(WOMENSENEWS)–Meet the Women’s eNews 21 Leaders for the 21st Century 2014. Each one vividly demonstrates the power and impact of carrying forward the insistence on equality and equity for women and girls. Many of our leaders this year work globally, while others act locally. Together they create and continually expand the chorus of voices singing the same song: Women’s rights are human rights.
The work and legacies of the Women’s eNews 21 Leaders for the 21st Century 2014 will be celebrated at the 12th annual gala, May 6, 2014, at the Marriott Essex House in New York City.
This year’s leaders also illustrate that the commitment to human rights leaps across generations, from the 1800s abolitionist movements to suffragists of the 1900s, from activist progenitors to today’s innovative advocates using film and personal appearances to spread the message.
Melanne Verveer, executive director of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., embodies the success of the global movement for the rights of women and girls, the subject of worldwide conversations and policy making. Verveer served as chief of staff for Hillary Clinton, then first lady, when Clinton made the historic declaration at the 1995 Beijing women’s conference: “Let it be that human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.”
When Clinton became U.S. secretary of state in the first Obama administration, Verveer became the first United States ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues. Between the Clinton and Obama administrations, Verveer and Clinton co-founded Vital Voices, with the mission to identify, invest in and bring visibility to extraordinary women around the world.
Like Verveer, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka has a global portfolio, hers reflecting her roots in South Africa, the first nation to include women’s rights in its constitution. Mlambo-Ngcuka, the United Nations under-secretary-general and executive director of UN Women, has been an essential champion for women’s rights and equality throughout her years living through the end of apartheid and becoming a politician and activist in the new nation. Now her commitment and successes brought her last year to a global stage. Her current top priority is women’s economic empowerment.
“The 21st century will go down in history as the century of equality for women and girls and this will transform our world,” she said.
Finance for Change
Financing the work needed to ensure that enormous changes in the lives of women and girls continue to expand is necessary. Three 21 leaders have taken on that challenge and responsibility.
The serial innovative philanthropist Winsome McIntosh works 50-hour weeks managing the McIntosh Foundation. A trustee with $40 million in assets to manage, McIntosh’s goal for the next 10 years is to help bring political parity for women and break the barriers by supporting women’s rights organizations with unrestricted money. The beneficiaries of the foundation include Women’s eNews, the Women’s Campaign Foundation’s She Should Run Foundation and Rachel’s Network (which she founded), named in honor of Rachel Carson, the author of “Silent Spring. ” The network is a membership organization of leading female philanthropists interested in the issues of environment, women and children’s health and women’s empowerment.
Active in the Boston women’s movement for decades, Elyse Cherry is now the CEO of Boston Community Capital (BCC), a financial institution dedicated to defeating poverty. Under her leadership, BCC has invested more than $900 million in low-income community development and social entrepreneurship in Massachusetts and nationally. The institution also has helped families avoid foreclosure, build child-care centers, domestic violence shelters, Head Start facilities and rehabilitated affordable housing, with about two-thirds of the housing lending benefiting low-income women.
Also from Boston, Emily Nielsen Jones has committed her funds and her energy to changing the status of women in Christianity, the world’s largest religion. The president and co-founder of the Imago Dei Fund, she is a donor-activist passionate about human equality and peace and is a self-described “holy thorn” in the side of complacent religious attitudes. She said she gains inspiration from the numerous other groups she’s involved in, including Women Moving Millions, the Women’s Donor Network, as a board member of Boston Women’s Fund and a co-chair of the Coalition against Trafficking in Women. The heart of her philanthropy is creating a better world for girls, Nielsen Jones said. “I love and believe in the girl spirit.”
Recording the stories of female artists who visited her during her career, prize-winning artist Lynn Hershman Leeson created a film and an archive that ensures the work of female artists are recognized and available for generations. Setting out to remember the women, Hershman Leeson’s documentary “!Women, Art, Revolution” recently won the grand prize at the Festival of Film on Art in Montreal and Stanford University has acquired her archives. Most of the women had not been ever interviewed, she said. Now professor emeritus at University of California, Davis, Hershman Leeson lives and works in San Francisco and New York. She is spending this year as a Distinguished Artist at the New School for Public Engagement in New York.
