The Ms Foundation: Focus on Chicago – Celebrating 40 years

I had the opportunity to meet with Michelle Clarkin of the Ms Foundation during her visit to Chicago recently. It was an amazing night really. There we were, with Amy Bloom and Maia Benson sitting around a table and creating a think tank of sorts. The first step – the beginning of incorporating Chicago and the women of this town under the established umbrella of New York and all that the Ms Foundation has built over the past four decades. Creating new avenues and developing new concepts from an existing national platform. Forty years and going strong – the MS Foundation continues to be an organization fighting for the empowerment of women everywhere. There is so much work to be done – so many issues to be covered – so much history to create – not only for this generation but especially for the generations of women to follow.

L Stop: Your name and role with Ms Foundation:

Michelle Clarkin, Director, Leadership Gifts

Michelle Clarkin, Director, Leadership Gifts. I work with donors who want to make a significant philanthropic investment in our work at the Ms. Foundation for Women. I started in March, but have been involved in women’s philanthropy for ten years.

I lived in Chicago for seven years and had the privilege of working as a columnist for Tracy Baim’s publications for the gay and lesbian community, Outlines and Nightlines.

LS: Ms Foundation in Chicago – who are the local board members?

Maia Benson and Lisa Dietlin are on the Ms. Foundation for Women’s Advisory Board. Both are Michigan natives who live and work in Chicago.

Lisa is President of Lisa M. Dietlin and Associates. Lisa assists entrepreneurial individuals and nonprofit organizations in developing philanthropic strategies. In 2007 Lisa was named Charity Contributor to CBS 2 Chicago and appeared regularly to share information and ideas regarding how everyone can be involved in charitable work. Lisa holds and has held several seats on nonprofit boards in where she contributes her extensive experience in strategic planning for development and fundraising. She is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post via her blog, Making a Difference: The World of Giving.

Maia Benson is a Vice-President with Blueleaf Lending (a subsidiary of Midwest Community Bank) who has extensive and diverse experience in dynamic leadership with a propensity for maximizing opportunities and project management. Benson was second in command for the North Central Region for the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC Mortgage) prior to joining Blueleaf. She was a 10 year Board member for Chicago Youth Programs and served as a volunteer for the High Risk Children’s Group for 7 of those years. Maia has played an active role in revitalizing socioeconomically challenged communities in Chicago to promote economic growth and opportunity for the hardest hit areas and is a respected voice for advocacy in the LGBTQ community.

LS: What are the objectives for our city/region?

The Ms. Foundation for Women fights to eliminate barriers for all women. We fight to keep lawmakers and public figures in check, to protect and fortify our fragile successes, and to secure the same opportunities for all women in the US. We especially focus on those whose voices are muted because of their economic realities and everyday challenges.

And to do this, we need everyone at the table, including members of the LGBTQ community.

To people who think the women’s movement is over, take a look at District 12 in Chicago, which has one of the highest disparities of pay between men and women in the country. Nationally, women are making 77 cents to a man’s dollar. For Latina and African American women, the stats are even worse: 54 cents and 62 cents [to the dollar, respectively]. Also, did you know that there were over 900 bills introduced at state levels last year restricting reproductive rights? As women, we need to be paying attention to these issues and using our voices and our dollars to fight injustice.

The Ms. Foundation for Women works to ensure that women have equal economic opportunity, access to health care and are protected from violence.

Our current grantees in Chicago are A Long Walk Home, Domestic Worker Oral History Project, The Illinois Action for Children and Prevent Child Abuse America. In the case of Prevent Child Abuse America, they are part of a larger group of grantees in which we provide enhanced funding to support movement building initiatives. For example, they are being funded to expand their work with state and national partners to prepare for replication of a public relations campaign across several states.

We are getting ready to re-launch our website, which will allow you to take action on issues that matter to women. In April, we will direct focus on Chicago and are asking Chicagoans for help in sponsoring a month of action by going to our website to donate.

We are also preparing to host an event in Chicago next September. Stay tuned to our website for more on that.

LS: This year is the 40th Anniversary Celebration for the Ms Foundation – what is the significance?

When the Ms. Foundation was founded, women were slowly gaining more and more rights, especially around access to birth control and abortion. In fact, the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade is also in 2013. But 40 years later, so many women still face inequality, both with men and among other women. For instance, abortion access is not covered for servicewomen and low-income women on Medicaid. And, of course, lesbian women are not yet granted all the protections and rights of straight women. One issue that the Ms. Foundation is very concerned about is the Violence Against Women Act, which excludes protections for battered LGBTQ, immigrant and Native American women.

