RBG: The Inspiring Story Behind the Feminist Icon

RBG opened on May 4 and has gotten rave reviews for its powerful depiction of one the most important feminists of our time. (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.)

Long before she was a meme and pop culture icon, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a sober-minded jurist, a workaholic and a trail-blazing advocate for gender equality. None of that has changed, but in the last decade Ginsburg has become a celebrity whose image is plastered on t-shirts, mugs and all over the Internet. She’s celebrated as both a gritty feminist badass, and cute old lady.

It’s great that someone of Ginsburg’s intellectual heft and societal importance is famous; still, you worry that the image of the bespectacled RBG is overtaking the person. Part of RBG—which is directed and produced by Betsy West and Julie Cohen—explores the hagiography surrounding the diminutive justice: college students express awe at just glimpsing her, and we see Ginsburg sporting a “Super Diva” shirt while working out with her trainer (who, incidentally, has written a book titled The RBG Workout: How She Stays Strong … and You Can Too!). The workout stuff is cute, and a testament to Ginsburg’s determination and discipline, but far more important, and interesting, is her work over nearly six decades as a lawyer, professor and judge.

Nominated by Bill Clinton in 1993, Ginsburg was not the first woman named to the Supreme Court (Sandra Day O’Connor served from 1981-2006) but she has been the most passionate defender of women’s rights, including abortion rights. And while she is considered a liberal icon, it wasn’t always the case. When Ginsburg was appointed, she was in the middle of the pack ideologically, but the changing composition of the court has moved her relative position to the left. Moreover, RBG has proven more than willing to dissent from her conservative colleagues, particularly on gender issues. She is able to do this while maintaining a reputation for collegiality, which included a long-running friendship with the boisterous conservative justice Antonin Scalia, a fellow opera lover who died in 2016.

There are plenty of well-known figures who weigh-in on Ginsburg in the film, including Gloria Steinem, Bill Clinton, NPR’s Nina Totenberg and long-time Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, an arch conservative who nevertheless recommended Ginsburg to President Clinton in 1993 to fill the open Supreme Court seat. “It was the interview that did it,” says Clinton about his choice of Ginsburg from a long list of potential nominees for the position.

Ginsburg’s daughter and son, and a granddaughter, attest to the judge’s sharp mind, prodigious work ethic and serious demeanor. So do two of her childhood friends who confirm, as does nearly everyone interviewed, that Ginsburg is no fan of idle chit-chat or time wasting.

Gender was an obstacle throughout Ginsburg’s rise in the legal ranks. “Being a woman was an impediment,” she notes dryly about her time at Harvard Law School. Ginsburg was one of only nine women in a Harvard class of over 500, and the scrutiny was intense, although professors would not engage the women in the Socratic interrogation that men received because it was felt that females were too delicate for such treatment. Ginsburg also recounts that a dean called the female students together to ask them how they thought they could justify occupying seats that would otherwise have gone to men.

RBG faced other challenges as well, including the death of her mother after a lengthy illness when Ruth was 17. RBG did her undergraduate studies at Cornell, which is where she met her husband Marty. They both went to Harvard for law school, and when Ruth started (she was a year behind Marty) she was caring for their 14-month-old daughter. Ginsburg neatly compartmentalized law time and baby time, she says, but then Marty was diagnosed with cancer, and RBG helped him keep up with his studies while he received treatment. All the while, she was rearing their child, attending classes and serving on the law review.

Ginsburg’s husband survived the bout with cancer, and he proved key to her later success. “Meeting Marty was by far the most fortunate thing that happened to me,” says RBG. Martin Ginsburg, a tax lawyer who died in 2010, was gregarious and social, an ideal counterpart to his more reserved wife. Moreover, not only did he actively campaign for Ginsburg’s nomination to the Supreme Court in the early 1990s, he gave up a high-flying career in New York when his wife was named to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals by President Carter in 1980. The family moved to D.C., and Marty took on much of the childrearing and cooking duties (there are several mentions of RBG’s culinary deficiencies throughout the film).

When RBG graduated from Columbia Law in 1959 (she’d transferred there after her husband took a job in New York when he graduated from Harvard), she had a hard time getting a job in a law firm, even though she’d been at the top of her class. The discrimination against women in the legal profession was not exactly subtle. She became a professor at Rutgers University, and soon learned that she was being paid less than her male colleagues, a situation she quickly moved to remedy.

RBG became a gender equality crusader in the 1970s, and in several cases that she took on, men were as much the victims of gender discrimination and stereotyping as were women. In 1973, she argued a case before the Supreme Court in which a female Air Force lieutenant was not given a housing allowance for her and her husband, even though male service members with wives were automatically granted such benefits. The policy was overturned. In a 1975 case, she represented a man whose wife had died shortly after childbirth. The widower was denied a survivor’s Social Security benefit, which he needed to be able to care for his son, even though in parallel cases women receive such a benefit when their spouse dies.

Once RBG got on the court, she continued to champion women and gender equity. She wrote the majority opinion in a 1996 case in which the Virginia Military Institute was ordered to end its males-only admissions policy.

Ginsburg says her mother gave her two pieces of advice: “Be a lady, and be independent.” By lady, Ginsburg says her mother meant that “One should not be consumed by useless emotions,” like anger. RBG seems to have taken this to heart. She’s certainly passionate about her work, but her career indicates that she is always thinking two or three steps ahead, not getting embroiled in controversies of the day, or recriminations against present or past antagonists. (The lone understandable exception was her misstep as a sitting justice in making disparaging comments about President Trump).

Ginsburg has more energy than most people one-third her age. Still, she is 85 and has survived two bouts of cancer. She dodges the question about whether she should have retired during Obama’s tenure so that a liberal, or at least centrist, judge could have replaced her, as opposed to a Trump nominee should she leave the bench before 2020. It’s hard to argue that someone as vigorous as Ginsburg should step aside before she’s ready, particularly after the outrageous stunt in which the Republicans refused to vote on Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the court in 2016 in the wake of Scalia’s death. It’s a tough one; let’s hope the judge keeps working out, eats right and tries to get a proper night’s rest so that she can outlast the current administration.

RBG was made by a team of women, including director-producers Julie Cohen and Betsy West, and executive producers Amy Entelis (Executive VP for Talent and Content Development at CNN Worldwide, which financed the film) and Courtney Sexton (CNN Films VP). Women also occupy the archival, associate and coordinating producer roles on RBG, as well as the composer, cinematographer, and editor slots.

In November, an unrelated feature film titled On the Basis of Sex will be released. Directed by veteran producer-director Mimi Leder, it will star Felicity Jones as Ginsburg.


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Women Suffer Lifelong Impacts from Harassment in Food Service

Restaurant Opportunities Center published a report recently highlighting the impact of sexual harassment in the restaurant industry.

It’s not always pretty how the sausage, salad and salmon get made. Low-pay and difficult working conditions are commonplace in the restaurant industry. Many workers are part-timers, and few have benefits. Moreover, workers’ tips are sometimes stolen by management, and wages can go unpaid. These problems are particularly acute for immigrants, who are over-represented in the restaurant industry, and often have little recourse. Women, who comprise over half of industry workers, must further contend with sexual harassment, which is rampant in food-service businesses.

The Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United has been active since 2001 in addressing the challenges facing restaurant industry workers. Recently, it highlighted the long-term costs of sexual harassment in a study it conducted in collaboration with UC Berkeley. On May 8, it held a national press call with actor Sarah Jessica Parker, ROC United co-founder Saru Jayaraman, Oregon House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson, and current and former restaurant workers, to publicize the study’s initial findings.

The Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) was founded in New York in the wake of the 9-11 attacks to help restaurant workers displaced from their jobs. In 2008, it became a national organization advocating for restaurant workers wages and rights. ROC United now has nearly 30,000 worker-members, more than 500 restaurant employer members, and several thousand consumer members nationwide. It has won 15 worker-led campaigns, and recovered $10 million in stolen tips and wages. Co-founder Jayaram is the author of the 2016 book Forked: A New Standard for American Dining, which rates restaurants not on the quality of their beef, but on the wages, working conditions and opportunities they provide workers.

That sexual harassment is prevalent in the restaurant industry is no surprise, but the ROC United/UC Berkeley study goes beyond this fact to address how the experience of being harassed affects young women’s lifelong tolerance for harassment, even in other industries. The study combines qualitative data and quantitative analysis of surveys of several hundred women who worked in the restaurant industry when they were young. Current food-service workers, as well as women in different sectors—including Hollywood, media, politics, and philanthropy—were interviewed for this initial portion of a longer study.

According to ROC United, one in two Americans will work in the restaurant industry in their lifetime. The organization’s research reveals that almost 90 percent of women in the industry experience harassment from customers, managers, and coworkers. ROC United states, “For many women who work in restaurants as their first job, these experiences of sexual harassment shape the rest of their working lives. They learn early that sexual harassment is an unfortunate condition of work that must be tolerated, and even encouraged, in order to earn enough wages through tips.”

The ROC United effort against sexual harassment is linked to the “One Fair Wage” campaign, which would eliminate the lower wage for tipped workers. One Fair Wage represents a concrete policy solution to blunt the prevalence of restaurant-industry harassment. According to ROC United, “Women workers who rely on tips to make ends meet are forced to tolerate inappropriate customer behavior to ensure they take home enough income to feed their families. One Fair Wage ensures that women workers no longer have to solely rely on customer tips to make a living wage.”

