In 1973, Gloria Steinem, Patricia Carbine, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, and Marlo Thomas created the Ms. Foundation for Women (MFW) to distribute profits from Ms. magazine to grassroots women’s organizations. The following year, the Foundation separated from the magazine and established its own grant program which was funded by royalties earned from the Thomas/Pogrebin et al. multimedia concept, Free to Be … You and Me.
Viewing the United States as a nation that routinely abuses and discriminates against women, MFW seeks to promote “equitable policy and culture change nationwide.” Toward that end, the Foundation has “seeded and strengthened social movements that have mobilized vital constituencies and solutions for social change.”
In the 1970s MFW became one of the first funders of domestic-violence shelters and sexual-assault hotlines in the United States. In the 1980s the Foundation created a Collaborative Fund for Women and Economic Development, which leveraged more than $12 million “in support of grassroots women’s organizations to promote women’s economic security.” In 1989 MFW began investing in local and state organizing for a “reproductive health and rights” movement led by, and carried out on behalf of, “low-income women and women of color.” The movement’s long-term objectives included universal access to taxpayer-funded contraception and abortion-on-demand.
Advocating an ever-expanding welfare state, MFW strongly opposed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, which was passed by a Republican Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. Also in 1996, the Foundation established the Women and AIDS Fund, dedicated to supporting community-based advocacy for women living with HIV/AIDS. Nine years later, MFW supported the creation of the National Women and AIDS Collective, America’s first national policy coalition for HIV/AIDS-affected women.
Between 2006 and 2008, grantees of MFW’s Sexuality Education Advocacy Initiative helped engineer the passage of left-wing policy proposals in six key states, including: (a) a mandate for comprehensive sexuality education in New Mexico, California, and Washington State, and (b) a rejection of the notion that the federal government could limit its funding for sex-education programs only to those that promoted abstinence-only-until-marriage.
In an effort to help bring “lasting systemic change” to what it regards as an inherently sexist American culture, MFW administers four major grant-making programs:
1) The Building Democracy program aims to “change systems that prevent people from participating fully in government and civil society”—most notably by injecting “principles of equity and justice” into the criminal-justice and immigration systems. This, says MFW, will benefit “those who have long been excluded from decision-making tables, especially low-income women, women of color, youth, LGBTQ individuals and immigrants.”
2) The Economic Justice (EJ) program is founded on the premise that “Americans want government to take a larger, stronger role in fixing the economy.” Toward that end, EJ invests in organizing for “just economic policies” that “promote the well-being and security of women, families and communities” by helping them access “living-wage jobs, affordable child care, paid sick leave, [and] job training.” Further, the EJ initiative promotes “women’s access to higher wages and greater economic security in emerging industries like green jobs.”
3) The Ending Violence program works in partnership with grassroots, state, and national organizations to “end gender-based violence” by “transforming” the allegedly widespread “policies [and] beliefs” that find expression in acts that inflict physical harm on women.
4) The Women’s Health program supports organizing at the grassroots, state, and national levels to “promote equitable access to health care and education” for “low-income women, women of color, immigrant women, women living with HIV/AIDS, and LGBTQ youth.”
Anika Rahman, a licensed attorney who was formerly the founding director of the Center for Reproductive Rights‘ International Program, has served as president of MFW since February 2011. Prior to joining the Foundation, Rahman spent six years as president of Americans for the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF); UNPF is the world’s largest funder of “reproductive health programs.”
MFW’s leaders and members were elated by the results of the 2012 U.S. elections, where President Barack Obama won a second term while congressional Democrats also registered significant gains in the House and Senate. Those political advances, said MFW, “affirmed” the ascent of “progressive values” vis à vis women’s issues. “After a year of relentless attacks on equal pay, reproductive health and everything in between,” the Foundation stated, “women have spoken” by supporting Democrats.
A member of the National Council of Women’s Organizations, MFW receives strong financial support from such entities as the American Express Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the AT&T Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America, the Fannie Mae Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Open Society Institute, the Public Welfare Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Sara Lee Foundation, the Scherman Foundation, the Surdna Foundation, the Turner Foundation, the Verizon Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Since 1973, MFW has awarded more than $50 million in grants to a host of national organizations (or, in some cases, their state chapters). Among those recipients are the Alliance for Justice, the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, the Center for Community Change, the Children’s Defense Fund, Choice USA, Fair Vote, the Feminist Majority Foundation, the Funding Exchange, Green For All, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, the NAACP, NARAL, the National Council for Research on Women, the National Council of Women’s Organizations, the National Immigration Law Center, the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, the National Organization for Women Legal Defense Fund, the National Partnership for Women & Families, the National Women’s Law Center, the New World Foundation, Planned Parenthood, Political Research Associates, Project Vote, the Proteus Fund, the Service Employees International Union, the Tides Center, Women’s Action for New Directions, and the YWCA.