I have a deep admiration for Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro, not only because of her impressive work as President and CEO of the Global Fund for Women, but also because of her tireless commitment to girls and women around the world. Global Fund for Women (GFW) defends and expands hard won gains in women's rights by focusing on three critical areas: zero violence, economic and political empowerment, and sexual and reproductive health and rights.
I interviewed Musimbi in commemoration of International Women's Day. Check out our interview below, where we discuss backlash against empowered women, the 2015 UN agenda, and, of course, the courage to keep going.
Sharon: Musimbi, last year the focus of our conversation was "No Limits for Women and Girls." This was inspired by your grandmother, who used to say "there is no limit to where you can go." One year later, what limits for women and girls do you observe in your work at GFW?
Musimbi: It's good to celebrate gains. Malala brought attention to challenges that many girls face, such as gender based violence including child marriage, rape and trafficking. More women are speaking up which is good. But there's a downside: backlash. Opponents using violence to intimidate and/or put women "back in their place."
Sharon: What efforts are most successful in addressing these challenges?
Musimbi: Women's resilience and ability to stay focused is the big one. The importance of educating girls is getting more positive attention and action. Countries such as Kenya and Egypt are revising or creating new gender-sensitive constitutions. Public and private partnerships investing in women bring good returns to communities. Getting more women in leadership especially in the political space is also essential.
Sharon: Some critics have voiced a concern about the place of girls and women in the United Nations post-2015 agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals. What is your perspective?
Musimbi: I am very involved in these discussions and believe that in order to achieve sustainable development, unleash human potential and reduce inequality to spur inclusive growth, we need three things: human rights and gender equality for women and girls, rights and empowerment of adolescents and youth, and sexual and reproductive rights for everyone.
These three objectives benefit all humanity. It would put the world on the right track to eradicate poverty and to improve education and public health, among other things.
Many of us in the women's movement are recommending a stand-alone goal on gender equality, with additional targets that cut across other goals like education and decision-making in social, economic, political and private life.
Sharon: What is the biggest opportunity for the Global Fund for Women in 2014?
Musimbi: We are focusing on capacity building to help organizations scale their work for greater impact. We are using technology, arts and multimedia to elevate voices of the unheard and connect story-telling with concrete activism to propel women's rights. We are collaborating more, while tracking and documenting the changes we see through our grantee partners.
Sharon: International Women's Day is a celebration of progress for and by women. What gives you the most hope?
Musimbi: Courageous women in the Congo, Afghanistan, Mexico and around the world give me hope. Women, who could easily give up but don't, give me hope. Great people like Mandela, who inspires millions, give me hope. Brave girls like Malala and men who do the right thing by treating women well give me hope.
There is an African proverb: "A bird does not fly with one wing." Men and women should work together for the good of all of our planet and us. Finally, my hope is strongly grounded in faith in God.
On International Women's Day and throughout the month of March, Johnson & Johnson will celebrate the Women Who Inspire Us. With our partners, we will introduce you to women who make extraordinary commitments to save and improve the lives of women, children and families around the world. Join us here on Global Motherhood and follow @JNJGlobalHealth to learn more and be inspired.