In addition to the sexual harassment study and its accompanying press call, in February, ROC United held #NotOntheMenu rallies in Washington D.C., New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, the Bay Area, Detroit and New Orleans to demand an end to sexual harassment in the restaurant industry.

ROC United has received support from a number of granting bodies, including the San Francisco-based, James Irvine Foundation. As part of its Fair Work initiative designed to boost the fortunes of California’s lowest income workers (those making less than $12.50 hourly), in 2016 Irvine provided ROC United a three-year $1.4 million grant. The funds are being used, “… to support low-wage restaurant workers in California by enhancing the occupational skills, leadership development, and civic participation opportunities of workers while engaging employers, policymakers, and consumers to raise industry standards.”

Other funders have included Foundation for a Just Society, which provided $100,000 to ROC of New Orleans, “to support ROC-NOLA’s work to build power and voice for women and LGBTQI restaurant workers in New Orleans’ restaurant industry.” Other prominent supporters of ROC United include the Ford Foundation, which hosted a 2016 event in support of ROC United founder Saru Jayaraman’s book Forked. The event featured a slew of famous chefs and restauranteurs, many of whom have come around to the idea that treating restaurant workers fairly is not just the right thing to do, but it can be good for business as well.


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New Infusion: $13 Million to Address Gender and Race Health Gaps

While the Affordable Health Care Act helped to reduce health disparities, there are still significant gaps in funding for women of color. The California Wellness Foundation is finding ways to address these gaps.

Research has now identified a significant health care gender gap, showing how much less we know about the health of women compared to men. Even more underfunded than women, however, are the specific health concerns of women of color. While Black and Latina women together represent less than a quarter of all U.S. women, they make up the large majority of those currently living with HIV. To fight this disparity, the California Wellness Foundation (Cal Wellness) recently announced $13 million in new grantmaking specifically aimed at helping address the disproportionate impact of HIV/AIDS on women of color, as well as the health needs of recently incarcerated women reentering society.

Cal Wellness is a Los Angeles-based private, independent foundation dedicated to protecting and improving Californians’ health and wellness by increasing access to health care, quality education, good jobs, healthy environments and safe neighborhoods. Since its founding in 1992, it has awarded over 9,000 grants totaling more than one billion dollars.

Millions of uninsured Californians obtained health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, but with the ACA under strain, those gains are being eroded. Moreover, social services and reproductive rights are also being undermined. “Communities of color are bearing the brunt of these attacks,” says Judy Belk, President and CEO of Cal Wellness. “But there is hope. Philanthropy can play a critical role in advancing wellness for all by fighting the injustices affecting the most vulnerable among us.” Crystal Crawford, Program Director of Cal Wellness, adds that the AIDS/HIV/STIs and prisoner health reentry initiatives represent the “next phase of the Foundation’s long history of boldly confronting injustices based on race and gender.”

According to the National Institutes of Health’s report, Women of Color Health Information Collection: HIV Infection and AIDS, “Compared with females of other races/ethnicities, African Americans and Latinas are disproportionately affected at all stages of infection with HIV and by all reported measures: new cases of HIV infection, annual diagnoses of HIV infection, annual diagnoses of AIDS, and prevalence of HIV infection and AIDS.” In addition, women of color have high rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and are at high risk of acquiring HIV and STIs due to social and economic conditions such as high rates of poverty, ongoing trauma, income inequality and unemployment that make it difficult for them to protect their sexual health.

A key part of the HIV/AIDS/STIs initiative is “Upspoken,” a public awareness campaign, coordinated by the issue-driven communications firm RALLY. “Upspoken,” will engage multi-generational Black women and contribute to new ways of thinking about HIV, AIDS and STIs among direct service providers, advocacy organizations, individual and institutional funders, and policymakers. The campaign also seeks to increase understanding and raise awareness about the disproportionate impact of HIV, AIDS and STIs on women of color, and encourage increased funding and improved public policies in this area.

The initiative is funding two demonstration projects—one in Los Angeles County and one in Alameda County (whose county seat is Oakland) to document and disseminate best practices in prevention and early intervention for women of color at risk for HIV, AIDS and STIs, and to develop innovations in this area. The L.A. County project is being led by Gail Wyatt, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Culture, Trauma and Mental Health Disparities at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. In Alameda County, Women Organized to Respond to Life-Threatening Diseases (WORLD) is partnering with the East Bay Community Foundation on the project.

Cal Wellness is not the only organization supporting the health of women of color. The Oakland, California-based Catalyst Fund/Groundswell Fund is a major funder of initiatives and research surrounding reproductive justice and health, including birth justice with an emphasis on women of color. Catalyst Fund/Groundswell Fund has supported projects in 39 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, including initiatives of Black Women for Wellness (Los Angeles), and COLOR, a Denver-based Latina-led and Latina-serving grassroots nonprofit, among many. Catalyst/Groundswell also partners with other foundations including the Ms. Foundation for Women, the Chicago Foundation for Women, the New York Women’s Foundation, and Third Wave Fund that provide grants to organizations addressing the health needs of women of color.

The health of former prisoners, particularly women of color, is precarious. As is the case with men, women of color are overrepresented among the incarcerated. When they return to their communities, formerly incarcerated women face significant barriers to building stable and healthy lives including unemployment and lack of access to education, permanent housing, health care and support in being reunited with their families. For women of color, these barriers are exacerbated by racial discrimination.

Cal Wellness’ Re-entry and Employment Initiative will enable formerly incarcerated women of color, especially African American and Latina women, to improve their health through financial well-being by increasing their participation in the workforce and building financial assets. The Foundation awarded grants to four organizations (A New Way of Life, Justice Now, Time for Change Foundation and The Praxis Project) to promote local and statewide policies with a gender lens that impact the specific challenges facing re-entry women. One such policy is effective implementation of Proposition 47, which was passed by California voters in 2014 and reclassified sentences for a number of drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. The four grantees have established the Women Organizing Re-entry Communities of Color for Prop 47 (WORCC) Collaborative to target Prop 47 resources to benefit women of color as they seek employment and financial well-being upon re-entry.

As part of the initiative, Cal Wellness also approved grants to support three demonstration projects (Root & Rebound in Fresno County, A New Way of Life in Los Angeles County and Time for Change Foundation in San Bernardino County). The grantees will engage formerly incarcerated women of color, especially Black and Latina women, in comprehensive workforce development services including job training, career advancement and asset-building. The Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), which has offices in six states and focuses exclusively on employment for those with criminal records, also received funding and will provide technical assistance.


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That’s Harassment: Avin and Schwimmer Help Us Figure it Out

Screenshot from a scene in “The Co-Worker,” one of six short films directed by Sigal Avin.

There’s the philanthropy that happens when people invest money to promote social change, and then there’s the philanthropy that happens when people take their money and their talent, and employ them in a way that addresses a social problem. Celebrities, particularly multi-talented and highly educated ones, have a unique capacity to combine their financial capital, talent, and public stature in order to push for needed social change.

That appears to be part of what happened when Israeli-American filmmaker Sigal Avin teamed up with several feature actors including David Schwimmer, Cynthia Nixon and Bobby Cannavale, to film a series of six short films called, “That’s Harassment.”  In each of these three to six minute cinéma verité shorts, the viewer is positioned as a cringing voyeur while scenes of sexual harassment unfold. Since debuting in the spring of 2017, these films have been adapted into 30 second public service announcements that are getting wide visibility.

Schwimmer, along with Milk Studios co-founder Mazdack Rassi, produced the series, and the former “Friends” star has been instrumental in promoting the films and getting them widely seen. The shorts are on Facebook, YouTube, Amazon and other platforms, and excerpts are being showing in New York City cabs, and as public service announcements with links to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) and the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC). The films are designed to help employers combat harassment, and encourage victims and bystanders to recognize it and speak out. RAINN and the NWLC have partnered with “That’s Harassment” to compile resource and discussion guides, and the list, “10 Ways Your Company Can Help Prevent Harassment in the Workplace.”

In one film, Schwimmer plays a lawyer who forces himself on a recent hire played by Zazie Beetz. It’s clear that he is abusing their power differential and harassing her, and yet he is not a menacing caricature. He is not violent and doesn’t make any threats. Once rebuffed, he is highly invested in maintaining a nice guy persona, asking “Are we good?” and wanting a final hug to demonstrate that everything is okay between him and his victim. The Schwimmer character tries to pressure an employee into sexual favors, but wants to be reassured that his behavior is acceptable, and that he won’t suffer any consequences for it.

The other films detail various forms of male-female harassment: a brusque doctor fondles his patient, a bartender verbally and physically harasses a new waitress under the guise of letting her know what pigs men can be, a photographer degrades a young model by asking her to touch herself suggestively as he shoots stills of her, a famous actor exposes himself to a star-struck wardrobe person, and a veteran politician comes onto a younger journalist interviewing him.

