Coming of age in the 1960s, during the civil rights and women’s rights movements, had a tremendous influence on Katherine Acey, whose political education informed many of her career decisions.
"It was always important for me to live out my philosophy and politics at the intersection of gender, race and class," Acey says.
Through Acey’s work at the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, an organization that provides financial support to lesbian-led, transgender and progressive groups, she’s done just that by supporting those who fight sexism and homophobia from the ground up. The organization has provided grants to fund cultural media projects and secure human rights in the United States, as well as abroad in countries like South Africa.
Acey says many events in her childhood put her on the path to fight for women’s rights, but one incident in particular stands out: when she was nominated by her peers as class president in junior high school, but was demoted by her teacher to vice president.
"The teacher thought the title of president should only be held by a man or, in this case, a boy," Acey says.
It wasn’t until she moved from upstate New York to New York City to study social work at Columbia University as a graduate student that she realized she’d been discriminated against because of her gender.
"It all started to click for me and I felt the unfairness of it," Acey says.
Astraea’s roots can be traced back to 1977, when it was founded as a feminist foundation. When Acey became the organization’s executive director in 1987, she was its first paid staffer. Under her stewardship, Astraea went from a volunteer effort to a full-fledged operation with 18 employees, a national board of directors with 10 members and a global advisory committee. It has issued nearly $17 million in grants to groups such as the Appalachian Women’s Alliance and the Coalition of African Lesbians.
Acey left her post in 2010 to make room for the next generation of leadership, yet continues to advise Astraea and other organizations working to eliminate gender and sexuality-based discrimination.
"I’m really proud that we’ve grown to who we are thanks to bringing more individual donors, small and large, and foundation donors into the work," Acey says. "I am happy to have worked with those I feel a connection to, both grantee and donor partners, and to have helped foster deeper connections and strategic thinking among those working for social justice feminism."
In 2010 Kayrita M. Anderson helped lead the way in shutting down the adult section of Craigslist, where women and girls were sold for sex.
"Shutting down these sites does not stop child sex slavery, but it takes away easy access for these predators to get to our children," Anderson says.
Anderson first became aware in 2000 that child sex slavery existed after reading an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. After that, she and her husband Harold became involved with the Atlanta Women’s Foundation and started to channel funding to Angela’s House, a safe house for child victims coming through the judicial system.
Over the years, as the problem has increased, so have their contributions. They called a meeting in July 2007 with state and local leaders to go after the root cause of the problem, and the organization A Future. Not A Past was born.
"We had to face the fact that if we continued funding only victims’ services, there would always be more victims to serve," Anderson told Women’s eNews in October 2009.
The mission of the organization is to end child sex slavery through research, prevention, intervention and education. Within two years, the organization had received national recognition. Through Anderson’s board leadership at Women’s Funding Network, the organization has become a model replicated in other states through Women’s Funds.
In 2010, the Andersons funded research by The Schapiro Group looking into the behavior of men who buy sex online with female adolescents. The study found that 47 percent of those who respond to such advertisements continued with the "transaction" after receiving three warnings that the "escort" was a minor.
Anderson’s work has rippled throughout the state and she is especially proud of the leadership that the state’s legal and social welfare systems have displayed. Georgia is paving the way in prosecutions against those who buy and sell children, including a recent conviction of a pimp who received three life sentences, she says. Georgia also gave $1.8 million to create Georgia Care Connection, a new agency that diverts child victims from the legal system and provides wraparound services for them and their families.
She continues to push for the closing down of Web sites that sell sexual services through her organization’s research.
"Freedom of press and freedom of speech does not include the selling of human beings," she says.
Anderson is surprised by what they have been able to accomplish, but knows there is still work to be done.
"The change I want to see is for the predators to pay a price; I want to see an end to the demand for children in the U.S.," she says.
–Mary Kate Boylan
Kim Balin, Sianne Garlick and Laura Minnear are the journalism trio behind "Pornland, Oregon," an hour-long program that became the most-downloaded episode of "Dan Rather Reports."
Balin got the idea for the story in February 2010 from an editorial she read in The Oregonian about sex trafficking in the state. She was shocked to see this happening at such an alarming rate within American borders and wanted the program to serve as an expose on sex trafficking’s prevalence in Portland, Ore.
"This is a horrible thing happening to young women," Balin says.
That same month, Balin asked fellow producer Garlick to join the project, with Minnear jumping on board as editor.
"I had not heard about how prevalent this problem was . . . and women’s issues are important to me," Minnear says.
