Female philanthropists need to take a lead role in women's issues, says charity founder

Dr Jemilah Mahmood of the relief charity Mercy Malaysia tells seminar that issues such as reproductive health require the leadership of women

Dr Jemilah Mahmood
Dr Jemilah Mahmood

Female philanthropists must take a leadership role in tackling women’s issues such a reproductive health and protection, according to the founder of the international medical relief organisation Mercy Malaysia.

Dr Jemilah Mahmood, a gynaecologist and obstetrician, and visiting senior research fellow for the Humanitarian Futures Programme at King’s College London, was speaking yesterday at a seminar called Women in Philanthropy: Why "Women"?, organised by the Academy of Philanthropy at Cass Business School in London.

Issues such as women’s health and reproductive health were "gap areas" where women should take leadership, she said.

"Should women’s philanthropy be women-focused?" she asked. "The funding allocated for women’s programmes, for the protection of women, is the lowest. Reproductive health, menstrual hygiene – these are the areas where it is very important for women philanthropists and women to act towards filling this funding gap."

Mahmood was recently in Syria and at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, which is home to more than 130,000 Syrians who have fled the conflict in their country.

"How do you get protection for women and children?" asked Mahmood. "At the border of Syria there were texts going around offering Syrian brides for sale, very cheaply, depending on their age. It is shocking. If we as women cannot stand up and talk about the rights and protection of women, who else is going to speak up?"

Mahmood gave as a positive example the peace organisation Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, the story of which was told in the 2008 documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell.

The film shows how Christian and Muslim women in Liberia worked against violence together, and how the organisation played a key role in the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as the first female president of an African nation.

Mahmood also questioned why the billions of dollars being poured into humanitarian efforts in Syria and around the world were not working.

"Is philanthropy the answer to solving global poverty?" she asked. "What are the other things that must support philanthropy? What are the things philanthropy needs to support?

"More and more I believe people should be given money, particularly women, even in crisis and even in development. There is enough evidence that shows a woman thinks of her whole family and her children first."

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