“All of the stories are based on real incidents,” says Avin in an interview she and Schwimmer gave to Build Series NYC about the project. When she was a young playwright, Avin says an established actor exposed himself to her backstage during a rehearsal. Schwimmer shares that once the “That’s Harassment” project was underway, his mother revealed that she’d been harassed by a doctor. Schwimmer notes that the majority of the crew working on the shorts were female, “Unsolicited, every single woman came forward and said this reminds me of what happened to me. Everyone had an experience.”

Avin based “That’s Harassment” on a similar series that she’d made in Israel, and called on Schwimmer to help get the U.S. versions made and distributed. She says that her motivation in making the films was that while there was a lot of talk about sexual harassment, “You never got to see it.” Her approach was single-take scenes of several minutes where the viewer is “like a bug on the wall.”

The U.S. versions rolled out in the spring of 2017, but in the wake of the high-profile sexual harassment and abuse scandals that roiled the entertainment and other industries in the fall of 2017, Schwimmer and Avin sought a wider audience for them, and got RAINN and NWLC involved. “That’s Harassment” has also been covered by various mainstream media outlets including Cosmopolitan, Good Morning America and USA Today.

What makes the films so effective is that the perpetrators’ behavior is abusive, yet familiar. The victims don’t dissolve in a puddle of tears, nor do they angrily confront their harassers, all of whom are in positions of power over them. The women appear confused, embarrassed and uncomfortable, deflecting the unwelcome advances and comments, and sometimes laughing or shrugging off the harassing behavior or remarks.

The bartender, actor, and lawyer characters want to be “good guys” who compliment women and do them favors, but what the films show is that the nicest thing they could do would be to respect their female colleagues and let them do their jobs. The doctor, politician and photographer characters don’t play the helpful nice guy card; instead, they emphasize their experience and authority. You can almost see the gears turning in the victims’ heads: what is going on here? Is this normal? How do I get this to end without a scene or future reprisals?

The films are useful in provoking discussion about sexual harassment, and as tools for employers to use. This can be tricky — employers have a legal and moral imperative to combat sexual harassment, yet didactic and heavy-handed training sessions and amateurish videos tend to provoke more eye-rolling than actual change. For this reason, having a professional like Avin script and direct the films, and use working Hollywood actors, goes a long way in making the scenarios believable, and something that should be taken seriously.

In the current climate surrounding harassment, many men wonder what their role should be. Most would prefer not to talk about it all. It’s easier not to get involved, rationalizing that if one is not a perpetrator, then it’s best to keep one’s head down. There are costs—including threats to one’s livelihood and social ostracization—for speaking up when harassment takes place. Moreover, some men fear that their involvement might be unwanted, or seen as patronizing by women. Finally, many men, and women, are still grappling with what constitutes sexual harassment. The films do not solve these thorny questions, but they certainly start the conversation, and can lead to some concrete and specific ways to stop harassment in the workplace, as indicated by RAINN and NWLC.

Schwimmer and co-producer Mazdack Rassi’s contribution to the project, supporting Avin in getting the films made (and seen), is a good model for other men to follow in terms of being allies to women in the fight for gender equality.


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Chandra Alexandre: How Global Fund for Women is Growing its Reach

Chandra Alexandre, Global Fund for Women’s Vice-President of Development

“We focus on women at the grassroots, aligning our grant-making strategies and priorities to fit their needs,” says Chandra Alexandre, Global Fund for Women’s Vice-President of Development. The goal is to leverage local knowledge and expertise with donor funds to create system-level change for women in the Global South.

Global Fund for Women is headquartered in San Francisco, but five members of its 41-person staff are in New York, and four more work remotely from various locales. The organization was founded in 1987, and since then has invested in roughly 5,000 grassroots organizations in 175 countries. Its approach encompasses both advocacy and grant-making, with an emphasis on supporting, funding and partnering with women-led groups and movements. According to their website: “Our vision is that every woman and girl is strong, safe, powerful, and heard. No exceptions.”

Chandra Alexandre has been Development VP for over three years, and spoke to me by phone from her office in San Francisco. Alexandre, who is also an Adjunct Professor in the University of San Francisco’s Master of Nonprofit Administration program, has a wide-ranging background. Prior to assuming her position at Global Fund for Women, she was the lead fundraiser at Partners in School Innovation, and has worked in the banking sector and in the U.S. diplomatic corps. Alexandre earned an MBA at San Francisco’s Presidio Graduate School, which focuses on justice and sustainability, and a Ph.D. in Asian & Comparative Studies from the California Institute of Integral Studies.

Alexandre’s doctoral research took her to India, and she says that experience is paying dividends in her current work. “My knowledge gained from living, working, and being with women in India has definitely informed my world view and current position,” she says. “It helped me understand women’s issues globally, and women’s lived reality in the Global South.”

Much of Alexandre’s time is spent talking to people, and not just donors. “Sometimes it’s in-house experts, such as our grants-operation team who are in constant contact with our grantees, and sometimes it’s touching base with an activist board member,” she says. Alexandre also reads grantee reports, and on occasion will go right to the source. “After Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti in 2016, it was me picking up the phone and speaking with one of our grantee partners,” says Alexandre. “It was a statement of solidarity, but also checking on how they were doing. I was trying to see what was happening, and what was most needed.”

Alexandre’s communications with key Global Fund for Women players in the U.S. and overseas enables her to be a conduit of information and perspective about women’s lives in the Global South. “It’s about letting donors know how they can shift the tide in terms of making positive change in women’s lives,” she says.

Global Fund for Women invests in projects of various scales and durations, depending on local needs and conditions on the ground. A major recent initiative was a 2017 partnership focusing on garment workers, undertaken with the NoVo Foundation, C&A Foundation and Gender at Work. The effort is combating gender-based violence and improving working condition for women in major garment-producing countries including India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia.

The aim is to activate local women to become agents of change, with garment workers learning about their rights, acting on those rights, and creating systemic change. The initial round of grants to local organizations were awarded last summer.

Not surprisingly, as Development VP, Alexandre spends an important part of her time cultivating donors. She champions Global Fund for Women’s mission, but also listens to donors, seeing where their interests lie and how these match-up with Global Fund for Women’s programs. She says that some donors are interested in a specific region or country, but many are passionate about an issue like gender-based violence or reproductive health and rights. They want to contribute to change, and trust Global Fund for Women’s expertise and ability to forge relationships with partners and advisors abroad working in these areas.

Alexandre handles donations in the six and seven figures coming from individuals, institutions, and private and corporate foundations. She says that 84 percent of funds go directly to fund programs. Global Fund for Women has over 10,000 donors, so in addition to the major sums, there are many smaller one-time and recurring donations. Global Fund for Women also responds to emergencies, such as the earthquakes in Haiti in 2010 and Nepal in 2015. “We know that when humanitarian organizations respond to crises, the needs of women and girls are often last in line,” she says.

Global Fund for Women’s staff are always in motion, whether on the programming or donor side. “As a public foundation we’re constantly fund-raising.  Unlike a private foundation, we don’t have a regular draw against an endowment to rely on to support the whole of our grant-making and advocacy efforts,” says Alexandre. Global Fund for Women’s operating budget is projected to hit $25 million annually by 2020, and in the 2017 fiscal year it awarded ten million dollars in grants, the most ever in the organization’s thirty-plus year history. Global Fund for Women funds new initiatives, but is also aware that past gains can disappear. “We are placing a real emphasis on resistance,” says Alexandre. “We don’t want to see a rollback on women’s gains in areas such as education or reproductive rights.”

Alexandre notes that Donald Trump’s election has spurred activism in the U.S. around women’s issues. While this is laudable, the downside is that mobilizing against the Trump agenda domestically may cause one to forget about the status of women outside the U.S. “Increasing awareness is key,” say Alexandre, suggesting that not just Global Fund for Women, but the women’s human rights sector overall needs more exposure and funding. “We need to support communities in the U.S.,” says Alexandre, “but we also need to look at global issues and stand in solidarity with our sisters in the Global South.”


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Martha A. Taylor: On Accelerating Social Change for Women

Martha A. Taylor, longtime women’s philanthropy expert and Vice President of the University of Wisconsin Foundation, shares insights about how to accelerate social change for women.

“Major societal change happens through major institutions,” says Martha A. Taylor, women’s philanthropy pioneer and Vice President of the University of Wisconsin Foundation. Taylor doesn’t discount the energy that comes from the streets, and in January she attended the Women’s March with her then 94-year-old mother, who carried a sign invoking both FDR and Obama. Still, Taylor says that for women to effect change, they need to occupy leadership positions in major institutions.

That maxim applies to the corporate, political and non-profit spheres. “When you sit in a board room where hundreds of millions of dollars are raised, that gives you real power and ability to impact society,” says Taylor, who notes that prior to the women’s movement, women’s leverage was applied from outside the power structure. “Now women can exert our leadership from within as well,” she says, “Where real change takes place.”

Taylor started working at the University of Wisconsin Foundation (UWF) in 1975, after completing a BA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree focusing on philanthropy and higher education at West Virginia University. In 1988, she co-founded the UWF’s Women’s Philanthropy Council (WPC), the first co-ed university major gifts organization of women philanthropists. The impetus for its founding was simple. Traditionally, monied male graduates had comprised 95 percent of the prospects for fund-raising, and women were an afterthought. Taylor realized that half the team was sitting on the sidelines, and with the WPC she made a concerted effort to attract female donors of means.

