Feminist Majority Foundation Honors Women’s Rights Leaders

Marcy Bloom

The Feminist Majority Foundation's Global Women's Rights Awardees are an awe-inspiring group of women's rights pioneers.

There are
some occasions in our lives that are truly magical, unforgettable, and
visionary. The evening of May 7, 2008 was one of these.

That night,
I was privileged to attend the gala dinner of The Feminist Majority

Fourth Annual Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Global Women’s Rights in
Los Angeles. One of the illustrious honorees was my colleague and friend,
María Luisa Sánchez Fuentes. She is the executive director of the
Mexico City-based organization for which I am the US representative, Grupo de Información
en Reproducción Elegida/The Information Group on Reproductive Choice
, Mexico’s leading voice for reproductive
justice and access to legal abortion. For many years, María Luisa has
been deeply committed to women’s rights, dignity, respect, and the
decriminalization of abortion in Mexico. She was instrumental in the
incredible victory of April 24, 2007, when abortion in the first trimester
was decriminalized in Mexico City
. Women’s lives have been saved
since that momentous day, as more than 7,000 women have been able to
access quality and safe abortion care.

María Luisa
is one of those unassuming dynamic and inspirational leaders whose openness,
caring, articulation, power, and dynamism are infectious. In fact, May
7 was an evening of powerful leadership. The evening was
filled with the inspiration of many who have worked so hard to make
a difference in the lives of the women of the world.

Founded in
1987, the Feminist
Majority Foundation

(FMF) is the nation’s largest feminist research and action organization
dedicated to women’s equality, reproductive health, and non-violence.
The organization’s premise is that feminists — both women and men — who
believe in women’s equality are in the majority — but the majority must
be empowered. The FMF’s programs focus on advancing the legal, social,
and political equality of women with men, countering the backlash to
women’s advancement, and recruiting and training young feminists to
encourage future leadership in the feminist movement. The FMF consistently
incorporates a global focus in all of its work. Thus, their Campaign for Afghan
Women and Girls
launched in 1997, and chaired by the indomitable FMF board member Mavis Leno, is the first of its kind to build
a U.S. grassroots constituency around a foreign policy issue of women’s

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:


Yet another
indomitable and respected leader who was present and whose vision was
keenly felt throughout the evening was Eleanor
"Ellie" Smeal
FMF’s president and one of its founders. Ellie has been a key women’s
rights leader for more than thirty years and is one of the architects
of the modern drive for women’s equality. In addition, Katherine
"Kathy" Spillar
another FMF founder, the executive vice-president of the FMF, and the
executive editor of Ms. Magazine, as well as Peg Yorkin, philanthropist,
and co-founder and board chair of FMF, also both welcomed and inspired
the audience to stand up and do more for women.

But the evening
really belonged to the three dedicated award winners who were present
that evening. All have made it their life’s work to serve the reproductive
health needs of women, especially in areas of the world where women’s
rights are severely compromised and where health care is sorely needed.
The honorees truly represent the best and the brightest.

Dr. Nafis
became the executive director of the United Nations Population
(UNFPA) in
1987…just in time for women. Before she became UNFPA’s leader, the
agency was more likely to support coercive population policies than
truly see the larger picture of women’s health, rights, and gender
equity. When she accepted the post of UNFPA’s executive director,
Dr. Sadik became one of the highest-ranking women in the U.N. and the
first woman to ever serve as executive head of one of the U.N.’s major
voluntarily funded programs. Dr. Sadik, a Pakistani gynecologist, made
women’s empowerment and rights primary to the UNFPA mission. With
her dynamic vision and leadership, the agency has also tackled maternal
mortality, the feminization of AIDS, education for girls, and ending
poverty for women and girls. In 1994, she served as the Secretary-General
of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD)
in Cairo and was instrumental in reshaping the world’s reproductive
health agenda. This resulted in a 20-year program setting forth guidelines
regarding women’s health, reproductive rights, reproductive health,
education, economic opportunity, gender equity, and development — all
considered to be landmark achievements. Now, as the special envoy to
the U.N. for HIV/AIDS in Asia, she continues to work for the empowerment
and equality of women and girls. She has repeatedly
spoken out
the feminization of the AIDS pandemic and the adverse effects of girls
having children at a very young age when they are s "physically, intellectually,
and emotionally underdeveloped."

