We build women’s collective power in the U.S.

August 16, 2023

Ms. on the Move: Women Deliver Conference in Rwanda

by Teresa C. Younger

Members of the Ms. Foundation team often have the opportunity to travel around the country (and sometimes the world!) to learn from and share their expertise with feminists and leaders in the fights for gender and racial equity. The Ms. on the Move series offers a glimpse inside these experiences, and a chance for team members to share what they learned. 

Where were you? 

I traveled to Kigali, Rwanda, to attend the Women Deliver 2023 Conference in July. This year, the conference was hosted by the Rwandan government at the Kigali Conference Centre. The theme was Spaces, Solidarity, and Solutions. I was in Rwanda for 10 days, and I joined over 6,300 people fighting for a feminist future.

What did you do there? 

There were 80 side events in addition to those on the main stage at the conference. I had two official events scheduled while at WD2023, but as we know happens at conferences, I ended up in four to five different places! The first pre-conference activity was Fem the Future for Gender Justice, an event hosted by Global Fund for Women. In this conversation, members of the feminist philanthropy community from around the globe shared our ideas about intersectional feminist activism. Our discussions centered on an honest analysis of what philanthropy has the power to change and how folks worldwide can work daily to transform global philanthropic policy and practice. 

Next, I attended a powerful evening reception organized by Our Collective Practice and hosted by Caribbean Girls’ Collective, Every Story Sri Lanka, Eyala, and co-sponsored by Purposeful, Shake the Table, and Wellspring Philanthropic Fund to celebrate the launch of Stories of Girls’ Resistance. At the event, women and girls shared their personal stories of resistance with us. This project is unique to me because it is the most extensive oral history collection of girls’ activism. Malala Yousafzai shared her story of resistance at the reception.

The following day, I participated in a two-part fireside chat discussion hosted by The City Hub and Network for Gender Equity (CHANGE), where I had the honor of serving as moderator. The conversation centered on how municipalities can address the issue of gender-based violence. I was in conversation with and inspired by: Secretary Diana Rodriguez-Franco, Secretary for Women’s Affairs in Bogotá, Colombia; Lusungu Kalanga-Malamba, Principal Consultant – Gender Based Violence, Social Development Direct; Avni Amin, Senior Program Associate at the Center for Health and Gender Equity at the World Health Organization; Angella Agado, Senior Technical Advisor on GBV, CARE; and Amanda Austin, Senior Advisor of Global Engagement at Equal Measures. 

I learned a lot at these two conversations, but was particularly moved by the creation of the Bogotá CARE system, which is a policy-based solution for caregivers who provide unpaid care to their families. Advancing solutions that help everyone is possible.

Our second event was a community-building session where the Ms. Foundation collaborated with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to host an event for U.S.-based changemakers attending Women Deliver. Shuma Panse, senior program officer at RWJF, and I curated this conversation and what emerged was an opportunity to share and acknowledge our key learnings from the conference experience. Here are a few answers attendees shared when we asked, “What’s one thing you are taking away from Women Deliver?”

  • A newfound spirit to continue organizing and funding on a grassroots level.
  • Ways to integrate a climate education focus in the work of my nonprofit.
  • The incredible impact of the feminist movement across the entire world.
  • A better understanding of global funders supporting gender equity work.

Who were you in community with?

I was in community with fellow feminist siblings, new and old. I saw several partners, including: Farah Tanis, Executive Director and Co-Founder at Black Women’s Blueprint; Jaida Jenkins, States Organizer at Family Values at Work; Em Jackson Director of Peer Engagement and Support and Ana Zimmerman, Social Enterprise Manager at FreeFrom; Claudia Espinosa, L.O.V.E. Mentoring; Center for Intimacy Justice; and Black Girls Smile.

I also spent time with several leaders including: Lori Adelman, Acting Executive Director at Planned Parenthood Global; Elizabeth Bajas-Roman, President and CEO of Women’s Funding Network; Mallika Dutt, Program Director of Gender Equity and Governance at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; Dr. Geeta Rao Gupta, Ambassador-at-Large of Global Women’s Issues at the U.S. Department of State; Ruby Johnson, Co-Founder and Co-Director of Closer Than You Think; Latanya Mapp Frett, President and CEO of Global Fund for Women; Pat Mitchell, TEDWomen Editorial Director Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights; Dr. Herminia Palacio, President and CEO of Guttmacher Institute; Kavita Ramdas, Activist in Residence at Global Fund for Women; and Mona Sinha, Global Executive Director of Equality Now.

One of the old connections I made was with Sally McCabe, who I met while training elected officials at the National Democratic Institute at the Campaign School at Yale.

Were there any event highlights or learnings to share?

Absolutely. The Center for Reproductive Rights held a fantastic session on the legal status of abortion in countries globally. Through their research, they were able to illustrate categories of abortion laws from the least to most restrictive. While there is a positive trend toward recognizing abortion as a human right globally, unsurprisingly, the United States joins El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Poland as one of only four countries rolling back abortion protections.

At 50 years old, the Ms. Foundation needs to continue to build and deepen relationships globally as we and our grantee partners are part of a global feminist movement and are not in this alone. It is critical for the Ms. Foundation to be in relationship and partnership with our global siblings both to share and learn. The U.S. is often not seen as part of the global feminist community impacted by philanthropy. The feminist funding principles shared by global philanthropy such as general operating support grants, de-siloing issue areas, and providing multi-year grants, are those that the Ms. Foundation has long implemented.

As the United States’ national feminist foundation, learning from our siblings across the globe is essential. I am so grateful to all the badass feminists doing their thing and making an impact every day. Some of the gatherings were formal, and many were informal, but all the learnings at WD2023 will last a lifetime.