One of Taylor’s pre-internet strategies for getting the word out on women’s philanthropy was to pick up the phone. “We would just call reporters at various papers and let them know what we were doing,” says Taylor. One of those calls resulted in a 1991 New York Times Magazine article by Anne Mathews entitled “Alma Maters Court Their Daughters.” The piece quoted Taylor extensively, and focused on the wellspring of untapped money and expertise residing in college alumnae.

The NYT Magazine article noted that women didn’t give as much as men because fundraisers didn’t think they had much potential and so didn’t cultivate them; predictably, this lack of attention yielded a low level of female support. Beyond that, other reasons women didn’t give at the same levels as men included fear for their own financial security should they give too much money away, and the age-old practice of deferring to a husband or other family member regarding financial matters, including charitable giving. Some successful women were also suspicious and resentful of their alma maters, perceiving the upper reaches of higher education to be old boys’ clubs that excluded women and didn’t deserve their support.

Higher education has changed dramatically since the early 90s, and women are starting to attain more positions in leadership. Taylor celebrates that the top three administrators at UW-Madison are women, and that the leadership of the University’s current capital campaign is half female. Women also currently occupy the top administrative post at the flagships of the Universities of Wisconsin, Illinois and North Carolina; the multi-campus University of California and State University of New York systems; and the universities of Virginia, Connecticut, Kansas and Washington, as well as Harvard, Penn, Emory, Case-Western, and Brown.

Women approach giving differently than men says Taylor, noting that today women often give to higher education because of its potential for personal and social transformation. They engage differently than men, and desire small group participation versus one-on-one visits by development officers. They are not nostalgic for the good old days; rather, they want to foster opportunities for the next generation.

Not all women donors focus on female-centered causes, and Taylor says that in the focus groups she organized decades ago, women resented being pigeon-holed as interested in “women’s issues.” However, when asked what they were most passionate about, women often cited education, health care, and opportunities for women and underserved communities. For this reason, Taylor is less concerned than some about a schism between the women’s fund movement (donating to causes that benefit women and girls) and women’s philanthropy (women as donors to all causes). Taylor is not one to leave money on the table for the sake of movement purity.

In the wake of that early 1990s NYT Magazine article, Taylor received a slew of calls from non-profits, prospective donors, and boards from around the country. The problem was what to do with all of the information, and interest. Months passed, and Taylor says, “I had 100 people who I’d told I’d get back to, but never did.” It was out of this energy and pent-up demand around the issue of women’s giving that the National Network of Women as Philanthropists (NNWP) was born. It started with a newsletter written in collaboration with Sondra Shaw-Hardy, Taylor’s long-time friend and collaborator on all things philanthropic. That first publication was mailed to 225 people. The nascent organization was loaned an office by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Human Ecology, and had six founding members, each of whom developed a focus. Taylor’s primary interests were higher-ed and donor education, and Shaw-Hardy’s giving circles.

The NNWP became the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, and incorporated as a non-profit in 1997. In 2004, it joined the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. That alliance has given the WPI more resources, and a greater focus on research and education. Taylor is delighted with the evolution of the WPI, but says, “When Sondra and I founded it in 1991 we had to be more advocacy driven.” She notes that with its focus on media and advocacy Philanthropy Women is occupying a similar space as did WPI in its early years.

There had been women philanthropists for generations, but as far as conceptualizing the field, and seeing female donors as an entity distinct from men worthy of study and cultivation, Taylor and Shaw-Hardy were on the ground floor. To date, they have collaborated on several books on the topic, including the 1995 title Reinventing Fundraising: Realizing the Potential of Women’s Philanthropy, which defined the field. Taylor gladly shares the credit with her friend Shaw-Hardy, “I don’t think either one of us would have accomplished what we have if we had been working alone,” she says, adding, “It was so fun.”

Taylor has seen many changes over the last 40 years in women’s philanthropy. For starters, women are giving much more than previously. This is because they have physical and psychological control of more money than was the case years ago, and are increasingly the primary decision makers concerning philanthropy in the family. Moreover, today’s donors want to be partners in giving says Taylor, not simply check writers whose money is spent by others. Philanthropy is seen as a way for people to act on their values and pursue their passions. Rather than presenting donors with a laundry list of institutional needs, “We ask, what issues do you care about?” says Taylor. She has found that in the higher-ed arena, female donors are particularly interested in “programs and people,” with funding scholarships and professorships high on the agenda.

Taylor says that this less paternalistic approach to philanthropy has made women more generous, and powerful, than past generations. Taylor does sound a warning note, however, suggesting that while it is essential to see donors as collaborators rather than warm-blooded cash machines, one shouldn’t forget philanthropy’s reason for being: improving lives. She notes that donors can be lured into “feel-good giving” instead of “giving with an impact,” that can change lives. In order for the latter to happen, savvy donors need to financially support nonprofit and higher education organizational infrastructures and capacities. That’s why Taylor believes donor education is so important. Ultimately, all donors want their gifts to be used effectively.

A little ego is not a bad thing when you’re getting things done, and Taylor encourages women to use their names in their giving, rather than remaining anonymous. While every woman doesn’t need her name on the side of building, having women identified as major donors (whether alone or as part of a couple) provides a powerful example, and encourages others to realize their philanthropic potential. This is particularly important when courting very high net-worth individuals who are often surrounded by people of similar means. Visibility helps women donors understand and value their philanthropy and take full ownership of it. “You have to create the interest and passion around philanthropy,” says Taylor. “It needs to be just as exciting as buying a new house.”

Taylor, who lives in Madison with her husband, has two grown sons and three grandchildren. This year will be one of change, as she will be retiring from her position at the University of Wisconsin Foundation in July and moving over to the University itself where, not surprisingly, she will be teaching, researching and working in the women’s philanthropy field. Freed from actively soliciting funds herself, “I am going to drill down on donor education,” she says. Taylor says that her new role will included “teaching the culture of generosity,” as well as “leveraging women’s voices.” While Taylor has been focused on women’s philanthropy in higher education over the last several decades, ultimately she says she is asking “What is women’s role in our democracy? And how do we realize that through philanthropy?”


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Ripple Effect: Longtime Expert to Cultivate Giving Circles Worldwide

Sondra Shaw Hardy is one of the founding thinkers behind the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University. Author of six books on philanthropy. Shaw Hardy is now launching a new organization focused on accelerating giving circles internationally.

“I remember standing up at a conference 16 or 17 years ago and saying that my dream is that there will be a women’s giving circle in every city in America,” says Sondra Shaw Hardy. “I feel that my goal now is to take giving circles worldwide.” To that end, Shaw Hardy is starting a new organization called Women’s Giving Circles International, which will make expanding the giving circle model globally its primary goal.

Shaw Hardy has been called the “mother of giving circles,” and she will talk about the concept at the North American Community Foundations summit in Mexico City in early February. Shaw Hardy’s panel talk, “Meaningfully Engaging a New Realm of Donors for Local Action,” dovetails perfectly with the summit’s focus on locally generated, sustainable, equitable development.

This is not Shaw Hardy’s first professional visit to Mexico; in September 2017 she and long-time colleague Martha Taylor were invited to Monterrey to discuss female-centered charitable giving. While many of the women Shaw Hardy spoke to had considerable means, few had previously considered the concept of philanthropy by women, for women. They quickly embraced the idea, forming the Damos Juntas Giving Circle, and are taking “Círculos de Ayuda” beyond Monterrey (the country’s third largest metro area) to Mexico as a whole.

Shaw Hardy’s experience in Mexico confirms her previous impression that pooled direct-giving by donors is a compelling concept the world over. In June 2017, Shaw Hardy was invited by the German ambassador to the UK to speak at Germany’s embassy in London. The topic was women and politics in the United States, but Shaw Hardy also mentioned women and philanthropy, and found that her remarks on giving circles galvanized a cosmopolitan audience mostly composed of diplomats’ wives.

Shaw Hardy has been working in the women’s philanthropy field for 30 years, with a focus on giving circles for the last two decades. Her interest in giving circles was sparked when she picked up a People magazine (on a plane, she is quick to point out) and chanced on an article about Colleen Willoughby, the Seattle philanthropist. Willoughby was a founder of the Washington Women’s Foundation, and a pioneer in the field of “collective giving grantmaking,” a close cousin to giving circles. Willoughby had started a circle with two other women, and Shaw Hardy realized the power of women working together to fund change in their community.

Originally from Flint, Michigan, Shaw Hardy has lived in Traverse City—three hours northwest of Lansing on Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay—for decades. When we spoke by phone, she was in South Carolina, unsuccessfully trying to fend off the cold as the South had been recently blanketed by snow and ice. She lives most of the year in Traverse City with her husband, and has three children and eight grandchildren.

In the late 90s, Shaw Hardy was president of the Women’s Resource Center in Traverse City, and organized a giving circle, which grew to 65 members in four years. That circle’s goals were aligned with those of the Resource Center, and Shaw Hardy notes that giving circles typically fund applicants that focus on life’s essentials, including alleviating poverty, increasing women’s economic capabilities, and providing greater access to healthcare. “There is hardly any women’s giving circle that doesn’t have something to do with human services,” she says.

Shaw Hardy notes that she has helped set up over 30 circles, and while groups across the country are diverse, there are certain commonalities and guideposts in their founding: Circles need to be composed of people who enjoy each other’s company, members should have similar interests and goals, and five to seven people is a good number for launching a circle. Finally, members need to participate in the grant-making process so that all are active decision-makers. Established giving circles typically average 150 members, and some have as many as several hundred.

The movement was formalized and given a boost in 2001 when Wendy Steele established Impact 100 in Cincinnati. The model of a pass-through foundation that relies on its members to make grants to local organizations in culture, education, environment, family and health soon spread to other cities throughout the country. According to Impact 100, its affiliated organizations had given away more than $45 million by the close of 2016.

The advantage of giving circles is that they leverage modest individual donations into a critical mass. “By pooling their monies,” says Shaw Hardy, “women are seeing the impact they can have versus giving small amounts.” Shaw Hardy suggests that this collective giving is literally empowering women, giving them an input and influence far greater than if members had donated the same amount as individuals.

Circles are also essential in putting women into decision-making positions. “Giving circles have emboldened women to become members of nonprofit boards,” says Shaw Hardy. Previously, women were often reluctant to serve on boards, says Shaw Hardy, but now they have greater knowledge and confidence. The result is more women heading organizations, and women becoming increasingly comfortable leading campaigns to raise money for causes important to them.

This larger grant-making influence has an important consequence: “Women have become more political as a result of their involvement,” says Shaw Hardy. “In addition to belonging to a giving circle and contributing money, they are also giving money to political candidates who favor their issues, and even running for office themselves.” Shaw Hardy says that along with promoting self-esteem in girls and increasing opportunities for low-income women and girls, “getting more women to run for office” is a personal priority for her. She has her own experience to draw on, and says, “I didn’t know I was a feminist until I found myself serving on a County Board of Commissioners with 14 men.”

Shaw Hardy says the significant growth in women’s philanthropy is partly due to women’s more prominent role in the work place. “Women have careers, they have more than just jobs. They earn more money than before.” Shaw Hardy believes that by increasing their giving and being involved in grant-making, women have achieved greater financial agency and power.

“Women are now talking about money, a subject that was once considered inappropriate for them to discuss,” says Shaw Hardy. “And that, combined with control of their money, whether earned, inherited or married, has resulted in women’s participation on organization finance committees.” The result, she says, is that women no longer fear balance sheets or financial plans, and their greater financial acumen has “changed the face of philanthropy, and the way couples give.”

Shaw Hardy has been on the ground floor of many organizations, and says she is happy to get something going, and then move on. Most recently, Shaw Hardy helped launch Woman2Woman TC (the TC is for Traverse City). It formed in 2016 in support of Hillary Clinton—and drew a crowd of 400 at its first meeting—and has since continued to support progressive female candidates, including Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow. The group, which counts over 2,500 members on Facebook, also encourages local women to run for office.

Shaw Hardy’s position as the doyenne of giving circles, and supporter of progressive female-centered causes, has an unusual origin: initially, she started out at as a Republican Party fundraiser. She obtained the position after graduating from Michigan State University in Lansing. Shaw Hardy subsequently earned a law degree, and then went to D.C. to become a Republican lobbyist, a position at which she says she did not distinguish herself. Part of the problem was motivation. “Let’s just say that I did not share the philosophy of the Reagan administration on abortion rights, or on U.S. involvement in Latin America.”

Shaw Hardy broke with the GOP and moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where she started fundraising for non-profits and working with Martha Taylor of the University of Wisconsin Foundation. In 1991, Taylor and Shaw Hardy founded the forerunner to the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, which became part of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University (IU) in 2004. Shaw Hardy has served as an adjunct professor in philanthropy at IU, and in the 1990s was head of development at her alma mater, Western Michigan University. Regardless of her position, she has maintained a focus on women donors, and has written six books on the topic, many of them collaborations with Taylor, including the 2010 volume Women and Philanthropy: Boldly Shaping a Better World.

Now Shaw Hardy is embarking on another journey in shaping a better world by launching Women’s Giving Circles International. The organization’s website is under construction, and plans are afoot to make more ripple effects in the giving circle movement, this time worldwide.


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Relationship-Building for Progressive Power: A Conversation with Leah Hunt-Hendrix

Leah Hunt-Hendrix, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Solidaire.

“How do you get movements to scale, while at the same time keeping them based on relationships?” asks Leah Hunt-Hendrix, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Solidaire. It’s a question central to many progressive movements that want to help communities grow from within.

Solidaire formed in 2013, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street Movement, the Arab Spring, and anti-austerity protests in Europe. These disparate movements did not seek narrow policy change; instead, they sought to question—and remake—their societies, disrupting systemic inequality and injustice.

Like these movements, Solidaire seeks to support non-traditional social transformation, says Hunt-Hendrix. By empowering grassroots organizations like Black Lives Matter and their allies, it directs funding at the crosshairs of political struggle and progressive change.

And how is Solidaire growing its impact? By growing its own relationships, of course.

“Often, people find us through other members,” says Hunt-Hendrix of Solidaire’s more than 150 participant donors.  Hunt-Hendrix spoke to me by telephone from her apartment in San Francisco, her Maltipoo, Malcolm, occasionally punctuating the conversation with a bark.

Members of Solidaire contribute $5,000 yearly to the organization’s operating budget, and another $10,000 to a pooled fund for grantmaking (“Movement R&D”). Members can also fund particular groups, and support “Rapid Response for Movement Moments.” Solidaire is thus able to respond immediately to particular needs, yet at the same time build a movement infrastructure for the long term.

Solidaire’s five-person all-female staff is based in New York and the Bay Area, and recently closed the application process for its most recent round of Movement R&D grantmaking. In keeping with Solidaire’s philosophy of bottom-to-top activism, “Previous grantees work with members to help make decisions about the next cycle of funding,” says Hunt-Hendrix.

Support from Solidaire can be used for staging protests and events, convening conferences, hiring staff, trainings, and even installations. “We don’t want to constrain the recipient organization by insisting the money goes in a certain way,” says Hunt-Hendrix, who notes that traditional philanthropy has tended to be paternalistic, and reinforce rather than disrupt hierarchies.

Solidaire is particularly interested in supporting movements working for racial and economic justice, but feminist, ecological, immigrant, and other progressive movements are well represented. Grantees have included Black Momentum, Reclaim Chicago, Honor the Earth (Native American environmental issues), Jolt (Texas Latinos), and the Emergent Strategy Ideation Institute. The latter is a Detroit-based organization led by adrienne maree brown (no caps intentional) that fosters, “adaptation, interdependence, creating more possibilities, collaborative ideation, fractal thinking, transformative justice and resilience through decentralization.” In other words, not business as usual.

“One of my favorites,” says Hunt-Hendrix of grantee organizations, “is The Debt Collective, which is a union of debtors that collectively bargains with creditors.” As The Debt Collective website notes, “If you owe the bank $50k, the bank owns you. But if you owe the bank $100 million, you own the bank.”

But back to the question of how to fund grassroots movements through growing a community internally.  Hunt-Hendrix’s background may be of some help here. Her mother is feminist icon Helen LaKelly Hunt, and her father relationship guru Harville Hendrix, author of numerous self-help books in the field. They are a true “power couple” in building what they term a “Relationship Revolution … in which the primary value is relationship and universal equality is a reality.”

“They were very much an influence,” says Hunt-Hendrix; still, she says she is surprised at how much her current work mirrors that of her mother. Hunt-Hendrix says that in addition to a passion for gender equity, her mother recognizes, “the role of money in movement building.” In other words, people of means using their wealth to counteract pernicious systems of economic inequality, sexism, and racism.

Hunt-Hendrix is a descendant of Texas oil barons (the Hunt Family), and grew up in New York. She attended Duke as an undergraduate, and went on to earn a Ph.D. in religion, ethics and politics from Princeton. Her thesis was on the concept of solidarity and its role in European social movements. Hunt-Hendrix did not aspire to a position in academia, and says her doctorate was part intellectual exercise, part trade-school. “I really wanted to have a better understanding of how social movements work,” she says. “It helped me understand a theory of change, and how we form a collective identity and create a ‘we.’”

An additional influence on Hunt-Hendrix was the time she spent in Egypt, Syria and Palestine in 2007-2009. Hunt-Hendrix left for the Middle East after her first year at Princeton, and spent her time abroad learning Arabic, and studying and working with NGOs and direct-action movements. She concluded that traditional NGOs were not effective in disrupting power structures, and that social change had to come from collective action on the part of the disenfranchised.

Of course, Hunt-Hendrix could have gotten this education in any number of places, but says she had just started college at Duke when 9/11 happened, and, “It felt like we were suddenly at war with the Middle East.” She knew the situation was more complicated than that, and wanted to spend time in the Arabic world to better understand the region and its people. The struggles of Egyptian peasants and occupied Palestinians that she observed have turned out to be highly relevant to resistance efforts in the U.S.

“Protests and demonstrations are a form of narrative,” says Hunt-Hendrix. “People are putting their bodies in the street to bring attention to an issue. They are using direct action to make a point.” Solidaire supports such actions, says Hunt-Hendrix, because, “Nobody wants to fund them.” Challenges to the prevailing order, particularly by marginalized communities using unconventional tactics, make people uncomfortable. Moreover, traditional donors often don’t see the connection between such movements and policy change.

“It should be seen as a process,” says Hunt-Hendrix, “The first step is starting a conversation.” This is followed by strategizing and organizing, and then changes in laws and practices. Finally, there is holding office-holders accountable. “Sometimes that effort takes you back to the initial conversation,” she says.

Generating ideas, getting grassroots buy-in, and galvanizing people to think about social change is essential, says Hunt-Hendrix. “People who want change often start with policy, without having brought in the voices of the community.”

Ultimately, Solidaire suggests that the process of reversing inequalities and promoting social justice is not just about legislative and administrative nuts and bolts, but also the relationships that people have with one another, and the economic, political and cultural structures within which those relationships occur.


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Clinton’s What Happened: A Frank Post-Mortem on the 2016 Election

The title What Happened can be taken two ways: “This is how it went down,” and, “How did this unexpected, horrendous, and still mystifying result obtain? WTF Happened?” Clinton covers both, and is finally able to mention, now that the election is done, the role gender played.

In addition to the female factor, here is the short list of reasons Clinton enumerates that caused her defeat: race, the pseudo scandal of her emails, voter rage and desire for change, the media, fake news, the Russians, Comey, and Bernie. Plus, it is rare for a party which has held the presidency for two consecutive terms to win a third. Moreover, as Clinton points out several times, she won the popular vote—as did Al Gore in 2000—suggesting that the electoral college is a poor mechanism for expressing the national political will. To the above autopsy, add Republican voter suppression and gerrymandering.

I don’t think these are “excuses” as some critics claim, but rather explanations, many of which are mutually reinforcing, and all of which have been advanced by other observers as well. Moreover, because the election was so close, almost any one of them could have been that decisive factor tipping the balance. Naturally, we don’t have to accept all of what Clinton writes as truth, but I find it dispiriting that without having read the book (of course), some bright-lights are shouting, “What happened is that you lost, now shut-up!” But Clinton has good reason to speak:

The lessons we draw from 2016 could help determine whether we can heal our democracy and protect it in the future, and whether we as citizens can begin to bridge our divides. I want my grandchildren and all future generations to know what really happened. We have a responsibility to history—and to a concerned world—to set the record straight.

One area Clinton won’t go is the actual workings of her campaign, and how ultimately it failed to put her in the White House. If you are reading What Happened to find out who dropped the ball in Michigan or Wisconsin, prepare to be disappointed. Understandably, she doesn’t want to torch her team, who surely must be smarting almost as much as she is in the wake of the defeat. And, it’s poor form for the general to blame the soldiers. Instead, Clinton name-checks dozens of the people who worked on the campaign—as well as her hairdressers in Chappaqua and Manhattan—and notes how brilliant, amazing, fun-loving, kind-hearted and hard-working they all were.

There are also tidbits that “humanize” Clinton, and we learn that Hillary is an aficionado of Goldfish crackers, the Chicago Cubs, Downton Abbey, NPR, Dove ice cream bars, Broadway musicals, and Elena Ferrante novels. Plus, she owns two dogs, is a devoted grandmother, and cared for her mother in her final years at home, a luxury she is quick to admit most people can’t afford.

Clinton’s political and personal loyalty is displayed throughout What Happened (if you had never before heard of Bill Clinton, you’d conclude from this account that he couldn’t be more of a mensch and devoted, supportive spouse). Another Clinton quality is resilience. It is amazing that less than a year after the election she has produced a tome of this size (464 pages) and quality. (It’s not all gold, and she is not a lyrical or clever prose stylist, still, there is more good stuff here than is found in many books by politicians). So, points to Hillary for not retreating into a years-long Netflix, Doritos and vodka binge, as would be her perfect right.

Hillary’s ability to bounce back is nothing new: after Bill’s scandals in the 90s, and the contempt that she too was held in during that period, she was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2000, ran for the Democratic leadership in 2008, served as Secretary of State under Obama, and then again stood for the presidency in 2016. It doesn’t appear that she intends to leave public life any time soon, and is clearly a workhorse. She seems barely to have paused in the nearly half century since she served as class speaker at her 1969 Wellesley College graduation.

But back to What Happened. One thing that happened is covered in the chapter, “Those Damn Emails.” Here Clinton points out that she was not alone in using a private email account for government business. Hard not to sympathize with her on this point. The email drama was a partisan exercise by the Republicans who, having failed to “get” Clinton with Bengazi, found another cudgel with which to beat her. If the Republicans started this grotesque snowball rolling, it was, in Mrs. Clinton’s telling, the media and James Comey who made sure that it wouldn’t melt but rather grew to become a weaponized ice pellet capable of taking out a political eye.

The scandal had two dimensions – one was that the ever-secretive Clinton was trying to keep her dirty dealings off the books, the other that even if there was no actual malfeasance on her part, she recklessly endangered national security by potentially exposing classified documents. In the summer of 2016, long after the brouhaha over her private server had started, hacked DNC emails were published by WikiLeaks, and again the words “Clinton” and “emails” were in the news, even though the hack and the private email account were unrelated. Clinton admits that using her own account for government business was a mistake, still no evidence of wrongdoing or security breaches have ever been produced. That the Republicans would try to exploit this non-scandal is no surprise, but what really frosts Clinton is that The New York Times (and other media outlets) devoted an inordinate amount of space to the matter, week after week, month after month.

For months after the election, I tried to put it all out of my mind. It would do me no good to brood over my mistake. And it wasn’t healthy or productive to dwell on the ways I felt I’d been shivved by then-FBI Director Jim Comey—three times over the final five months of the campaign.

As angry as Clinton is with The New York Times (and NBC’s Matt Lauer), she is even more furious with FBI Director James Comey, who had stated on July 5, 2016 that that he was closing his investigation, but also noted on July 7 that while Clinton’s conduct wasn’t criminal, she was careless and had potentially jeopardized national security. Clinton argues that by publicizing the investigation Comey was interfering in the election. And, she asks rhetorically, if Comey was so committed to openness, then why did he not reveal that the Trump administration was being investigated for its Russia ties?

Even worse, on October 28, less than two weeks before the election, Comey announced that he was reopening the investigation. Why? Well, Clinton’s right-hand, Huma Abedin, had made an unfortunate marital choice—disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner—and the FBI was investigating him, and so was examining laptops belonging to Weiner and Huma, which contained emails with Hillary. There was no indication that the emails that Comey was looking into were new or were problematic, and Comey said as much, but the fact that emails were again in play was highly damaging.

One need not assume bad faith or partisanship on Comey’s part to recognize that his handling of the email episode was poor. One explanation, which Clinton lightly touches on, is that it was generally assumed that Clinton would win, and if it was revealed post-election that she had been under investigation, particularly if something did come of the new emails, then it would be demanded of Comey why he had kept quiet, since he had previously announced the closing of the investigation.

The word “emails,” Clinton notes, was the most talked about element of the campaign. It is both specific and vague, fueling the notion that something was out there, something was being concealed, even if one couldn’t specify what that was. Trump’s scandals—sexual assault, fraud, voluminous conflicts of interest, serial bankruptcies, unseemly relations with foreign powers, not disclosing tax returns—and his crude insults of women, Mexicans, African Americans, Muslims, veterans and the disabled—not to mention key people in his own party and random public figures—were, of course, much worse, but the email non-scandal had remarkable staying power and potency. Of course, not all of the attacks on Clinton were nothing-burgers served up as main courses, there was some tainted beef amongst the garnishes. From Clinton:

I spoke to audiences from a wide range of fields: travel agents and auto dealers, doctors and tech entrepreneurs, grocers and summer camp counselors. I also spoke to bankers.

Here Clinton seems willfully obtuse in her account of taking money from investment banks for speeches. She says it was wrong, but puts it down to “bad optics.” She reasons that in her three private talks to Goldman Sachs, for which she received $225,000 each (she never mentions the audience or amounts involved, but is highly attentive to detail elsewhere) she spun yarns about her time as Secretary of State and didn’t tell her listeners anything of consequence. She argues that she often sides against Wall Street interests, and would never tarnish her record by changing a vote because of a speaking fee. If we are talking about a quid pro quo, I tend to believe her, but she fails to acknowledge the root issue. Why is Goldman Sachs paying her such handsome fees? Because they are nice guys and can’t think of anything else to do with their loot? No, it is a way to retain access and cordial relations with a person whom they assume will become the next president. Easy to see how this money helps Clinton and her campaign, but hard to understand how it aids those outside the upper-most income brackets. Of course, Wall Street coziness is in no way limited to Clinton, and the Trump administration is nakedly corrupt in ways that are almost without precedent. Still, when Clinton claims that Bernie snuck in and sucked up the space that she was occupying as a feisty progressive, I have to say no, that door was opened very wide for him.