Dr. Solomon
, a Kenyan gynecologist, has never fully accepted his country’s
statute outlawing abortion. Kenya has been described
as being one of 69 countries with the
"most restrictive laws" on abortion
In fact, according to the February 17, 2002 New York Times, women in
Africa are more likely to die during unsafe abortions than any other
women in any other place in the world. One in 150 abortions in Africa
end in death and the problem is particularly acute in the countries
of East Africa. Despite the numerous obstacles, possessing true vision
and leadership, Dr. Orero founded Kisumu Medical and Educational Trust,
which expands access to reproductive health services. He is able to
circumvent the oppressive abortion law of his country by using a loophole — the
exception allowing abortion to save a woman’s life — to perform safe
and respectful abortions for women and girls who would otherwise seek
out unsafe and life-threatening abortions. He has trained hundreds of
other health care workers to treat the brutal effects of botched abortions
and this has given them the tools to provide safe abortion care — and
save lives — as well. Besides being a provider and educator, Dr. Orero
also continues to fearlessly speak out against Kenya’s abortion law
and the deadly U.S.
Global Gag Rule
which has forced the closing of at least eight desperately needed women’s
health clinics in Kenya.

Last year,
following a multiple-year campaign and arduously working to educate
the many diverse sectors of Mexican society, first-trimester abortion
was decriminalized in Mexico City. One of the visionary leaders and
driving forces behind this incredible accomplishment for Mexican women’s
human rights and respect is María
Luisa Sánchez Fuentes
, the executive director of Grupo de Información
en Reproducción Elegida
María Luisa has long been committed to issues of women’s rights,
human rights, women’s dignity, and women’s poverty. Placing abortion
on the public agenda as issues of public health, social justice, equality,
and democracy, and declaring illegal and unsafe abortion to be a form
of torture and violence against women, combined with international trends
and international treaties that Mexico has signed, proved to be a brilliant and successful
that turned
back even the ferocious protests of the Catholic Church. Now,
with this breath-taking victory and "miracle of Mexico City," María
Luisa will continue to work relentlessly to lead GIRE forward in its
next critical efforts. These consist of training more hospital personnel
to provide safe and compassionate abortion care, decriminalizing abortion
in all of the states of Mexico, and turning back the constitutional
challenges to the new law that will be heard this summer by the Mexican
Supreme Court. María Luisa is truly a leader and role model for the
women of her country…and for all of us.

Of course,
all of the awardees are courageous and committed leaders and true humanitarians.
With conviction and compassion, these three amazing individuals have
changed the destinies of millions of women and girls-and saved their
lives. Their award is appropriately named for Eleanor Roosevelt, herself a visionary, humanitarian,
civil rights advocate, and passionate believer in human dignity and
worth. She always believed that her greatest achievement was her work
on the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which she imagined would
become a cornerstone in the
struggle for human rights

and fundamental freedoms for everyone, everywhere. And, in many ways,
it has.

To be surrounded
by inspiration, commitment, brilliance, passion, vision, power, and
leadership is truly spectacular and unforgettable, and gives me hope for
a better world and renewed respect and rights for women and girls.

Analysis Politics

Timeline: Donald Trump’s Shifting Position on Abortion Rights

Ally Boguhn

Trump’s murky position on abortion has caused an uproar this election season as conservatives grapple with a Republican nominee whose stance on the issue has varied over time. Join Rewire for a look back at the business mogul's changing views on abortion.

For much of the 2016 election cycle, Donald Trump’s seemingly ever-changing position on reproductive health care and abortion rights has continued to draw scrutiny.

Trump was “totally pro-choice” in 1999, but “pro-life” by 2011. He wanted to shut down the government to defund Planned Parenthood in August 2015, but claimed “you can’t go around and say that” about such measures two months later. He thinks Planned Parenthood does “very good work” but wants to see it lose all of its funding as long as it offers abortion care. And, perhaps most notoriously, in late March of this year Trump took multiple stances over the course of just a few hours on whether those who have abortions should be punished if it became illegal.

With the hesitancy of anti-choice groups to fully embrace Trump—and with pro-choice organizations like Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and EMILY’s List all backing his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton—it is likely his stance on abortion will remain a key election issue moving into November.

Join Rewire for a look back at the business mogul’s changing views on abortion.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:


News Human Rights

What’s Driving Women’s Skyrocketing Incarceration Rates?

Michelle D. Anderson

Eighty-two percent of the women in jails nationwide find themselves there for nonviolent offenses, including property, drug, and public order offenses.

Local court and law enforcement systems in small counties throughout the United States are increasingly using jails to warehouse underserved Black and Latina women.

The Vera Institute of Justice, a national policy and research organization, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge initiative, released a study last week showing that the number of women in jails based in communities with 250,000 residents or fewer in 2014 had grown 31-fold since 1970, when most county jails lacked a single woman resident.

By comparison, the number of women in jails nationwide had jumped 14-fold since 1970. Historically, jails were designed to hold people not yet convicted of a crime or people serving terms of one year or less, but they are increasingly housing poor women who can’t afford bail.

