Francoise Girard

“When I reflect on the past year, I am encouraged by all that we have achieved so far — not only as an organization, but collectively as a movement.”

President’s Letter

When I reflect on the past year, I am encouraged by all that we have achieved so far—not only as an organization, but collectively as a movement. We boldly, firmly, and successfully advocated for the rights of women and girls at the United Nations as governments negotiated a draft of what will be the “Sustainable Development Goals.” A blueprint for global economic and social development that will apply to all countries and not only developing ones, these goals will be finalized and adopted this year and used for the next 15.

Thanks to the dedication and hard work of women’s rights activists from around the world, and in spite of a well-organized and often vociferous opposition, we were able to secure a goal on gender equality, as well as commitments to promote universal access to sexual and reproductive health services and to uphold reproductive rights. When these goals are adopted in September 2015, every country will be accountable for implementing policies and programs that empower women and girls and safeguard their health.

While this development framework won’t be perfect, it will be an important starting point to further women’s health and rights. The next, and crucial, step will be developing adequate measures of progress on these goals—whether and how much governments are advancing their people’s health, economic status, and social welfare. National and local women’s groups will play a critical role in holding their governments accountable.

Yet, while the passion and dedication of the women’s movement is strong, its funding is limited. A recent review found that the median yearly income of more than 740 women’s organizations worldwide was only $20,000. Many of our local partners face similar financial constraints. Without support from the International Women’s Health Coalition, they would be at risk of closing down. The world can’t afford to let that happen.

It’s clear that the work of the women’s movement is far from over. There is much to be done—especially now that world leaders and policymakers seem to be moving from rhetoric to real action. At IWHC, we will continue to support and mobilize local groups and leaders and advocate for a just world where women’s rights are fully upheld.

With dedicated and generous supporters like you, we can make our voices heard even louder and make a lasting impact on the lives of women and girls.

Françoise Girard

Marlene-Hess-2014-AR

“One of the greatest hallmarks of IWHC is its ability to identify and mentor emerging leaders like Mairamou who can build strong movements in their countries.”

Message From Our Board Chair

As Board Chair of the International Women’s Health Coalition, I have the privilege of meeting many amazing women and girl activists from around the world. These bright young leaders are fighting against the odds and creating lasting change in their own communities.

Mairamou is one of our partners from Cameroon. When she was only 12 years old, Mairamou was forced by her father to marry one of his friends, who was in his late 40s. In her region—the extreme north of Cameroon—nearly 80 percent of adolescent girls are forced into early marriages. Thankfully, Mairamou escaped her marriage—and with the help of IWHC, she and other young girls like her started a support group called APAD.

Today, Mairamou and APAD travel to communities across Cameroon to educate parents, community leaders, and girls themselves about the harms of child marriage. They are the face of a new generation, standing up to injustice and proclaiming loudly that girls’ lives matter.

One of the greatest hallmarks of IWHC is its ability to identify and mentor emerging leaders like Mairamou who can build strong movements in their countries. IWHC invests in these young women, and gives them the tools, mentorship, and funding they need to succeed. Since its founding in 1984, IWHC has helped build more than 80 organizations in 60 countries.

Of course, social change doesn’t happen overnight. It requires sustained pressure at the global, regional, and local levels. Ten years ago, IWHC was one of a few international organizations calling for a global strategy to end child marriage, a practice that every year deprives 15 million girls of their rights. Thanks to this sustained advocacy, ending child marriage is now a global priority, and in 2014, the leaders of 118 countries committed to a plan of action to end this human rights violation.

None of this change would be possible without your sustained support and partnership. Thank you for standing with us in advocating for gender equality and helping to realize the health and rights of women and girls. Together we can enable the next generation of girls to not only lead healthy and safe lives, but to thrive.

Marlene Hess

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Highlights from 2014

A Celebration of Bold and Independent Voices

Aryeh Neier, Justice Ginsburg, and IWHC President Françoise Girard at the evening's panel discussion. (Photo: ©Sean Sime)
CNN's Erin Burnett (far right) moderated a panel discussion with IWHC partners (from left to right): Fadekemi Akinfaderin of Education as a Vaccine (EVA); Yvette Kathurima of FEMNET; and Sheena Hadi of Aahung. (Photo: ©Sean Sime)

“Maybe the reaction to Hobby Lobby will get some of my colleagues to think a little more than they did. When the Court goes the wrong way, it can be a very effective tool.”

IWHC marked its 30th anniversary on September 9, 2014, with an evening of bold and independent voices for women’s health and rights. Nearly 300 passionate supporters of IWHC gathered in New York City to reflect on how far women and girls have come in the past three decades, and how much further we need to go.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg—a champion for women’s rights in the United States—joined IWHC President Françoise Girard and IWHC Board Member Aryeh Neier in a dinner conversation on legal advances and setbacks for gender equality and reproductive rights.

“A woman’s control of her own body, her choice whether or when to reproduce, that’s essential to women and it’s most basic to women’s health to have the ability to have access to whatever contraception she chooses,” said Justice Ginsburg.

Justice Ginsburg spoke candidly about her dissent in the controversial Hobby Lobby case, where the Court majority (all men) ruled that “closely held” corporations do not have to provide employees with health insurance coverage for contraception if they are morally opposed to it. This decision was widely criticized for essentially saying a corporation may have religious beliefs, and that those beliefs trump a woman’s right to health care. In her fiery dissent, Justice Ginsburg wrote, “the Court has stepped into a minefield.”

However, she noted that widespread backlash to the decision could lead to positive change.

