) and a daily newspaper Yas-e-Now, for which she writes a column, “Negahe Zanan” (Women’s View).
Sadr, a 1999 University of Tehran graduate with a master’s degree in law and political science, is also in the midst of her “Ekhtebar” exams; written and oral exams to become an attorney.
The active journalist, mother and student hopes to one day launch a nongovernmental organization of attorneys who will defend the rights of women in Iran.
The research organization that asks women the right questions and makes their surprising answers known is headed by Faye Wattleton, a life-long women’s rights advocate.
The findings of the center’s recently completed benchmark study made headlines across the United States when newspapers reported that domestic violence and sexual assault topped the list of women’s priorities for a new womenâ€™s movement.
“It is crucial that women have data they can understand and interpret to raise a sense of awareness that something has to change,” Wattleton says. After the study was issued she pledged to follow up with more research. “These are trends that need to be tracked.”
In 1978, Wattleton gained national recognition as the youngest and first woman to become head of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. While serving in that post she was named by a SASSY magazine poll as “one of the 20 coolest women ever.”
Wattleton, who was born in St. Louis, became interested in obstetrical care during her studies at Ohio State University. In 1964, she graduated with a nursing degree and three years later earned a graduate degree in maternal and infant care from Columbia University.
Wattleton became president of Planned Parenthood after serving on its national board as a representative of the Planned Parenthood affiliates executive directors. She led the organization through the 1980s and early 1990s. During that era, regulations promulgated by presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush restricted government funding of international family planning services. Organized violence against abortion clinics and clinic personnel rose dramatically. Throughout, Wattleton remained an unbowed advocate for women’s reproductive rights and health services.
“We could have been passive in an attempt to avoid controversy,” she says. “As providers of a full range of reproductive health services, we had a greater obligation to speak forcefully for women and to defend their reproductive rights.”
During her tenure, Planned Parenthood administered medical and counseling services to 4 million a year and became the seventh largest charity in the United States. Yet, the demands of her job eventually took its toll.
“It was like conducting a political campaign while running a large multi-national organization for 15 years.”
Wattleton wanted to join the larger battle for the elevation of women’s status. She was a founding director of the New York-based Center for the Advancement of Women in 1995, to create a social consciousness of women’s issues through research and advocacy.
“Hand in hand, research fuels advocacy,” says Wattleton. “Advocacy is our core mission.”
Carline Bennett, a free-lance writer in New York, is a former intern at Women’s eNews.
For more information:
Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance
Christine Helen Grumm–
The Women’s Funding Network:
Helen LaKelly Hunt–
The Sister Fund:
Women’s Technology Cluster:
Global Summit of Women:
|Iran’s Sadr Released, More Freedom Must Follow|
|Question from Iran: Why Was My Passport Taken?|
|Women’s Gains at Risk in Iran’s New Parliament|
|Women in Iran Deem Rape Laws Unfair|
|Shadi Sadr, winner, Ida B. Wells Award for Bravery in Journalism|
|Shadi Sadr Describes Iranian Women’s Movement|
Center for the Advancement for Women: