On October 17 sixty participants gathered to hear Councilmember LaToya Cantrell connect the positive impact of community-driven collaborations on issues affecting women and girls to the positive outcomes of policy legislation regarding those issues at the local and state level.   The agenda we are all helping to shape for the Tricentennial will play a significant role in charting the future for the women and girls of New Orleans. We also heard moving testimony from an LSU medical student and from a young woman in Ghana illustrating how they have achieved goals once thought impossible due to supportive female role models and services.

Participants in the break-out sessions discussed organizations providing programs that address health, gender-based violence, education and economic opportunity.  We ask you to please review the notes from the break-out and email other organizations you know about or others ideas you may have to

We will reconvene the Pillar groups in late November/early December to discuss what the most successful programs are achieving, how their success is measured and to understand where there are overlaps in preparation for our third community meeting in early 2017 when we will hear from international representatives about women-focused programs and policies that have successfully overcome challenges in health, education, economic opportunity and gender-based violence in their countries.


Nola4Women honors International Women’s Day

Mary Ann Travis

The goal of Nola4Women is to “change the narrative of women’s place in New Orleans history and be a catalyst for change.”— Sylvia Frey, emerita professor of history

Ashé Cultural Arts Center executive director Carol Bebelle, left, sets the stage for conversations about education and economic opportunity, health and violence against women on Tuesday (March 8). The discussions were part of the official launch of Nola4Women, whose mission is to improve the lives of women and girls while celebrating the tricentennial of New Orleans. (Photo by Ryan Rivet)

Nola4Women has ambitious plans to celebrate the tricentennial of New Orleans in 2018 with a global summit on women and girls. But first, the group saluted International Women’s Day this year on Tuesday (March 8) at a gathering of more than 80 community leaders at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center on Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.

“We are absolutely delighted by the response,” said Kathy Seligman, a founding member of Nola4Women, “because we have been talking about it for two and a half years. And it’s heartening and wonderful to see so many people interested in the future of women and girls in this city.”

Nola4Women is the brainchild of Seligman, Florence Andre, Martha Sullivan and Sylvia Frey. (Seligman, Andre and Sullivan are Tulane University graduates and former administrators. Frey is professor emerita of history.) The goal of Nola4Women is to “change the narrative of women’s place in New Orleans history — and be a catalyst for change,” said Frey.

Participants — representing organizations like the National Council of Jewish Women, the Urban League and Junior League — at the International Women’s Day event divided into breakout sessions on education and economic opportunity, health and violence against women. “It’s the beginning of the two-year journey to the global summit on women and girls,” said Carol Bebelle, co-founder and executive director of Ashé. “We are part of an international network of people working on behalf of women.”

Other Nola4Women initiatives are Heroes of New Orleans, a middle school and high school curriculum to build awareness of local women and their impact on the city; and Women of New Orleans: Builders and Rebuilders, a series of exhibitions “celebrating generations of women who have built and rebuilt the city.” Nola4Women already has more than 50 community partners, including nine of Tulane’s libraries, museums and archives.


Community-driven initiative launches a global conversation to leverage change for women and girls

NEW ORLEANS (March 3, 2016) – A new local organization focused on New Orleans women – celebrating their contributions as well as drawing attention to the need for better outcomes – plans to launch on International Women’s Day, March 8.

The kick-off for Nola4Women will include a facilitated workshop beginning at 2 p.m. at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center, tackling topics affecting women in the city, such as gender-based violence, health, and education and economic empowerment. The groups will be answering two questions: 1) what are the most pressing issues in these areas for New Orleans; and 2) what are the most innovative solutions currently? Facilitating the workshop of community leaders, will include Linda Usdin, Pam Jenkins and Lisa Richardson. Ashé’s Executive Director Carol Bebelle will open the session.

“What better time than International Women’s Day to publically launch Nola4Women,” said Florence André, who founded the organization along with Sylvia Frey, Kathy Epstein Seligman and Martha Sullivan. “We are here to not only raise awareness of women’s issues in New Orleans, but also to celebrate contributions and to chart a path for the future.”

“In a city that is a laboratory for both resilience and failure, Nola4Women sees an opportunity to position New Orleans as an international thought leader around one of the most important issues of our time – the challenges still faced by women and girls,” added Seligman, of the kick-off event. “The goals of International Women’s Day mirror the ambitions of Nola4Women.”

The organization has been quietly working for some time, organizing itself around three programs, recruiting partners and establishing its 501c3 not-for-profit designation. General partners include the Mayor’s Office, City of New Orleans, New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation and Tulane University.