Reaching back to his family’s activism in the 1800s, Atlanta’s Kenneth B. Morris Jr. links his forebears’ resistance to slavery in the United States to resistance to sex trafficking today. Morris is a direct descendant of two of the best-known Americans from the 19th and early 20th centuries: Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington, both abolitionist leaders. Morris will receive the Ida B. Wells Award for Bravery in Journalism for his creation of an anti-sex trafficking documentary and related educational programming and curriculum.
Many of this year’s 21 Leaders also are following the paths broken by their ancestors, but in their cases, it’s their grandmothers and great grandmothers.
Pittsburgh’s Heather Arnet’s one-hour documentary film, “Madame Presidentá: Why Not U.S.?,” is both a tribute to her grandmother Vivian Goldstein, whose mother was a suffragist, and a call to action to her generation to increase the chances of a woman becoming president of the United States. The film explores the key question Goldstein repeatedly asked her granddaughter: Why hasn’t a woman been elected president of the United States?
Also a fourth-generation women’s rights activist, Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, based in Seattle, is the co-founder and executive director of MomsRising.org. She runs the million-plus member online and on-the-ground national organization working to mobilize women to work for social and economic change. Her great-grandmother was the first president of the Rochester, N.Y., chapter of Planned Parenthood. Her grandmother served as the chapter’s president too, and her mother was also an active feminist.
Kimarie Bugg, an Atlanta-based breastfeeding activist, learned about caring for women as a preteen working with her grandmother, a midwife. A nurse and founder of ROSE (Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere), her organization collaborates with health care provider networks, community organizations and churches to provide encouragement, support and clinical care to increase breastfeeding rates and sustain a mother’s breastfeeding experience.
The activism of this generation’s grandmothers is the subject of “Grandmother Power: A Global Phenomenon,” the most recent coffee-table book by advertising executive turned photojournalist Paola Gianturco. The resident of the San Francisco area has donated all author royalties from that book to the Steven Lewis Foundation to benefit African grandmothers raising children orphaned by AIDS. Gianturco is also the author of five other books documenting women’s lives in 55 countries with photographs and rich narratives, with 100 percent of the author royalties donated to organizations committed to improving the lives of women and girls.
Like Gianturco, Shelly Esque’s work also documents the lives of women and girls across the globe, but in her case, focusing on emergent women. The president of the Intel Foundation, Esque has been at the heart of Intel’s support of the groundbreaking “Girl Rising” documentary, broadcast on CNN and now being screened across the globe, accompanied by global social action campaign for girls’ education. Esque also launched the Intel Girls and Women Initiative, inspiring girls around the world to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Esque’s work is in synch with the that of 21 Leaders Reshma Saujani and Denise Restauri, both passionate about improving the opportunities for emergent women, in tech and in their lives.
Lawyer and politician Reshma Saujani, the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, is driven to close the gender gap in technology and set young women on the path of financial well-being that comes with jobs in technology. Visits to New York public schools sparked Saujani to realize that the gender imbalance in technology fields was actually growing–not shrinking, as in other professional fields such as law. Her program includes eight-week training camps in New York and Silicon Valley. She expects to establish new programs in six cities by this summer. Saujani believes the tech gender gap is a problem that can be solved in her lifetime, and she will be a major force for seeing that it happens.
Tech, that is social media, also played a major role in the creation in 2011 of GirlQuake by Denise Restauri. Rather than skill-development, Restauri has focused on finding a way to fill the role model gap by shining the spotlight on young female activists. In 2009, Restauri led a summit in Washington, D.C., to bring 250 girls together. After listening to what they had to say, she discovered that many of the girls lacked role models that inspired them. Maybe she should write a book? Instead, she reached an agreement with Forbes.com to establish a platform to post the stories of young activists. Last year, she produced the Forbes Women’s Summit: Power Redefined, where a new generation of women redefining the notion of power through innovation and disruption joined forces with traditional leaders addressing difficult issues they all faced. Restauri is looking for GirlQuake to cause a tidal wave of change.
