Adrienne Germain: Remembering the “Rebel in White Gloves”


January 13, 2023

Share-Net Bangladesh

Adrienne Germain passed away on May 19, 2022, at her Oakland, California, home. Adrienne Germain spent more than four decades advancing women’s rights and worldwide development. Her ardent advocacy on behalf of the rights and sexual and reproductive health of women and girls was praised all across the world.

As a senior leadership at the Ford Foundation early in her career, she tried to pay attention to the women’s conditions, needs and conditions of women and to hire women at the foundation and grantees engaged in international development. She had a playful side that inspired her to look for methods to break down barriers around systemic and social inequalities.

She was the sole woman and youngest representative for a development partner organization in Bangladesh when she took the position in 1981. She advocated for women’s rights and independence, earning the moniker “Rebel in White Gloves” by famous novelist and environmentalist Miriam Horn.

Germain brought a unique set of abilities to Bangladesh and throughout her career: complete devotion and passion for her profession, a sharp mind, a wealth of knowledge, and exceptional capabilities of observation. Dr. Rounaq Jahan, former faculty member at the University of Dhaka and Columbia University, recalls how Germain made an effort to understand individuals from various walks of life, noting that he “carefully identified chances for strengthening their voices so that they might claim and preserve their own rights.”

She was a fervent advocate for the Menstrual Regulation (MR) program of the Bangladeshi government, which she saw as an essential intervention to save women’s lives and give them control over their reproductive choices. To lead the Foundation’s maternal and child health program, she hired Dr. Halida Hanum Akhtar, the first person from Bangladesh, as a program associate.

She was also a pioneer in advocating for girls’ education and credit as a foundation for economic opportunities for women in Bangladesh. She gave Grameen Bank its initial funding through the Ford Foundation and personally attracted commercial assistance from the South Shore Bank in Chicago, which aided in its growth.

The theme of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights was founded by Germain (SRHR). Her more comprehensive approach to reproductive health covered both the survival and well-being of the unborn child as well as the health of women before, during, and after pregnancy. By publishing research articles by Germain, investing in and working with women leaders in important nations, and publishing research articles by other authors, the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) promoted the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) approach to international development. In recognition of her groundbreaking work in SRHR with governments and NGOs at the local, national, and international levels, she was given the UN Population Fund’s global leadership award in 2012.

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