A conversation with Gail Cooper, former vice president of Re:Gender

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Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

In honor of ICRW’s recent merger with Re:Gender, we are highlighting the legacy of Re:Gender’s changemakers and their views on achieving gender equality, after spending decades in the field. Gail Cooper, vice president emerita of Re: Gender, recently spoke with ICRW President Sarah Degnan Kambou, about her role at Re:Gender and her motivation to work on gender equality.

Sarah Degnan Kambou: You are a well-regarded activist, and have worked both in community mobilization and in supporting philanthropic programming at the Ford Foundation.  What has motivated you throughout your career to work on achieving gender equality?

Gail Cooper: Achieving equity has been the operating system, so to speak, for my entire career. The gender inequality I witnessed within the intimacy of my family growing up certainly cultivated my analysis (and distrust) of gender stereotypes mixed with the power dynamics and groupthink that keeps oppression in place. Too often, I felt confined and constrained by what others decided “for my own good” based on gender stereotypes without taking into account my actual abilities/interests/potential. As a young adult, I became aware of how these same dynamics played out across the gender spectrum (i.e., for women, men, LGBTQI folks), as well as across geography, policy, politics and culture. I have found my bliss in constantly challenging the gap between how we are constrained (and constrain ourselves) through gender and the infinite possibilities of creating conditions for true freedom.

As the outgoing vp for programming at Re:Gender, what do you consider to be the role of research and evidence in creating new pathways to gender equality?

As we become more sophisticated in gathering and processing data, we must be equally adept at telling more inclusive stories about who we all are. I think that requires a frank and equitable research relationship, in which projects are understood from soup to nuts – framing the problem, deciding on methodology, gathering data and analysis, presenting findings – as living, evolving, multisector, multilingual organisms. We have to be able to challenge each other’s power, perspectives and understanding even as we work together to move a common agenda forward. It is the only way to break down institutional, sectoral, geographic and cultural walls that we all perceive but cannot often navigate.

As a new administration prepares to enter the White House, what issue would you prioritize for the on-going US agenda for gender equality?

Intersectional, both and strategies will be crucial for the next Administration. Deep disaffection on the right is rooted in economic issues but often expressed through coded language around race, immigration and gender. Starting with the 2008 presidential campaign, a key fracturing question among progressives has been, “Whose turn is it?,” a centuries-old idea that oppressed peoples have to take turns in seats of power. A basic sense of trust and belief in a greater good is all but missing. The next Administration’s efforts to increase gender equity will necessarily need to work across identities (race, class, gender, immigration status, nationality, ability, sexuality, etc.) using true coalitional, multi-platform, multi-issue campaigns.