Celebrating Bold Leadership for Women’s Rights

More than 300 friends and supporters of the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) gathered on the eve of International Women’s Day to honor renowned human rights champion Aryeh Neier, president emeritus of the Open Society Foundations; and Pakistani activist Sheena Hadi, who leads the groundbreaking sexual and reproductive health organization Aahung in Karachi.

The event raised more than $1 million to advance the organization’s grantmaking and advocacy on behalf of women’s health and rights worldwide.

The audience gave a standing ovation to special guest Ambassador Samantha Power, who captured the essence of Neier’s work in a moving introduction. “By building a movement fueled by individuals, but embedded in institutions,” Power said, “Aryeh has helped create something that can bend but will not break. Human rights are under ferocious pressure right now, but its guardians are built to last. That durability is perhaps Aryeh’s greatest achievement.”

Neier is a pioneer in the reproductive rights movement in the United States, not only through his work as the head of the Open Society Foundations, but also as the head of the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, and as a longtime board member of IWHC. As head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, from 1965 to 1970, he led the charge to repeal laws that criminalized abortion. At Human Rights Watch, Neier expanded the organization’s portfolio to cover women’s rights specifically, advancing violence against women as a core human rights issue.

“Aryeh Neier is an unmatched and fearless leader of the human rights movement,” said Françoise Girard, President of IWHC. “At a time when people in the United States and around the world are facing increasing attacks on their fundamental rights, his experience and commitment to the feminist movement are a wellspring from which all of us can draw.”

The second standing ovation of the evening was given to IWHC grantee partner Sheena Hadi, who received the Joan B. Dunlop award, named after IWHC’s founding president. Her organization, Aahung, boldly takes on cultural taboos and works to improve young people’s access to sexual and reproductive health information and care. Sheena and her team successfully worked with Pakistan’s Department of Education in Sindh province—which has the country’s highest rates of child, early, and forced marriage—to integrate comprehensive sexuality education content into the school curriculum. Hadi is also an active advocate at the United Nations for women and youth.

“I can think of no one more deserving of the Joan B. Dunlop award,” said Girard. “Sheena’s deep commitment to Pakistan’s young people embodies Joan Dunlop’s tenacity in prioritizing the human rights of women and girls during her lifetime. Under Sheena Hadi’s leadership, Aahung is ensuring that thousands of young people can make choices about their lives and plan their futures.”

Guests left the event feeling energized and motivated by Ambassador Power’s call to action, “We are living in a world of echo chambers—who do you know who has influence in someone else’s echo chamber? Aryeh always got creative—we must too.”

See photos from the event here.

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