Saving Our Lives
A tidal wave of change has dramatically increased the likelihood of surviving childbirth, a stunning inheritance of health for girls and emergent women. Two of the moving forces providing the energy for this extraordinary accomplishment are 21 Leaders Jill Sheffield and Carmen Barroso. Two additional leaders have begun to address the health issue that has just begun to seep into public awareness, the toll of armed conflict on women and children. Five additional 21 Leaders have led the way for national and international attention on the long-neglected health issues women and girls face.
Since she was in her late 20s, living in East Africa, Jill Sheffield has been committed to a single mission: providing women the power to choose. She became co-founder of Family Care International in 1987, which initiated the Safe Motherhood Initiative. After 20 successful years, Sheffield created Women Deliver. It hosts an international conference on the health and well-being of girls and women every three years. This year’s event in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, was attended by 4,500 maternal health experts, advocates and journalists. A Young Leaders Program has been incorporated into the conference, for people 30 and under who have shown exceptional dedication to the progress of maternal and reproductive health.
A dose of blatant gender discrimination in her native Brazil squelched Carmen Barroso’s dreams of a tech career, but gave rise to her dedication to women’s rights, including reproductive health. In 1991. she became the first non-American woman to be appointed director of a major U.S. foundation when she became director of the MacArthur Foundation’s Population and Reproductive Health program. She left that position in 2003 to become the regional director of International Planned Parenthood Federation-Western Hemisphere Region. Her role, she said, permits her to change the world in a pragmatic way, overseeing the care of teens and women throughout the Americas and the Caribbean.
Born in a nation at war, Sierra Leone’s Zainab Hawa Bangura nevertheless completed her college education and was awarded a fellowship in London. There, she developed a strong passion for democracy. Now the special representative of the secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict at the United Nations, Bangura first became known for documenting sexual violence against women during Sierra Leone’s Civil War, which lasted from 1991 to 2002. At the U.N., she developed the path for the creation and participation of 137 countries in the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict.
A stand-up comic has created a very different strategy to call for international powers to understand that women and girls live with the consequences of armed conflict long after the last bullets have been fired. Jennifer Rawlings traveled to war zones for over 11 years to entertain the troops. The stories about the consequences of war on women and girls lit a fire in her. She cobbled together the money to buy a camera and a plane ticket and flew to Sarajevo, the center of the bloodiest war in Europe since World War II. In the resulting documentary, “Forgotten Voices: Women in Bosnia,” she interviews a mother who lost her 9-year-old son to a land mine years after the war had ended.
Maysoon Zayid is our second stand-up comic to be named this year as a 21 Leader. An international Muslim star with cerebral palsy, known for her raunchy humor, she is a leading advocate for women and children with disabilities. She founded Maysoon’s Kids in 2001 that works in Palestine. As part of her work, Zayid counsels mothers of children with disabilities and her comedy makes clear that disabled women are funny and sexy.
Many 21 Leaders are beginning to connect the violence of war with what goes on within families. One of these leaders is Carol Kurzig, currently the president of the Avon Foundation for Women. In 2004 she joined the Avon Foundation, which focuses on women’s health through its long commitment to breast cancer. The foundation’s Cancer Crusade has donated $815 million to breast cancer programs. Kurzig decided to expand the foundation’s focus to include domestic violence. She launched “Speak Out Against Domestic Violence,” both to educate and to improve prevention and direct service programs. Speak Out programs are now conducted by more than 50 Avon markets around the world that have donated almost $60 million to programs aimed at reducing partner abuse and violence.
The anti-abortion and contraception national policies of the early 2000s caused Lynn Grefe to abandon her career as a lobbyist and jump into a new way to work to improve the lives of women and girls. The president and CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association, she works to educate, advocate and spread awareness about eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. Some 20 million women in the United States, the vast majority in their teens or early 20s, will experience an eating disorder, which can be fatal. For the past 10 years Grefe has grown this young organization with a personal passion. Her current challenge is to support research that will demonstrate treatments are effective, a requirement of the new health care law. “That is what women deserve anyway,” she said.
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