Mary Ellsberg Named to 100 Most Influential People in Gender Policy

The founding director of the GW Global Women’s Institute led the first large-scale study on violence against women and girls in South Sudan.

Mary Ellsberg, founding director of the Global Women’s Institute at George Washington University.
May 24, 2018

Mary Ellsberg, founding director of the Global Women’s Institute at George Washington University, was named among the year’s 100 Most Influential People in Gender Policy in the  inaugural list compiled by Apolitical.

Others on the list include Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Dr. Ellsberg, who has spent decades advocating for women and girls around the world, said she is humbled by the recognition.

"It is an honor to be recognized with activists and leaders who have done so much to advance the rights of women and girls around the world,” Dr. Ellsberg said. “I am also mindful of the work of countless activists in the Global South who work each day, without fanfare, to improve the lives of the worlds most marginalized women and girls.

“They are the lifeblood of the global women's movement, and without them true progress would not be possible."

Three members of the Global Women’s Institute’s Leadership Council also appeared on the list with Dr. Ellsberg: Natasha Stott Despoja, the former Australian ambassador for women and girls; Sarah Hendriks, director of gender equality at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and Dubravka Šimonović, the United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women.

Dr. Ellsberg came to GW in 2012 and has more than 30 years of experience in international research and programs on gender and development. Under her leadership, the Global Women’s Institute has conducted groundbreaking research on violence against women in a variety of settings around the world.

Last year, Dr. Ellsberg presented findings from the first large-scale population-based study on violence against women and girls in South Sudan. Through interviews with more than 2,200 women, researchers documented how armed conflict and displacement intensifies violence against women and girls, including sexual assault, child marriage and domestic violence.

In March, she presented findings from a recently completed study on violence against women in Nicaragua at the UN Meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women. The research  followed up on a pioneering prevalence study that Dr. Ellsberg led in 1995, which was instrumental in changing domestic violence laws in Nicaragua. The study found that over the past 20 years, domestic violence had been reduced by half, largely as a result of the efforts of the women’s movement to increase women’s access to justice and awareness of their human rights.

Dr. Ellsberg lived in Nicaragua for nearly 20 years, where she led public health and women’s rights advocacy efforts. She was a member of the core research team of the World Health Organization’s Multi-Country Study on Domestic Violence and Women’s Health, and she has authored more than 40 books and articles on violence against women and girls.

Before coming to GW, Dr. Ellsberg served as vice president for research and programs at the International Center for Research on Women. She earned a doctorate in epidemiology and public health from Umea University in Sweden and a bachelor's degree in Latin American studies from Yale University.

The list of 100 Most Influential People in Gender Policy was published on Wednesday. The honorees were nominated by gender experts from national governments, international organizations, academia and non-profits.

Politics and Society


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The institute recently recognized organizations in Thailand, South Africa and the United States for their innovative tools that advocate for an end to violence against women.