Women of New Orleans: Builders and Rebuilders includes a three-year series of citywide exhibits that celebrates generations of women who have built – and rebuilt – the city. More than 40 area organizations have signed on as partners, with three exhibits already open at the Xavier University Library, Archdiocese of New Orleans and the Supreme Court Library;

Heroes of New Orleans, which focuses on students who will learn about the barriers women of New Orleans faced and how they overcame them. Launched as a pilot program in 2014-2015 at the New Orleans Charter Science and Mathematics High School and at Lusher Charter School, the Heroes program gives students role models to look up to and refer to when faced with obstacles. It encourages students to identify, research and write about local women heroes who have made the city a better place.

Mirror on the World: Global Summit on Women and Girls, is a planned global summit to take place during New Orleans’ tricentennial in 2018, as a tool to spotlight the challenges women and girls of New Orleans still face, even 300 years after the city’s founding. Initial partners for the global summit include: Mama Maji; Junior League of New Orleans; Louisiana Women’s Forum; National Council of Jewish Women New Orleans; and Urban League of Greater New Orleans.

About Nola4Women
Through innovative initiatives Nola4Women celebrates women and girls, provides a forum to address the challenges they face, and creates a future where they have the opportunity to reach their full potential. Nola4Women is a community driven initiative founded by Florence André, Sylvia Frey, Kathy Epstein Seligman and Martha Sullivan. For further information, please contact:

About International Women’s Day
International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Increasingly, International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.


Sylvia Frey’s blog on the Huffington Post takes up the issue of female poverty in  New Orleans and the Gulf South and the response of the unique community partnerships created by nola4women to address the problem in a global context.

“Why couldn’t my mother keep me?” The power of that question put by a six-year old boy to his adoptive mother struck me because the life history of the boy and his birth mother is the painfully familiar story of a disproportionate share of the Gulf-South’s population of women and children. Her life story began in Gary, Indiana, where she was born to a drug addict. Raised in a foster home, she had her first child at 15. Illiterate and unskilled, she raised two children on public welfare. Her third child was born while his father served time in prison for drugs. “She never had a chance,” the boy’s adoptive mother told her son, not so much because of poverty of money, but because of what Sir Fazle Abed, the founder of BRAC, a Bangladeshi aid group, calls poverty of self-esteem, hope, opportunity.

This child ended up in a loving home in New Orleans but 39 percent of all children in the city live in poverty. Their mothers are frequently unmarried teenagers. Functionally illiterate, they often live in abusive relationships. A shockingly high percentage of them are murdered by men — black women at more than twice the rate of white women. Unable to conceive of something better, they continuously pursue a downward course, eventually becoming become part of the cycle of destitution. By no means unique to New Orleans or the Gulf South, female poverty exists here in exacerbated form.

International organizations have made headway in focusing the world’s attention on global poverty and increasingly on the oppression of women as the human rights issue of our day. Although the human rooftop landscape created by Katrina in 2005 made Americans aware as never before of the problems in our own backyard, the states of the Gulf South are still left out of the discourse. nola4women, the brainchild of four independent New Orleans women, mean to take matters into our own hands by taking advantage of the world’s attention on the tri-centennial in of the city’s birth in 2018. Our approach is deliberately double-sided, celebrating both the contributions of women to the city’s history while critically examining the health and educational inequities and the violence that traps poor women and children in grinding poverty.

Nola4women is drastically different from similar efforts. We start with the premise that local buy-ins are a sine qua non of success. We have created a new model of community engagement that depends above all on simplicity. Our programs rely almost entirely on volunteers and academic, cultural and civic community leaders who share our mission and bring to it decades of experience. A coalition of libraries, archives, museums and neighborhood cultural centers unlike any other in any American city is planning a series of exhibitions leading up to the tri-centennial. Based on new research they herald the contributions of women — rich and poor, black and white, enslaved and free, alone or in community, of every ethnicity and faith, who were the co-creators of New Orleans.

Motivated by a belief in the power of community to effect change, a city-wide coalition of civic organizations, each with a long and distinguished history of fighting poverty, is laying the groundwork for a global Summit on women and girls as the culminating event of the tri-centennial year. In conversation with global thought leaders, the Summit will focus on issues of education, health, poverty and violence relating to women and girls as a cultural ecosystem that results in the oppression and under-utilization of the female half of the global population. Committed to the notion that belief without action is meaningless, the Summit will conclude with a blueprint for change that is dynamic and adaptable, sets out sustainable and flexible goals, informs long-term policies to effect meaningful change in the lives of the most vulnerable populations of global societies

Skeptics will point to the difficulties underlying such an ambitious program but they reckon without the new energies unleashed by Katrina and the renewed sense of purpose and unity felt by our citizens. Change is possible, not overnight but one day at a time, one city at a time, one state at a time, one country at a time. NOW nola.