Clinton notes that she and Bernie wrote the Democratic convention platform together, and that he endorsed her and campaigned for her, but there is lingering bitterness toward this unlikely challenger. Her chief complaint is that Sanders was continually upstaging her with lofty, lefty promises that he would never be able to fulfill, making her look like a scold and a wet blanket. She’s correct, but since she was the establishment candidate and had no serious opponent from that quarter after Biden decided not to run, the only place opposition was going to come was from the left. Hillary says the primary battle damaged her, but that is part of the American system, and there was no point in Bernie competing against her if he was not going to distinguish himself in a substantial way. Hillary also complains that the “Bernie Bros” harassed her supporters online (not clear how widespread this was), but omits mention of the “Sanders Sisters,” young women who were fervent Bernie backers, but never really warmed to Hillary.

Clinton dispatches in a line or two the pre-convention resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz as DNC Chair. This came in the wake of the WikiLeaks dump revealing that the DNC was not a neutral arbiter, and wanted Clinton over Sanders. Naturally, the Berners were not happy. I was not surprised; after all, Sanders was a Johnny-come-lately to the leadership game and was essentially trying to blow up the party. Clinton dismisses the matter as sour grapes on the part of Sanders’ supporters. But if the shoe were on the other foot, and she was the challenger and it emerged that the party leadership was putting its finger on the scale, I doubt that she would be so cavalier.

Clinton is also ticked at Green Party leader Jill Stein, and notes that the Green vote totals in key swing states were more than the difference between hers and Trump’s. The implication being that had Stein dropped out and told her people to vote Democrat, we wouldn’t have Trump. This kind of math is always dangerous; Clinton could ask why millions of voters stayed home, rather than why a few percent chose to vote for a female candidate other than her. Is it possible there were valid reasons for voting for Stein (war, environment, income inequality) other than foolishness, hubris, or spite? Clinton writes:

In 2016 our democracy was assaulted by a foreign adversary determined to mislead our people, enflame our divisions, and throw an election to its preferred candidate. That attack succeeded because our immune system had been slowly eroded over years. Many Americans had lost faith in the institutions that previous generations relied on for objective information, including government, academia, and the press.

Clinton is plenty fired up about the Russians, and with good reason, although she sometimes engages in overreach. It is one thing to note that the Russians tried to influence the election, that their activities helped Trump, and that the Trump camp had inappropriate and likely illegal dealings with Russian interests before and after the election. The Mueller investigation is now teasing out these strands. However, one must proceed with caution before going further on this. It is a commonplace among Democrats that the Russians “hacked” the election, but some are conflating the email hacking and other dirty tricks with voting-machine tampering.

Moreover, planting targeted “fake news,” trolling social media, and hacking the DNC are one thing. But it is a stretch to say that Trump is Putin’s puppet; if so, the Russian strong-man seems to be a poor puppet master. In September, Russia expelled 755 U.S. diplomats in response to new sanctions from Congress. The Russians probably did not expect Trump to win (their end game appears to be weakening U.S. democracy), and Trump, while a narcissistic buffoon, is nothing if not unpredictable and unable to keep his mouth shut, so poor puppet material, despite his affinity for authoritarian he-men like Putin. Also, the U.S. is a vastly more powerful country than Russia (whose GDP is roughly that of Spain). The idea that the U.S. has become a puppet of this flailing autocracy is hardly credible.

Clinton casts the U.S in the role of victim here, an outpost of good, forever standing up for its European and Asian allies, yet continually being undone by the Russians and Chinese, who just don’t play fair. Influencing, and actively disrupting, foreign governments and elections in ways both subtle and violent has been a staple of U.S. foreign policy for well over a century. Of course, two wrongs don’t make a right, but it seems this would merit at least a tiny mention if we are speaking as frankly as Mrs. Clinton suggests we are.

Clinton is silent about her own very hawkish foreign policy; most recently she was the architect of the policy to engage in regime change in Libya (“We came, we saw, he died”), a move which helped fuel the rise of ISIS. All kinds of ridiculous things have been pinned on Clinton, things that she either did not do, or for which responsibility falls on many shoulders. Libya is not one of them, that was her baby. She also voted for the Iraq war. Not sure what’s worse, that she thought it was a good idea, or did so out of political expediency. This is not nit-picking; Clinton seems to have little problem with U.S. militarism (the U.S. has bases in roughly 75 countries and troops in many more), and she mentions not once the United States’ astonishingly high defense budget, which surely is crowding out spending on the domestic programs that she champions.

I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a change maker for most of my life. My journey took me from student-activist to citizen-advocate to politician-policy maker. Along the way, I never stopped searching for the right balance of idealism and realism.

It’s on the issues of health care, reproductive rights, gun control, and improving the lives of children where Clinton writes most passionately. She is a veteran of battles in these areas dating to the 1970s, and rightly wears the mantle of leader. While Sanders owned the issue of income inequality, Clinton points out that he has been squishy on guns and abortion rights. Most recently, Clinton was a strong advocate for the victims in Flint, after the astonishing dereliction by Republican officials in Michigan resulted in lead-poisoned water in a poor, largely African American city.

Clinton has been accused of being too wonkish and too caught up in policy details (this seems like criticizing a heart surgeon for being overly preoccupied with cardiac anatomy). This is a problem that other smart candidates have also faced: a kind of ignorant, delusional decisiveness seems to be de rigueur among presidential aspirants. Obama skirted this barely (it couldn’t have hurt that he was following two terms of Republicans who prosecuted a disastrous war and prevailed over the worst economic collapse in 80 years). But yes, Clinton is an “A” student, and like Democratic candidates Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004 learned, that is suspect. To suggest that trade, immigration, education, health care, and taxation are difficult issues that have complex solutions and many trade-offs is heresy in Trump Land. Remember “I alone can fix it!”? Of course, this was followed a few months later by, “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” No, nobody knew that. Nobody at all. Zero people had such knowledge.

And you can throw truth out the window. In 2004, Kerry, a Vietnam vet, was portrayed as a ditherer who was “soft on terror,” while his dimwitted draft-evading opponent George Bush was a plain-spoken brush-clearing man-of-action ready to take on foreign bad guys big and small. Amazingly Bush, scion of an oil dynasty, and a former president’s son, was seen as a regular joe with whom you’d like to share a beer, and Kerry an arrogant, French-speaking, flip-flopper, exposed by the patriotic Swift Boaters as a fraud. Similarly, in 2000, Gore the Bore was unredeemable with his yakking about social security, the environment and other complicated policy stuff and junk. Trumpism is a three-legged stool of sexism, racism and anti-intellectualism, and Clinton, like some of her Democratic predecessors, may on occasion be too smart for the room.

I know that for a lot of people, including a lot of women, the movement for women’s equality exists largely in the past. They’re wrong about that. It’s still happening, still as vital and urgent as ever.

And it was and is the story of my life—mine and millions of other women’s. We share it. We wrote it together. We’re still writing it. And even though this sounds like bragging and bragging isn’t something women are supposed to do, I haven’t just been a participant in this revolution. I’ve helped lead it.

Clinton states that for some time she felt that she did not have Bill or Obama’s grand backstory. She was one of three children who grew up in a stable middle-class home in the Chicago suburbs. Her childhood was not one of struggle and privation like that of her husband, nor did it have the amazing arc of biracial Obama’s journey from Hawaii to Indonesia, Harvard, Chicago and the White House. She states that over time it was the women’s movement that formed her, and which she in turn helped inform.

Clinton’s book may be most valuable in its recounting of the role that gender played in the election. “Build the Wall,” was big among Trump fans, but so too was “Lock her Up!” and “Trump that Bitch!” It’s one thing to dislike Clinton, but for some she was an embodiment of evil, an almost mythical or biblical source of it. Clinton writes:

In my experience, the balancing act women in politics have to master is challenging at every level, but it gets worse the higher you rise. If we’re too tough, we’re unlikeable. If we’re too soft, we’re not cut out for the big leagues. If we work too hard, we’re neglecting our families. If we put family first, we’re not serious about the work. If we have a career but no children, there’s something wrong with us, and vice versa. If we want to compete for a higher office, we’re too ambitious. Can’t we just be happy with what we have? Can’t we leave the higher rungs on the ladder for men?

Clinton notes on many occasions the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” position she was in. A woman in politics must project strength and authority, but once having done so is perceived as aloof, calculating, and ambitious (the latter term is used in a pejorative way when applied to women, but not men). She notes that she received high praise for her job performance when she was helping with Bill’s campaigns, serving as First Lady, Senator, or Secretary of State, but all of that melted away when she aspired to lead the country.

She also remarks that as men gain power they are seen as more likeable, but for women the opposite is true. Clinton writes that she was often asked why she was running, as if there was some dark motive at her core. The same question is rarely asked of male candidates. For women in politics, there is also the continual emphasis on appearance (being unattractive and attractive are both bad, as are being too stylish or a frump). And women are often attacked for their voice (grating, shrill), and demeanor (too emotional, too cold).

Sexism is nothing new for Clinton. She details how after she was admitted to Harvard Law, a professor there told her, “‘We don’t need any more women at Harvard.’” She chose Yale instead. As a lawyer in 1970s Arkansas, she was considered a curiosity, and notes that retaining her last name may have cost Bill the 1980 Arkansas gubernatorial election. She subsequently added “Clinton” to the “Rodham.”

