More than 300 guests from the worlds of philanthropy, activism, diplomacy and the private sector, gathered at the Mandarin Oriental in New York City on April 17 to join the International Women’s Health Coalition’s 2018 Annual Dinner for a celebration of bold activism in defense of women’s rights. The event raised more than $1.1 million to support IWHC’s vital work to advance the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and young people around the world.
The evening kicked off with a presentation of IWHC’s Visionary Leadership Award to United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein for his unwavering commitment to defending global human rights and multilateralism throughout his career. IWHC also presented its Joan B. Dunlop Award—named after the organization’s founder and first president—to Monica Oguttu, Executive Director of Kisumu Medical and Education Trust (KMET) in Western Kenya, which provides comprehensive reproductive health services to girls and women.
Building A Movement
In her opening remarks, IWHC president Françoise Girard acknowledged the political moment and the need for valiant leadership. “We are living in a moment of courage, of brave and bold activism,” she said. “A moment where people the world over, and especially women and girls, have decided we will not live in fear and darkness.”
Journalist and former IWHC board chair Kati Marton introduced High Commissioner Zeid and recognized his unapologetic commitment to human rights. “At a time when very few people are boldly speaking out about the temptation of authoritarianism and the infringement of freedoms, Zeid has minced no words,” she said.
A Call to Action
Speaking to a rapt audience, High Commissioner Zeid then stressed each person’s moral obligation to stand up for rights: “In the end, when the acts of public opinion fall on the neck of a young girl—poor, in many cases illiterate—it requires others to stand up and say: ‘You who are supporting this in society—you are wrong. Yours may be a majority opinion, but you are wrong…I ask all of you to make a stalwart defense of [human rights] because we will not allow them to cross the line. We will not allow that.”
The evening highlighted the impact of the Trump Administration’s reintroduction and expansion of the Global Gag Rule, bringing attention to the dangers the policy presents to women worldwide. The Gag Rule prohibits any organization receiving US global health funds from providing legal abortion services, information, or referrals, even with their own, non-US funds. Reflecting on Ronald Reagan’s first implementation of the policy in 1984, Girard stated: “It was then—and it is now—an outrage. An outrage born of an age-old system where women’s lives are undervalued, our rights are traded away to score political points, and our humanity is denied us to keep us in line.”
Mobilizing Resources to Empower Women and Girls
IWHC Program Officer Erin Williams presented the Joan B. Dunlop Award to Monica Oguttu, who expressed concern for the reproductive health advocates in Kenya that may have to curtail their services and advocacy in order to receive US foreign health assistance, and leave hundreds of thousands of girls without access to necessary health care. Appealing to the audience, she urged, “In the words and the spirit of Joan, it is time to plunge into trenches. Let us continue to mobilize resources to empower women and girls to raise their voices. Their voices must be heard. Their rights must be upheld.”
Reflecting on the origins of IWHC and its commitment to partnership, Girard said, “We make grants to women’s groups around the world, so that they can speak for themselves, for their health and human rights at home. So that they can be heard in the halls of power at the United Nations. We push for change side-by-side with them. And time and again, that way of working, in true partnership with women worldwide, has been a resounding success.”
If you missed the event and are inspired to support IWHC with a generous gift, please donate here.
IWHC would like to thank the 2018 Annual Dinner Steering Committee:
- Holly S. Andersen
- Alexander M. Farman-Farmaian
- Françoise Girard
- Hilary Gosher
- Marlene Hess
- Sandra Lawson
- Kirtna Pai Mehta
- Sophie Nicholson
- Susan Nitze
- Jameela R. Pedicini
- Marnie S. Pillsbury
- Kathleen Regan
- Sarah Billinghurst Solomon
If you are interested in joining the IWHC Annual Dinner Steering Committee for 2019, please contact Lindsey Amato at firstname.lastname@example.org or +1 212-801-1280.
Click here to see more photos from IWHC’s 2018 Annual Dinner.
Header photo: L-R: Monica Oguttu, IWHC President Françoise Girard, High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein | Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty Images for IWHC