Reflections On 35 Years of Fierce Feminism

Since 1984, IWHC’s commitment to sexual and reproductive health and rights has ignited unprecedented progress for women and girls around the world. IWHC has been at the forefront of key milestones for the global feminist movement, and has advocated fearlessly to expand reproductive autonomy worldwide.

As part of our feminist movement-building, IWHC employs a trust-based grantmaking strategy to empower organizations and individual activists to drive change in their communities. To date, we have provided more than $35 million to the global feminist movement and supported 220 organizations and over 600 activists in 92 countries to advance gender justice. We have trained more than 250 feminist activists through our Advocacy in Practice program, which prepares young leaders to advocate for policies that advance sexual and reproductive health and rights at the United Nations and in their home countries.

As we conclude our 35th year, it is important to recognize how far we’ve come and recommit to our vision in which everyone, regardless of gender, enjoys their human rights and health, and has power over their lives.

“When IWHC was established, the very concept of reproductive rights was still in its infancy. But after 35 years of funding and working with feminist groups, these rights are widely recognized as human rights,” Françoise Girard, IWHC president.

IWHC has unwaveringly defended women’s rights in US foreign policy. IWHC was established in 1984, in part, to mobilize against President Reagan’s Global Gag Rule, which prohibited US funding to global family planning programs that included abortion services or counseling. Thirty-five years later, our work continues as we fight the Trump administration’s dangerous expansion of the policy. IWHC’s unparalleled documentation of the Global Gag Rule’s impact in Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria, and South Africa has illuminated how it devastates women’s health and has helped maintain pressure to permanently end this deadly policy.

IWHC has spearheaded major advancements for sexual and reproductive health and rights at the United Nations. In 1995, at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, IWHC successfully advocated for governments to recognize that reproductive rights are human rights. The campaign transformed the global framework for gender equality. In 2005, IWHC elevated reproductive health to the highest level of government commitment in the Millennium Development Goals. When the time came to negotiate the subsequent Sustainable Development Goals, IWHC led more than 600 women’s groups to push for the inclusion of gender justice and reproductive rights in the watershed 2030 Development Agenda. Our work continues. This September, IWHC co-led the Alliance for Gender Equality and Universal Health Coverage (UHC), which included more than 100 organizations from over 45 countries, to ensure the UN included women’s health and rights in its vision for UHC.

IWHC has always pushed the limits and challenged the global community to further gender justice. In 1994, IWHC led efforts to prioritize reproductive rights and gender equality, and helped secure bold commitments from 179 governments at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. Twenty years later, IWHC helped shape the World Health Organization’s first-ever guidance on safe abortion. We continue to be uncompromising in our demand for feminist policies. In 2017, IWHC and our longtime grantee partner MYSU hosted the inaugural international convening to confront the detrimental impacts of refusals of abortion care due to providers’ personal beliefs, and we remain vocal that so-called “conscientious objection,” has no place in health care. And, in 2019, we were instrumental to the inclusion of policies that advance the right to self-managed abortion in the Blueprint for Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice—a bold vision for domestic and US foreign policy, developed in coalition with leading reproductive rights groups.

Time and again, the feminist movement has proven the most effective actor to advance gender justice. As we look to the future, we remain committed to our role as advocates and grantmakers, and to working with our partners worldwide to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights for all.

Photo: UN Women/Amanda Voisard

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