Activist in Action

To say that Cherise Madigan ’15 has determination would be a great understatement. The 18-year-old peace and justice studies major has been supporting herself financially since she was 16, chats weekly via Skype with an Iraqi feminist, and is the chief executive officer and founder of the non-profit organization The Feminine Alliance (TFA).

Yet she makes her ambition and initiative sound so ordinary. “I went online and googled ‘how to start your own non-profit’ and I bought the book Non-Profit Management for Dummies. Then I just filled out the paperwork [to become an official non-profit organization].”

But it was her next “ordinary” action that had the greatest impact. “I shot an email to Yanar Mohammed, a feminist activist over in Iraq who runs the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), never thinking she would actually respond,” she says. “And then she replied within 24 hours and said she would be very interested in working with us.” And this is when the first TFA campaign was born.

TFA exists to “support women’s movements worldwide” and backs Mohammed and the network of women’s shelters that house human trafficking victims in Baghdad, Iraq. Almost weekly, Madigan and the OWFI president talk via Skype about the needs of the shelters’ women. Madigan then puts together a shipment of aid materials and sends it over to Baghdad once per month. TFA’s newest program is in Kiserian, Kenya, working with young girls who are victims of child marriage and female genital mutilation.

“Cherise has shown incredible initiative in forming The Feminine Alliance,” says Professor Harry Murray, director of the peace and justice studies program. “Her continued concern and efforts for Iraqi women show a rare commitment to justice as well as compassion.”

“I’ve always wanted to work with women—to empower them,” says Madigan who was inspired by national bestseller Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. After attending the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative University in Washington, D.C., a conference that brings together student leaders from college campuses nationwide to discuss solutions to global issues, Madigan realized, “If The Feminine Alliance was going to be as big as I wanted it to be, I couldn’t do it all by myself.”

Enter Melanie Beacham ’14 as TFA’s media outreach coordinator and Mikella Ackerly ’14 as the organization’s awareness campaign coordinator. “I really respect the idea that the organization is not presuming to know what aid and what help the people we support need but instead is engaging in dialog and providing the assistance and support that they themselves express that they need,” says Ackerly.

While Madigan handles the finances and international communication with Mohammed, Beacham and Ackerly are responsible for the Facebook page, as well as awareness at Nazareth and in the greater Rochester community. Some of their local campaigns include a march to local strip clubs as a form of protest and a movie series featuring films with strong female characters at the Little Theatre in downtown Rochester.

For Madigan, this is a life-long endeavor. “I want to go to Baghdad and work with women hands on.” She already has plans to travel to the Iraqi capital next winter to visit Mohammed and the women’s shelters to which she’s been sending aid. And that same determination that helped her start The Feminine Alliance remains unwavering as she continues forward. “It might fail; it might not work,” she says. “But I’ll try again with something else. This is definitely what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

Cherise Madigan

Cherise Madigan '15

CEO of The Feminine Alliance

Yanar Mohammed

Madigan skypes weekly with Iraqi feminist Yanar Mohammed.