LS: Flash back – from then till now – where were we and where are we now?

Of course, women have made some progress. In 1973, women earned 56 percent of men’s pay for the identical job. Now, we earn 77 percent. But for women of color, the outlook is much less rosy.

We’re going backwards in many ways, with record numbers of restrictions on women’s rights in recent years. Forty years ago, no one would have imagined that birth control would be controversial in 2012.

There’s a lot more work to do to achieve equality.

LS: Ms Foundation – LGTBQ significance – partnership – alliance – what can you say about that?

The Ms. Foundation is helping build a more inclusive women’s movement – one that builds bridges between diverse progressive communities, including LGBTQ women, who face discrimination on multiple levels. We need the LGBTQ community’s support to eliminate barriers and secure the same opportunities for all women in the U.S.

As a gay woman, I see natural links between the Ms. Foundation’s work and LGBTQ causes. For example, one of the basic tenants of the Ms. Foundation is women’s fundamental human right to control what happens to their bodies. That means having control over when and whether we become parents. It means ensuring that women and girls are protected from physical and sexual violence. And it means guaranteeing LGBTQ women the right to form intimate relationships with whomever we choose – with equal recognition and freedom from discrimination.

The Ms. Foundation examines all issues from a women’s perspective and that includes analysis through an LGBTQ lens. We’re helping institutionalize equality for women in marginalized communities, whether it’s through health care access for LGBTQ youth or policies that promote economic stability for elderly lesbians living in poverty.

LS: What is the best way for young men and women to get involved with Ms Foundation?

We have a strong and growing social media presence. You can follow us on Facebook or Twitter, read our blog or sign up for our eblasts. And, of course, you can donate to make a difference in the lives of women. In the U.S., there’s an extreme underinvestment in funding for women and girls. The Ms Foundation needs support to foster a more diverse and inclusive women’s movement.

LS: Next 5 years – what do you see Ms Foundation focusing on for the change women in the world must have?

With America’s changing demographics, it’s important that we focus on the needs of women of color and immigrant women. One of the pillars of our work centers on the need for affordable child care for low-income working mothers and quality jobs for child care providers, the majority of whom are low-income women. We’re advocating for solutions that help women and families achieve economic stability.

In addition, in January 2013, the Ms. Foundation for Women will release a report on the status and future of women that will provide research data and graphical representations to demonstrate how far women have come over the last forty years, and how far we have to go. It highlights data to show the disparity between white women and women of color, LGBTQ women and immigrants. It covers priorities in the arenas of reproductive health, economic justice and safety, and demonstrates the interconnectivity of these issues on women’s lives. It provides a vision for the future of women and specific action steps for the next four years.

Our Vice President of Advocacy and Policy, Deborah Jacobs, will be speaking about the report in various cities across the US—Chicago will be one of them.

LS: Will you share website links / any upcoming events nationally/locally….

Monday, May 13, the 40th annual Gloria Awards in New York, hosted by Gloria Steinem. Past honorees can be found here:

Our gala was conceived by Gloria Steinem as a way to honor woman who have made a significant difference in the lives of women and girls. We honor philanthropists, business leaders and grantees from across the U.S.

For further information:

About Michelle Clarkin:

About Lisa Dietlin and her blog:

About Maia Benson and Blueleaf Lending:

About Amy Bloom: and

About Gloria Steinem:

About the Chicago Youth Program:

About K. Guzman

Kathy grew up all over the US - lots of east coast time. She is a surfer girl with an unabridged curiosity. A woman whose mid life awakening continues to bring her to the place she was meant to be. Her degree in Journalism/Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida is being yanked from the archives and put to good use. Her two kids are grown and rock stars in this wild world – her Harley is ready for some serious summer miles – and her heart remains open to life, women and the possibilities each day brings.



  1. […]   TLS: Yup, the younger generation watches reruns of Will & Grace and doesn’t give a shit! Well, I’ll quit taking up so much of your time. Thank you so much for talking with me and for all you do. And we look forward to your show, December 19th at the City Winery! E: Yeah, thank you. Get the people out, we want to entertain you!! For info or tickets to the show DECEMBER 19TH: us your favorite BETTY song to enter our ticket GIVEAWAY! For more information about Gloria Steinem and the Ms Foundation click here. […]

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