“One couldn’t think of a health care package today responding to the needs of people in the community that wouldn’t include contraceptives,” said Justice Ginsburg. “So maybe the reaction to Hobby Lobby will get some of my colleagues to think a little more than they did. When the Court goes the wrong way, it can be a very effective tool.”

In a panel discussion led by Erin Burnett, host of Erin Burnett OutFront on CNN, IWHC’s partners from Nigeria, Kenya, and Pakistan offered similar hope for their countries.

Sheena Hadi, director of Aahung in Pakistan, discussed her organization’s innovative life-skills education program that teaches girls and boys about gender discrimination, sexual abuse and domestic violence, family planning, and a woman’s right to decide if, when, and whom she marries. This program has been adopted by both public and charter schools and is now taught as part of the curriculum in more than 250 schools in Sindh Province.

Fadekemi Akinfaderin, co-founder and executive director of Education as a Vaccine (EVA), one of Nigeria’s leading nonprofit organizations, noted that sex and puberty are still taboo topics in Nigeria and that parents are reluctant to talk to their daughters about basic health issues like menstruation. To fill this gap, EVA reaches youth directly through peer outreach, social media, and a text messaging hotline that receives 15,000 messages a month. Since its inception, EVA has reached more than 700,000 young Nigerians with information about HIV prevention, sexuality, and contraception.

Yvette Kathurima, head of advocacy of FEMNET, the African Women’s Development and Communication Network based in Nairobi, Kenya, works closely with women’s groups in 40 countries across Africa to amplify women’s voices and increase women’s participation in political debates and decision-making. FEMNET is spearheading a number of campaigns, including efforts to end harmful cultural practices like child marriage and female genital mutilation. The work is challenging, but FEMNET has made great strides by partnering with cultural and community leaders.

IWHC thanked the visionary activists and Justice Ginsburg for their work and for inspiring a new generation of young people to join the global movement for women’s health and rights.


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Joan B. Dunlop Award

Dr. Ninuk Widyantoro, center, pictured with IWHC President Françoise Girard and Ambassador Ib Petersen, Permanent Representative of Denmark to the United Nations.

Dr. Ninuk Widyantoro, center, pictured with IWHC President Françoise Girard and Ambassador Ib Petersen, Permanent Representative of Denmark to the United Nations.

On June 9, 2014, IWHC presented the second annual Joan B. Dunlop Award to Dr. Ninuk Widyantoro, co-founder of the Women’s Health Foundation in Jakarta, Indonesia. A determined and highly effective activist, Ninuk played a key role in reforming Indonesia’s national health law in 2011. The new law improved maternal health care services for poor and rural women, increased access to generic medicines, and decriminalized abortion in cases of rape or when the life of the woman is at risk.

Ninuk played an important role at the landmark International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo in 1994, which put women’s rights at the center of population policies. In 2013, Ninuk was a key advisor to the Indonesian government at the Sixth Asian and Pacific Population Conference in Bangkok, where governments adopted a robust declaration stating that gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights are indispensable to sustainable development, and must be a key part of the next global development agenda.

The Joan B. Dunlop Award was created in tribute to the extraordinary legacy of IWHC’s first president, who passed away on June 29, 2012. The award comes with a cash prize of $7,500 and is presented annually to an activist who is working under difficult circumstances to promote the health and rights of women and girls.

Ninuk accepted the award, noting that Joan was a mentor to her and supported her to establish the Women’s Health Foundation in 2001. “Receiving this award at this time—when the road ahead is still long and unclear and so much more work needs to be done in Indonesia to ensure our health and rights—it is just what I needed most,” said Ninuk.

Partner Spotlight: Girls’ Power Initiative

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Strong, assertive, articulate, informed.

These are some of the words that have been used to describe graduates of Girls’ Power Initiative (GPI) in Nigeria. Girls in GPI’s training are armed with the strategies, skills, and self-esteem they need to negotiate their adolescent years in good health. These young women represent the country’s next generation of leaders, committed to realizing their vision of social justice and gender equality.

In Nigeria, adolescent girls are disproportionately vulnerable to HIV, sexual violence, unwanted pregnancies, and trafficking. To address these challenges, the International Women’s Health Coalition helped launch GPI in 1993 and continues to provide the organization with financial and technical support.

“Working with IWHC has been unique because it’s a relationship; it goes beyond funder/grantee,” said Grace Osakue, who co-founded GPI with Bene Madunagu. “IWHC and GPI join hands to come up with the solutions to support GPI’s new visions.”

GPI began as a life-skills education course for 16 girls. Today, GPI reaches approximately 20,000 girls a year through outreach programs and its own TV show. It has become an international model for educating young women about human rights and gender equality.

GPI programs fill the gaps left by the standard education system by giving girls vital information about their bodies, their rights, and their responsibilities. These lessons empower girls to take control of their reproductive and sexual lives and realize their full potential as individuals.

At the policy level, GPI advocates for comprehensive sexuality education to be taught as part of official school curricula. In 2001, GPI played a critical role in the passage of Nigeria’s Family Life and HIV Education curriculum. In 2014, the textbook was updated to include a stronger focus on gender equality and on challenging harmful gender norms.

Although its programs have grown significantly, the girl remains at the heart of GPI’s work.

“GPI’s mission is to empower girls to become catalysts for change and bring about gender equality in Nigeria,” Osakue says. “The heart of what we do is training girls to think critically, to make informed decisions, and to take actions for themselves and on behalf of others.”

IWHC would like to thank its donors for investing in women and girls.

Download the annual report for a full list of donors in FY2014.