Many people said during the election: sure, I’d vote for a woman, just not her. It’s a fair comment; after all, we say the same about male candidates (I’d vote for a man, but not him!). The problem is that because of the paucity of female candidates, particularly at the top end, it is hard to separate Clinton the candidate from Clinton the female candidate. Clinton rightly concludes that the only way to combat the very deep biases against women in politics, and leadership roles in general, is through exposure: more female candidates at all levels are needed.

Of all the influences that Clinton cites, she is most grateful to her mother, Dorothy Howell Rodham, a woman who essentially raised herself from the age of eight, and whose parents were negligent and neglectful. Amazingly, she survived her difficult childhood to become an engaged and loving mother whose support helped propel her daughter to great heights. Clinton’s passages about her mother, who died in 2011, are some of the book’s most compelling and heartfelt.

In addition to gender, Clinton cites race as a key factor in her defeat. As the dust settles on the election, there seems to be more and more evidence of this. For many people, Trump was payback for the U.S. having had a black president for two terms. Trump didn’t win in spite of his toxic stream of racist insults, he won because of the them. While there is a lot of talk about alienation and economic dislocation among the non-Coastal white working class, which Clinton is sympathetic to, in the October issue of The Atlantic, Ta-Nehesi Coates writes at length (“The First White President”) that antipathy toward non-Whites was the best predictor of Trump preference, not income. (Don’t forget that Trump won among white women, something that still seems incredible). If people thought that progress was being made on race relations with the election of Obama, those hopes have been doused with a very cold bucket of water with Trump’s ascendancy to the White House. From Clinton:

Unless people stay engaged and find ways to translate protests into political power, we aren’t going to stop Trump’s agenda or win future elections. To do that, we need to invest in political infrastructure: rebuilding the Democratic Party, training new candidates and staffers, improving our data and social media operations, beating back efforts to restrict voting rights, and more.

I know there are a lot of people—including a lot of Democrats—who are not eager to see me leading such an effort. They feel burned by my defeat, tired of defending me against relentless right-wing attacks, and ready for new leaders to emerge. Some of that sentiment is totally reasonable. I, too, am hungry for new leaders and ideas to reinvigorate our party. But if Al Gore, John Kerry, John McCain, and Mitt Romney can find positive ways to contribute after their own election defeats, so can I.

At the very least, Clinton can contribute in her particular areas of expertise, and she has several of them. Her anti-NRA comments following the Las Vegas shooting were spot on, and reflect her long-time advocacy in this area.

This is a watershed moment in U.S. politics. We may be witnessing the end of the two-party system with the Republicans splitting into a pro-business center-right party (embodied by people like Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, and so on) and a racist, nativist, populist element of Trump acolytes and tea partiers. For their part, the Democrats surging leftist faction (Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris) may separate from its more mainstream wing (Clinton, Diane Feinstein, Chuck Schumer, and most elected Democrats). Or maybe not, perhaps the dysfunctional two-party system will keep hobbling along, despite the contempt Americans feel toward their elected officials.

Where does Hillary fit into this picture? She is certainly an éminence grise in the party, and to this end has formed Onward Together, an organization devoted to supporting promising, up-and-coming progressive leaders and groups. With her motto, “Resist, insist, persist, enlist” she will not be retreating to her parlor anytime soon. As Clinton notes, she was hardly an objective observer of what happened in November 2016, and the events are still very close in the mirror. It will take some years for a full understanding to emerge, and we may never be satisfied with the answers.


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How This Nonprofit is Using the SDG’s to Help Women Thrive Globally

Emily Bove, Executive Director of the Women Thrive Alliance, which supports grassroots organizations in gender justice work globally.

“We see our members—grass roots organizations—as the experts,” says Emily Bove, Executive Director of the Women Thrive Alliance.

Women Thrive comprises 285 organizations in 53 developing countries. Based in Washington, D.C., Women Thrive supports its member groups in advancing women’s rights globally. “We only work with groups that are engaged in advocacy,” says Bove, citing Women Thrive’s expertise in this area. The other criteria for Women Thrive membership is that the participant organization have female decision-makers at the helm. Given its expansive membership roster and skeleton staff, much of Women Thrive’s work is virtual, including online courses aimed at helping member groups organize around gender and poverty issues.
While Women Thrive prioritizes women’s rights and equal access to education, Bove stresses that all aspects of development are interconnected, and breaking them up into discrete parts is somewhat arbitrary. “Women don’t wake up and say, ‘today my focus is on my child’s education and tomorrow it’s on clean water.’” The goals of women holding political power, controlling their own bodies, receiving fair pay and having access to education are interrelated, and all are key in furthering development.

Women Thrive was founded in 1998; Bove joined the organization in 2014, and has been leading it since 2016. When I spoke to her by phone in late August, she had just returned from a long-delayed visit to her native France. Bove grew up the town of Annecy in the French Alps, attended university in Lyon, obtained a master’s degree in Migration Studies from the U.K.’s University of Sussex, and subsequently came to the U.S. for a graduate exchange program at Georgetown. Along the way, she has worked in Cameroon, the Caribbean, and the Indonesian province of Acheh. “I’ve always been interested in development, but over time found I was increasingly drawn to its connections to women’s rights,” says Bove. Prior to joining the Women Thrive Alliance, Bove worked for the World Bank on climate change issues.

Women Thrive is an umbrella organization, and prospective members typically learn of it from the internet, conferences, and—“most exciting to me,” says Bove—being recruited by current members. While Women Thrive does not engage in direct service or distribute grants, it has provided tailored support to groups in Sierra Leone, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Nigeria. A team from Women Thrive recently returned from the small west African nation of Sierra Leone where it delivered a “Raise Your Voice Workshop” on female genital mutilation. Helping local groups eliminate such practices is a key focus of Women Thrive. The UN has long campaigned against what it has termed “harmful practices” toward women and girls (which, in addition to body mutilation, include early and forced marriages, and “honor” crimes directed at females).

Bove says that one way of pushing governments on issues such as female genital mutilation is to leverage the United Nations’ “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs) which were adopted by 193 countries (including Sierra Leone) in 2015. Of the 17 goals, Women Thrive and its membership are particularly focused on number four (Quality Education) and number five (Gender Equality). Bove argues that “the UN goals can be mechanisms for outlawing genital mutilation.” She notes that advocates in Sierra Leone are increasingly demanding that their leaders fulfill promises they have made regarding outlawing such practices (which were banned in 2014, although enforcement has been lackluster). The workshops that Women Thrive conducted in Sierra Leone aimed to improve female advocacy groups’ messaging, enabling the organizations to better pressure key actors in government and civil society to change attitudes and practices surrounding women’s bodies.

Another aspect of the UN SDGs (which, in addition to education and women’s equality, include goals devoted to reducing poverty, global co-operation, and environmental protection) is their time frame. The goals are to be accomplished by 2030, which, says Bove, goes well beyond the 2 to 3-year periods of many grants and programs. “Long-term processes need to be supported,” she says. “Our development model has failed to do that.” Moreover, one can’t assume that gains in female rights will be maintained over time. Bove cites her experience working in Aceh, the northern Indonesian province devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. “It’s a Sharia-dominated province where women actually had a lot of rights following the tsunami,” she says, “but 10 years later those rights have decreased.”

Women Thrive has never received funding from the U.S. government, counting instead on support from organizations including NoVo Foundation, Hewlett Foundation, New Field Foundation, Imago Dei Fund, and S. Albert Fund at the Philadelphia Foundation, among others. Women Thrive also depends upon “Thrive Ambassadors,” individual donors who leverage their own networks to promote the alliance and its mission.

While Women Thrive is not government-funded, Bove says the U.S. has typically supported empowering women globally. “In the past eight years [prior to the 2016 election], as a U.S.-based organization we could rely on U.S. leadership on these issues.” However, under the current administration, Bove says that “common understanding” has changed, and Women Thrive and like-minded organizations are “back to basics in explaining why supporting women and girls globally is important.” Bove cites a particular example: the latest U.S. delegation to the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women included an explicitly anti-LGBTQI organization (The Center for Family and Human Rights) that has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

A further area of serious concern is the U.S. 2018 fiscal year budget, which proposes reducing the International Affairs Budget by 32 percent, including deletion of the “International Organizations and Programs” line item. Naturally, this would undermine the U.S. commitment to UN Sustainable Development Goals, and other support for women’s rights and development globally. “We are working to find champions to maintain development aid,” says Bove, noting that Women Thrive has been informing members of the Senate and House about how damaging the budget cuts will be to women’s lives. To this end, Women Thrive is putting member organizations directly in touch with lawmakers, and Bove notes that “Members of Congress always seem surprised to hear from women and girls on the ground.”

While the current administration poses a significant threat to women’s rights globally, Bove notes that in the last two decades women have increasingly been acknowledged as central to development efforts. “The agenda of the global women’s movement is being mainstreamed into the fight against poverty,” she says. Finally, female-led grass roots organizations and social movements from around the world are demanding more of their political and institutional leaders, and such increased momentum will likely continue, regardless who occupies the White House.

Editor’s Note: Women Thrive is one of three spotlight organizations for Philanthropy Women. These organizations have been designated by our sponsors for media amplification.