"Pornland" depicts a typical situation where a girl as young as 11 years old is manipulated by an older man who pretends to be her boyfriend. He showers her with gifts and attention, ultimately turning her against her family–making him the only one she can trust–before the couple moves in together. It isn’t long before he claims he needs money for rent, food and other necessities, and persuades her to sell her body. He keeps all the money while she’s left with virtually nothing. To make matters worse, he physically abuses and threatens her if she tries to leave.
"People think about sex trafficking as something that happens in different countries . . . but it’s actually a bigger problem here than they know," Garlick says.
The documentary took four months to complete before airing on HDNet in May 2010, and it received an encore presentation in November 2010. The film helped generate buzz around sex trafficking in the United States and is now used as an educational tool by citizens, legislators, and law enforcement officials.
In conjunction with other media coverage of this issue and the efforts of anti-sex trafficking organizations in the city, "Pornland" has led to officials taking more steps to combat the problem. They have expanded their vice squad from two to four investigators and mandated an early 2011 opening of shelter beds to provide safety for victims who have nowhere else to go.
Aside from changes in policy, Balin, Garlick and Minnear also hope the episode will help parents by providing information and tactics they can use to protect their daughters.
"We tried to craft the piece in a way that would give people tools," Minnear says. "People don’t want to just feel hopeless . . . they want to know how they can do something."
Linda Basch has moved from providing health care in Nigeria to offering care and support to women in education, the nonprofit sector and business, working to improve their opportunities but also their chances to have an impact.
Soon after Basch graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in economics, she went to Nigeria with Operation Crossroads Africa to work on rural health projects.
A major "aha moment" for her, which influenced her career later, was a measles inoculation project for children in a remote village. The project organizers believed mothers would resist a new gun-method to inoculate their children against what is a deadly disease in this region. But to their surprise, they were greeted by hundreds of women with their infants at the vaccination site, some of whom had walked all night to get there. These women knew the dangers of measles and were eager to try a method that could create better possibilities for their children, Basch says.
"In Nigeria and later in Kenya, where I also worked, I had numerous similar encounters with women where I was struck by their strength, resolve and openness to change. They became important role models for me and led me to see the real potential of women’s activism," Basch says.
After returning from Nigeria, Basch pursued a doctorate in anthropology at New York University, where she faced some of the myriad challenges women continue to encounter in academia. Needing to complete field work to fulfill her degree, she left her husband behind in New York and went off to Trinidad to undertake her research–not an easy task with two small children in tow.
Afterwards, she worked on behalf of women at the United Nations as a social policy specialist and director of research. From there, she entered a career in higher education as an academic director, dean and vice president, respectively, at New York University, Manhattan College and Wagner College.
Since 1996, Basch has served as executive director and then president of the National Council for Research on Women. Under her leadership, the council has grown to 120 research, policy and advocacy centers focused on women’s and girls’ rights and opportunities. She has also nurtured the growth of a corporate circle to encourage more gender diversity in companies.
Basch is especially committed to making opportunities for young women to build their leadership skills and create change through collaborations. The council has programs to encourage emerging leaders in nonprofit and corporate spaces, an active internship program and a project to groom future generations of nonprofit leaders.
"It’s really hard to create change if you don’t understand where the barriers are. I think we’re getting more sophisticated in seeing where those barriers are today and where we can successfully intervene to foster needed change," she says.
In a bold move in perhaps the most competitive of industries, Beverly Bond–a rare female star disc jockey–decided five years ago she needed to take action against the misogynistic lyrics and hypersexual images of women depicted in the hip-hop and R and B music she played.
"Being a woman in a male-dominated field like DJing, I paid a lot of attention to the media messages coming from the industry. I just wanted to speak out against a blatant injustice to women of color and hold someone accountable for the mistakes we make in media because the sacrificial lambs are our children," Bond says. "They are the victims in all of this."
She began with a T-shirt that simply said, "Black Girls Rock!" Each featured the names of black women in history, politics and the arts who have, indeed, rocked.
But it was not enough. Bond soon started the nonprofit Black Girls Rock! because she believed the needed affirmation went beyond just a T-shirt slogan. The organization offers a weekly mentoring program to help increase the self-esteem of black teens in New York City. Designed for female teens ages 12 to 17, the organization focuses on supporting them and teaching them how to express themselves through music–including lessons on spinning records. So far, over 300 teens have passed through the doors of Bond’s Scratch Academy. There are also poetry, creative writing and culinary programs.
"The art of DJing requires such discipline. I’ve become more empowered through it," says Bond, a Maryland native who came to New York City at age 17 to pursue a modeling career and later signed with Wilhelmina Models. "When you’re spinning, you have to use both hands working two different things. You have to use both ears too. It’s an exercise of the creative mind."
