To celebrate International Women’s Day, oHHo is shining a spotlight on women who have circled into our orbit, and made a lasting impression. Each oHHo muse dances to her own tune, transforming her passion into profit, and upending gender stereotypes as she goes. Prepare to be inspired…
Françoise Girard is an author, advocate and founder of Feminism Makes Us Smarter (FMUS), a communications platform where she promotes the work of feminist activists from around the world, and engages in thoughtful and thought-provoking conversations about the importance and impact of feminism and feminist movements. She lives in New York with her husband, David, and toy poodle, Arthur
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
International Women’s Day is a day to uplift the struggles of women for justice and human rights around the world and to celebrate their impressive achievements. But I also feel that, given the state of the world, every day should be IWD!
What inspired you to launch FMUS?
We don’t hear enough (if we hear at all!) about many of the amazing feminist activists, decision-makers, writers, and scholars out there. I created FMUS as a communications and media platform to amplify the voices and stories of these badass feminists from around the world, and especially those feminists who are not currently in the limelight. FMUS seeks to inform, orient and activate. Nothing pleases me more than when one of our readers tells me: I didn’t know about this situation, I had not connected those dots… I felt moved by this story and am now taking action.
What career/personal challenges have you faced as a woman?
Like many working women I have, at times, struggled to be taken seriously the way a (white) man would be. Author Rebecca Solnit is famous for Men Explain Things to Me, her essay about women having their own field of expertise explained to them by men (cf. mansplaining). Repeated over time, that experience - of being devalued, or not even heard - silences and wears out women, and even more so women of color and other marginalized women.
If you could share a piece of advice with your younger self, what would it be?
As a younger person, I often thought I had to figure things out myself – that asking for help would be a sign of incompetence. Then I realized that some of the most successful, powerful people regularly tap their networks for help and advice. Stumped and at a loss? Reach out for help and ask for advice!
This year’s theme is #embraceequity - equity means recognizing that we do not all start from the same place and must acknowledge and make adjustments to imbalances. With that in mind, how are you embracing equity in your role? What does gender equity mean to you?
Representation matters a lot, especially in today’s media-driven world. Feminists from the global South – from Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe – often don’t have the access and exposure to international media than feminists in the US and Western Europe do. That is why I feature and elevate their work, so they can also see themselves in print and online. That is hugely important when trying to influence government to change policy or laws, or to change public opinion.
In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge women face today?
Poverty and lack of economic self-sufficiency continue to be major impediments to women’s well-being and freedom. Right-wing religious extremists determined to control women’s bodies are a present and growing danger. Climate disasters and wars of aggression deeply affect women and children. That’s why I don’t think “equality with men” is where things are at now, if they ever were. We need a fair, just, sustainable and peaceful world for everyone – a transformed world. Our biggest and most urgent challenge is to build a “mass-based” feminist movement that seeks to dismantle sexism and homo/transphobia, but is equally and deeply engaged in justice work on race, class, peace and climate.
What is your proudest achievement?
Over the years in various philanthropic roles, helping support and fund feminist groups from all over the world to achieve gender justice. And they have done amazing, stunning things, like decriminalize abortion in Argentina, or push the government to integrate education about gender in public schools in Pakistan.
Can you share with us a woman to watch?
I love what Renee Bracey Sherman is doing with WeTestify, the abortion storytelling group she founded to break the stigma and silence surrounding abortion in the US. One of her mottos is: We all love someone who has had an abortion!
Who is your greatest mentor/supporter?
I’m lucky to have had several. One of them, Adrienne Germain, a former President of the International Women’s Health Coalition and my boss at the time, was a brilliant thinker and strategist. She taught me so much about sexual and reproductive rights and about negotiating international agreements at the UN. Another one, Aryeh Neier, was the founder of Human Rights Watch and the President of Open Society Foundations. He has been a true sponsor: hired me twice in two different jobs at OSF and introduced me to Adrienne, who then hired me! And my husband David Knott has been a staunch and loving supporter of everything I do.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
When I was a brand new lawyer, a very senior lawyer who was watching me take on too much, pulled me aside and told me: “It’s OK to say no to a project because you have too much going on. No need to feel bad about it, just say, ‘I cannot do it in X time frame, but would you be fine if I did it in Y time frame?’ If not, don’t worry, they’ll find someone else.” Game changer!
What’s the story behind your oHHo collaboration?
A friend introduced me to Nic Stephenson, one of oHHo’s founders, at a moment when I was going through a career change. Her career and personal advice were incredibly helpful, and I was deeply impressed with her values, dynamism and sunny approach to challenges. Through Nic, I came to know and love oHHo’s high quality products and their beautiful presentation. A co-branded series was just a matter of time!
Quick Fire Round
Last thing you Googled? Ron DeSantis’s book bans in Florida
Last book you read? I Remain in Darkness by Annie Ernaux, the 2022 Nobel Prize in Literature. It’s a beautiful, unflinching and powerful book about losing her beloved mother to Alzheimer’s, something I’m grappling with right now.
Most-used app? Twitter. For how much longer? Unclear.
Signature style in a sentence? Comfortable elegance: Chanel and jeans!
Most surprising thing about you? My morning cappuccino, aka my “princess coffee” made by hubby, David
The FMUS x oHHo collaboration is available to purchase now.