Her•Story: Joan Dunlop

Women’s power is in our collective force, and the depth of our conviction and the choices we make as a result…. And the decision to have children or not to have children is deeply embedded in that….

When John D. Rockefeller III hired Joan Dunlop in the early 1970s to be his staff assistant on matters related to population issues and sex education, he told her, “There’s something wrong with the population field. It’s not working.” And so Joan, with no background in population issues and no academic training, entered a field with a prevailing approach that she described as “there’s this rising birth rate and the way to attack it is technology, through the women as a vehicle. And women’s lives, and why women have children, or what the rationale for it [may be], or what they felt, or [what] were their concerns, never came into it at all, ever.”

By 1984 when Joan was recruited to be the President of the International Women’s Health Coalition she was ready to shepherd a worldwide movement to put women’s reproductive lives and health at the center of the discussion of population issues. In 1992 she convened a meeting in London of women’s reproductive advocates to plan how they could have the greatest impact on the 1994 United Nations International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo. Their work ultimately led to the 1993 Women’s Declaration on Population Policies, a statement agreed to by over 100 women’s organizations.

With the Women’s Declaration as an organizing principle, the IHWC and its allies worked to change the focus of population policy in the lead up to the Cairo conference. Joan had no hesitation in taking on the Vatican. As she said, “I was raised in the Church of England, okay? And I kept saying to my colleagues, ‘Look my favorite period was Tudor history. Let’s go back to sacking the monasteries. Let’s start there.”

The adoption of the Programme of Action of the Cairo Conference was the apex of Joan’s career. The Programme called for “advancing gender equality and equity and the empowerment of women,” prenatal care, education, including sex education, for women and girls, and, where legal, safe abortions. She continued to lead the IWHC’s efforts through one more conference before she retired, the 1995 United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing where delegates agreed that women have the right to say no to sex.

Cancer took Joan’s life on June 29, 2012.

Secular Woman shares the belief system from which Joan drew her power. As she said, “[O]ne of the reasons we were successful against the Vatican …. [was we] were dealing with a belief system, just as they were, and the belief system was feminism.”

– Mary Bellamy, Secular Woman member

All quotes, except from the UN ICPD Programme of Action, are from the “Population and Reproductive Health Oral History Project,” Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College, interview of Joan Dunlop by Rebecca Sharpless, April 14-15, 2004.

First National Organization for Atheist Women Mobilizes

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For more information, please contact: Kim Rippere, President: 404.669.6727 E-mail

First National Organization for Atheist Women Mobilizes

Leadership Development Drives Mission

Atlanta, Georgia – June 28, 2012. Secular Woman, Inc. makes its debut today as the first national membership organization dedicated exclusively to advancing the interests of atheist, humanist and other non-religious women. The organization’s stated vision is “a future in which women without supernatural beliefs have the opportunities and resources they need to participate openly and confidently as respected voices of leadership in the secular community and every aspect of American society.”

Secular identity organizations often struggle to attract and retain female members, lending weight to surveys which typically characterize women as more spiritual than men. Secular Woman will offer its members conference travel grants, profiles of secular women, achievement awards and other programming designed to add gender diversity to secular events and bring more nonbelieving women out of the closet and into roles of leadership.

Through strategic partnerships, Secular Woman will also advocate for equal pay, reproductive choice, and marriage equality, addressing political trends the group sees as ideologically-motivated threats to its members’ freedom of conscience. “The ‘War on Women’ dovetailing with the rise of secular activism showed us the time had come for secular women to form our own distinct organization to support our vision of the future,” said Kim Rippere, a Secular Woman founder and the organization’s first president. “Secular women have always been at front and center of the feminist quest for equality and autonomy.”

Rippere is joined on the group’s first Board of Directors by co-founders Brandi Braschler, Vice President of Programs; Bridget Gaudette, Vice President of Outreach; and Mary Ellen Sikes, Vice President of Operations. The four women bring a combined total of more than forty years’ activism in secular and women’s issues to Secular Woman. “With this organization we plan to focus on promoting the secular female voice, but anyone who supports our mission can join,” said Gaudette. “All are vital to the success of Secular Woman and to the overall secular movement.”

Secular Woman is an educational non-profit organization whose mission is to amplify the voice, presence, and influence of non-religious women. For more information about Secular Woman visit: www.SecularWoman.org.