01 March 2013

Ashley Blanchard: Ms. Foundation Board Member, Donor, Seattleite

The Ms. Foundation for Women is celebrating Women’s History Month with a blog carnival featuring the voices and profiles of women across the country. This Month of Action is generously supported by our friends in Seattle.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and why you are committed to supporting women and girls?

My interest in addressing the inequities facing women and girls was catalyzed while I was in college, volunteering at a domestic violence crisis center. It was the era of welfare reform, in the mid-to-late 1990s, and the effects of those policies on the women I was working with were going to be huge, keeping many of them in violent relationships they couldn’t afford to leave. I just couldn’t get my head around the idea of a policy that would force women into jobs far below subsistence wages and provide them few viable options for child care. It seemed like a recipe for disaster: Women forced to work multiple jobs that still weren’t going to pay their bills, while also struggling to find affordable care for their children. It was one of the first times I’d been confronted so head-on with the extent of the inequities facing women and the underlying racism and sexism of the policies to address poverty.

I’m now a working mom myself, with a whole lot of advantages that most women in this country don’t have. It’s important to me that my kids grow up in a world in which the gap between the haves and haves-nots is less stark than it is today. And, as we all know, poverty adversely affects women and kids, and women of color, in particular. But the flip side of that is that all evidence suggests that investments in women and girls—women-led organizations and organizations that work on the issues affecting women and girls—can have a huge impact on changing individual lives, families and communities.

Why is the Ms. Foundation important to you?

The Ms. Foundation’s approach really resonates with my personal understanding of how positive change happens. The Ms. Foundation identifies these grassroots organizations doing amazing work on the ground, in communities across the country, on critical issues that can have a national impact. It makes grants and provides support so that these organizations can strengthen their own work, come together and build a movement, and we’ve seen it work time and again—changing sex education policies at the local and then the national level, building a movement for domestic workers, first in New York and now nationally. And then the Ms. Foundation works directly to advance policies to benefit women and children, amplifying grassroots voices and catalyzing broad support. For me, as a donor, it’s an amazing opportunity to provide support for these highly effective grassroots groups, which I would likely otherwise not know about, and to leverage my dollars by pooling money with other donors and amplifying that investment through the Ms. Foundation’s national voice.

What do you wish for the Ms. Foundation, 40 years after it was founded?

Continued perserverance: Our work isn’t done. Unfortunately, many of the same issues that were facing the Ms. Foundation when it was founded remain on the table, in one form or another, today. We’ve seen progress on a lot of fronts, certainly, but then we find the nation debating “legitimate rape,” and I’m reminded that there’s a long way to go.

What do you hope to see happen for women over the course of the next 40 years?

A continued and positive cultural shift toward women’s equality, on all fronts. In January, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of Roe V. Wade, but unfortunately we’re still fighting for reproductive justice. It shows you that while it’s important to win policy victories, they won’t be sustained if you don’t change hearts and minds. So I want to see subtle changes—in the way women are portrayed in the media, in the way we talk about the “49%.” And as a mom to young kids, I really hope this country can start taking the idea of affordable, accessible, high-quality child care seriously—for parents, for children and for care givers.

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