Though I will not be joining the staff of the Ms. Foundation until February, I wanted to take a moment to introduce myself and express my appreciation and excitement about joining this community of social justice trailblazers.
I have spent my entire life and dedicated my career to women's rights and dignity. I am thus deeply honored that the Ms. Foundation has invited me to become its next president and CEO. This is a remarkable and iconic organization, one that has a track record of impact more than three decades long. It was the first women's fund, an early leader in the fight for reproductive health and justice, one of the first foundations to address all forms of violence and one of the leading voices for bringing a gender lens to the field of philanthropy. I was drawn to the Ms. Foundation not only because of the wins in its past, but also because of the innovative, powerful and vital work it is part of right now. The Ms. Foundation must continue to be an anchor institution for the women's movement.
I came to the United States at the age of eighteen to attend college, first earning my Bachelor's degree at Princeton and then my Juris Doctorate at Columbia Law School. Since those days, I have focused on helping women throughout the world as they have worked to improve their lives and the lives of those in their communities.
Women and social justice are in my DNA. From a very early age, I felt first hand the devastation of inequality. In Bangladesh, where I was born, my father was able to divorce my mother by simply saying three times, “I divorce you.” The laws and cultural mores that allowed him such power and freedom did not apply to my mother who, because she was a woman, had very few rights. I continued to experience my society's attitudes towards women as being restricted and painful because I saw the world through the eyes of the three women who raised me -- my grandmother, my mother and my aunt. These three incredibly strong women taught me to be unbowed by injustice, to fight it and to be tenacious. I am who I am because of what they taught me. I fight for women's rights and for human dignity for them and for my daughter.
Of course, my experience with discrimination did not end when I grew to adulthood.
As an immigrant, a woman of color and a Muslim, I know what it is to be different. I know what it is to be hurt by prejudice, ignorance and injustice. But I also have the privilege of education, voice and opportunity. I know that the only way to create change and to create a better world is to harness our collective energy and to take action. I believe in the possibility of change because I have seen it in my own life. I believe with my whole heart that the work of the Ms. Foundation staff, grantees and donors is making that change a reality. And there is so much more work for us to do together.
I very much look forward to getting to know and learning from the Ms. Foundation's grantees, donors and staff. I want to collaborate with you. You are on the front lines of change. The work you do every day, the passion you bring to your work and to your communities and the partnerships you have made with one another and with other social justice advocates are powerful forces that are needed more than ever. What we do together matters. I am proud to join such an exceptional community and am honored to stand with you in our collective fight for equality, justice and opportunity.
I look forward to meeting and working with you.
More about Anika Rahman. Statement from Cathy Raphael