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Playing the global Mama

Aaah Amsterdam! A Mecca of pleasures and indulgences and the perfect city to head to for a little mid-trip 'rest and relaxation'.

columns Updated: Nov 27, 2010 21:58 IST
Tithiya Sharma
Tithiya Sharma
Hindustan Times

Aaah Amsterdam! A Mecca of pleasures and indulgences and the perfect city to head to for a little mid-trip 'rest and relaxation'. Though I eventually did everything but rest and relax. But at least I can check off 'attend the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam' from my list. They really do know their coffee here. And what goes well with it.

There is an amazing energy about this city. It feels like the kind of place that would nurture people and ideas that don't quite fit anywhere else.

I'd been reading about a group of five Dutch feminists who started a small fund for women in the 1980's. The fund was fuelled by inheritance money that one of them had received. 25 years on, the fund is thriving, albeit under a new but equally able leadership.

Nicky Mcintyre is the Executive Director of 'Mama Cash'; the oldest international women's fund in the world. It focuses on dismantling the social and legal structures that disempower women by investing in grassroots organisations working on the areas of Money, Body and Voice. They reach out to the women who are creating a 'new normal' and are considered too radical and risky by other funders.

"Mama Cash is looking for small groups of activists that have that certain spark; the ones who're going to create hell and change attitudes. We will invest in the issues that are considered controversial and are disappointingly under funded," she explains.

As a young girl, Nicky wanted to study documentary filmmaking. But she felt that she hadn't seen enough. Her predicament prompted a move to the development sector and she stayed on.

In the three years that she has lead Mama Cash, she has forwarded the feminist cause in almost every continent. Last year, grants were given to a crisis centre in Turkmenistan, for defending the rights of female prisoners in Sierra Leon, for LGBT rights in conservative Serbia, to gain the right to minimum wage for women workers in Guatemala, and for launching a safe abortion helpline in Pakistan- the only one of its kind in Asia.

I told Nicky about one of my most memorable days from travelling in Asia. I met a lively bunch of sex workers who ran their own bar in Thailand. In the morning, we all went to a museum with a spunky girl called Pim. In the evening, the girls had to go back to work and I was their guest of honour at the bar. Pim and I spend many hours talking and we were instant friends — talking about life, work and awful bosses.

She was neither apologetic nor a victim — she was there on her own free will.

Her work pays for her home, her motorbike and her siblings' education. I could tell that this girl was free, safe and had a supportive people around her.

Nicky interrupted my indulgent reminiscing and said — "Are you talking about the Empower Foundation?" I blurt out a 'Yes!' "They're one of our grantees."

Only when I had left and was leafing through Reports of Mama Cash's work did I realise that I'd just spent the afternoon with one of the 100 most powerful women in the Netherlands.

I don't think she's dwelling on it though. She's too busy passing that power into the hands of women across the world. And now I know just the man for the job!

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First Published: Nov 27, 2010 21:53 IST