Bond’s most recent triumph against the negative messages of women in the media–and in helping young girls of color retell their stories–occurred this fall when the Black Girls Rock! annual fundraising event was broadcast live worldwide through an unprecedented partnership with Black Entertainment Television Networks. The event’s honorees ranged from actor-activist Ruby Dee to Teresa Clarke, chairperson and CEO of Africa.com.
Many Black Girls Rock! mentee teens were also featured at the event, including 11-year-old Amiya Alexander, a Detroit sixth grader who opened her own low-cost dance studio in a bright pink, redesigned school bus. Alexander has been promoting fitness while earning money for college ever since. Amiya’s Mobile Dance Academy travels to schools, child care centers and churches, offering lessons in ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop and salsa.
Bond intends to continue expanding her organization’s global presence through an international speaking and empowerment tour aimed at female teens of color.
"I want young girls of color around the world to know that their voice can make a difference if they speak up and say something," Bond says.
–Kimberly Seals Allers
Undocumented women in the United States have Michelle Brané in their corner, advocating for immigration policies that address their specific circumstances.
As director of the detention and asylum program at the Women’s Refugee Commission, Brané says that even though women and children are the majority of refugees in the world, most policy is not geared toward their needs.
"Much of what benefits women and children benefits everyone–and I find that when talking to women and children, we consistently run up against issues that have not been brought up," Brané says. "Their voices often don’t get heard and that’s why I think it’s really important."
Parental rights are of particular interest to women in detention centers, especially when it comes to the safety of their children. Other issues include sexual assault, access to sanitary supplies, gynecological care and recreation. Women are also sometimes literally hidden away at the detention centers.
"They are very easily overlooked . . . When people go in to do monitoring, they often don’t even see them," Brané says, adding that their section is dismissed by prison officials as "the same, just smaller."
Brané has always known she wanted to work on migration issues. She began looking specifically at detention centers after working for the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, where she created a program for torture survivors placed in detention centers. She says her current position with the commission is ideal because it embodies field research and policy work, allowing her to interact with individual refugees while influencing overall policy.
"I think what our program has really been good at is identifying gaps," Brané says. "We look at the landscape and where there’s a gap that nobody is addressing regarding an important issue, we step in."
Brané believes that migration and feminism have had an important impact on her personal life, even if she wasn’t always conscious of it as a child of immigrants. The Detroit native says her Hungarian mother was strong and successful, while her father, an Argentine of French Basque and Spanish origin, was enlightened in terms of women’s issues.
"In my family, there was always an awareness of human rights issues in general . . . I always assumed that women’s issues were just as important as any others," she says.
Brané is enthusiastic about prospects for the future, emphasizing the United States’ role as an example of increasing public awareness about migration issues.
"We do have an administration interested in reform and rights," she says. "I think we’ve developed some good models for success and moving forward."
When talking about his switch from journalist to activist, Jimmie Briggs recalls a 2007 incident during which he became emotional while listening to a woman in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He was so moved by her story of being gang raped twice in one day that he stopped the interview.
"Nevertheless, she implored me to continue so that her story could be passed on, possibly preventing her fate from happening to other women," Briggs says. "I was probably tired and fed up with all the injustices. The personal burn out fueled my desire to honor the experience and lives of people I’d met."
This experience, plus the other rapes and mutilations in war-torn countries like Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo that were recounted by survivors, led to Briggs envisioning the Man Up Campaign. The New York-based organization’s mission is to stop violence against women and girls worldwide through its network of young people, from ages 18 to 30.
His message has apparently hit a nerve, as the 41-year-old was named the winner of GQ Magazine’s "Better Men Better World" search.
Briggs started out as a pre-med honor student at Morehouse College in Atlanta, but became a journalist after spending his junior year in Austria in 1989. He went on to write for many publications, including Life magazine and The Washington Post.
"When I was working as a journalist, I didn’t see young people being used as voices of change" against the abuse of women and girls, Briggs says, adding that the message of preventing such violence should be ingrained in young minds.
Briggs co-founded the Man Up Campaign in 2008 with Karen Robinson-Cloete, a former human rights education director at Amnesty International USA and a recognized veteran in youth development. They met while creating a curriculum for his 2005 book, "Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers Go To War."
The organization held its first Young Leaders Summit in 2010, during the Federation International Football Association’s World Cup in Johannesburg, South Africa. With more than 100 delegates from 25 countries, they gathered to issue a call to free women and girls from violence.
"I was fully impassioned by the commitment and focus the youth delegates brought to the summit," Briggs says. "I always envisioned the youth taking over senior positions within Man Up, including mine, in the future."
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