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The way we do our work matters

Anne Firth Murray on Ensuring Women’s Rights

by Ruth Schechter on Monday, June 14, 2010 - 9:35am

 Anne Firth MurrayWhile the power of activism is crucial to “make injustice visible,” for Anne Firth Murray, it’s the small steps and personal actions that will bring about social change.

“What we do in our lives is important, but the way we do it is more important in transforming our world,” says Firth Murray, a consulting professor of Human Biology at Stanford and Clayman Institute faculty research fellow. “We need to be accountable. We need to have concern for the well-being of women by interacting in a mutually empowering way. But the values and principles that emerge are the more important product.”

Firth Murray has spent most of her career trying to bring about social change. She spent many years at the Hewlett Foundation, administering its international population and environment programs. She is the founding president of The Global Fund for Women, which was launched in 1987 to provide funds internationally to help groups committed to addressing women's human rights issues. She was among a group of 1,000 women nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005.

“The vision for The Global Fund was to transform the world through empowering women,” says Firth Murray. “But I wanted to think of success differently: It was not about how much money we raised or how much we gave away. To me, it was all about how that money was put to work. We needed different metrics, another way to describe our impact.”

From Outrage to CourageThe process of change is as important as the result, she says. For Firth Murray, ensuring rights for women is a strategy that will ensure rights for everyone: The key to improving conditions is to focus on developing and building communities, nurturing leadership, and sharing responsibility. Her books, Paradigm Found: Leading and Managing for Positive Change and From Outrage to Courage: Women Taking Action for Health and Justice, discuss how a feminist perspective of cooperation and sharing can be applied to global transformation.

Firth Murray says she sees love as the most powerful tool for social justice, a way to transform the status quo and make the world a better place. To overcome the outrage that arises from global issues like war, poverty, injustice, and health, individuals need to take part in activities that will help to make change, and realize that change may come with small steps.

“The issues are large but not hopeless. An important way to deal with outrage is to control your own behavior,” she says. “In the long term we have to change ourselves to make our world more compassionate. Love refers to what people can do because ultimately we can control how we treat each other. The big picture is affected by small gestures.”

Firth Murray sees teaching as a powerful tool. In her undergraduate courses, students write blogs and interact with each other on love as a force for social justice and international women’s health and human rights.


“I truly believe that the accumulated power of more people performing small, random acts of love to strangers would be enough to make the world a happier, more peaceful environment,” blogged one student. “Love has a sort of domino effect: One thing leads to another and bam—change!” wrote another.

Adds Firth Murray, “Violence is the issue central to our time. We need to explore its opposite to make positive change. The important thing is to get the message out.”