By Kavita N.Ramdas
I remain smitten by the phrase: women's rights are human rights. This mantra has been at the heart of my work and the lens through which I have viewed and engaged the world during my tenure at the Global Fund for Women. The result? Over $84 million in grants to thousands of women-led groups in more than 170 countries. Not too shabby!
Inspired by the 1994 Cairo Conference on Population and the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women, I felt fortunate to come to the Global Fund in 1996. We were already supporting women's groups struggling with war and conflict in countries like Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia. Little did we know then that Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, would be similarly affected as the Bush administration embarked on an endless war catalyzed by the tragic events of 9/11. Those years at the Global Fund sometimes felt like being in the belly of the beast, at the heart of empire.
Yet, it was our very location in the United States that enabled us to understand the real fear and unease in many Americans as also their widespread desire to engage with the global community in positive ways that profoundly differed from their nation’s military interventions. We were humbled by the generosity of individuals and institutions – together our philanthropy invested in women as we built genuine relations of trust, respect, and empathy. More than ever, the Bay Area’s Golden Gate Bridge seemed a fitting metaphor for the Global Fund as we sought to span differences of ethnicity, religion, nation, culture, and class.Today, we are the world's largest publicly supported foundation supporting women's human rights. A review of our grantees’ work makes it clear that we are also leaders in funding environmental justice, peace and reconciliation, sustainable agriculture, reproductive health and sexuality, economic independence, political and civic participation. The Global Fund has chosen to be a bio-diverse, organic ecosystem in a field defined by monoculture, single-issue funding! We are proud of this bias towards holistic, general support funding – women activists know that our lives are too interconnected to do anything less.
After 14 years, I am excited to hand the torch to a new team of leaders. I have no doubt that Global Fund will thrive because women, like an untapped natural resource, hold creative and trailblazing solutions to the world’s most pressing problems – from heightened religious extremism, environmental disasters, to militarization and economic recessions. Women are at the heart of every civil society – they deserve all the resources we can muster in solidarity with their leadership and vision.I will continue to advocate for gender justice and human rights in my new capacity as a Visiting Scholar and Fellow at the Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society and the Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, at Stanford University and as a Senior Advisor to the Global Fund. As I raise a glass to the next chapter with my friends and colleagues, I hope that key global institutions will soon learn to value and prioritize women's voices on the ground and to celebrate movements for justice that are always bottom-up and never top-down. As an incurable optimist, I am ready to toast to that dream becoming a reality for I do believe that a new world is on her way…