Eighty-two percent of the women in jails nationwide find themselves there for nonviolent offenses, including property, drug, and public order offenses.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:


Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform,” calls attention to jail incarceration rates for women in small counties, where rates increased from 79 per 100,000 women to 140 per 100,000 women, compared to large counties, where rates dropped from 76 to 71 per 100,000 women.

The near 50-page report further highlights that families of color, who are already disproportionately affected by economic injustice, poor access to health care, and lack of access to affordable housing, were most negatively affected by the epidemic.

An overwhelming percentage of women in jail, the study showed, were more likely to be survivors of violence and trauma, and have alarming rates of mental illness and substance use problems.

“Overlooked” concluded that jails should be used a last resort to manage women deemed dangerous to others or considered a flight risk.

Elizabeth Swavola, a co-author of “Overlooked” and a senior program associate at the Vera Institute, told Rewire that smaller regions tend to lack resources to address underlying societal factors that often lead women into the jail system.

County officials often draft budgets mainly dedicated to running local jails and law enforcement and can’t or don’t allocate funds for behavioral, employment, and educational programs that could strengthen underserved women and their families.

“Smaller counties become dependent on the jail to deal with the issues,” Swavola said, adding that current trends among women deserves far more inquiry than it has received.

Fred Patrick, director of the Center on Sentencing and Corrections at the Vera Institute, said in “Overlooked” that the study underscored the need for more data that could contribute to “evidence-based analysis and policymaking.”

“Overlooked” relies on several studies and reports, including a previous Vera Institute study on jail misuse, FBI statistics, and Rewire’s investigation on incarcerated women, which examined addiction, parental rights, and reproductive issues.

“Overlooked” authors highlight the “unique” challenges and disadvantages women face in jails.

Women-specific issues include strained access to menstrual hygiene products, abortion care, and contraceptive care, postpartum separation, and shackling, which can harm the pregnant person and fetus by applying “dangerous levels of pressure, and restriction of circulation and fetal movement.”

And while women are more likely to fare better in pre-trail proceedings and receive low bail amounts, the study authors said they are more likely to leave the jail system in worse condition because they are more economically disadvantaged.

The report noted that 60 percent of women housed in jails lacked full-time employment prior to their arrest compared to 40 percent of men. Nearly half of all single Black and Latina women have zero or negative net wealth, “Overlooked” authors said.

This means that costs associated with their arrest and release—such as nonrefundable fees charged by bail bond companies and electronic monitoring fees incurred by women released on pretrial supervision—coupled with cash bail, can devastate women and their families, trapping them in jail or even leading them back to correctional institutions following their release.

For example, the authors noted that 36 percent of women detained in a pretrial unit in Massachusetts in 2012 were there because they could not afford bail amounts of less than $500.

The “Overlooked” report highlighted that women in jails are more likely to be mothers, usually leading single-parent households and ultimately facing serious threats to their parental rights.

“That stress affects the entire family and community,” Swavola said.

Citing a Corrections Today study focused on Cook County, Illinois, the authors said incarcerated women with children in foster care were less likely to be reunited with their children than non-incarcerated women with children in foster care.

The sexual abuse and mental health issues faced by women in jails often contribute to further trauma, the authors noted, because women are subjected to body searches and supervision from male prison employees.

“Their experience hurts their prospects of recovering from that,” Swavola said.

And the way survivors might respond to perceived sexual threats—by fighting or attempting to escape—can lead to punishment, especially when jail leaders cannot detect or properly respond to trauma, Swavola and her peers said.

The authors recommend jurisdictions develop gender-responsive policies and other solutions that can help keep women out of jails.

In New York City, police take people arrested for certain non-felony offenses to a precinct, where they receive a desk appearance ticket, or DAT, along with instructions “to appear in court at a later date rather than remaining in custody.”

Andrea James, founder of Families for Justice As Healing and a leader within the National Council For Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, said in an interview with Rewire that solutions must go beyond allowing women to escape police custody and return home to communities that are often fragmented, unhealthy, and dangerous.

Underserved women, James said, need access to healing, transformative environments. She cited as an example the Brookview House, which helps women overcome addiction, untreated trauma, and homelessness.

James, who has advocated against the criminalization of drug use and prostitution, as well as the injustices faced by those in poverty, said the problem of jail misuse could benefit from the insight of real experts on the issue: women and girls who have been incarcerated.

These women and youth, she said, could help researchers better understand the “experiences that brought them to the bunk.”


Vote for Rewire and Help Us Earn Money

Rewire is in the running for a CREDO Mobile grant. More votes for Rewire means more CREDO grant money to support our work. Please take a few seconds to help us out!


Thank you for supporting our work!