Doctor of Humane Letters
As founder and former director of the nonprofit organization Women’s Dignity, Margaret Bangser ’81 takes on the deeply intertwined issues of health care, gender inequity and poverty in Eastern Africa. Based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania—and in partnership with groups including the World Health Organization and the United Nations Population Fund—Women’s Dignity promotes public policy, government accountability and social services to protect the dignity and rights of the poor, particularly girls and women. The Project’s particular focus is on the prevention and management of obstetric fistula, a severe complication of childbirth that renders women incontinent. Though eradicated more than a century ago in North America and Europe, fistula still leads to lives of shame and isolation for at least 2 million women worldwide who cannot reach a hospital or afford the simple corrective surgery.
Inspired in part by a semester of study in Kenya during her junior year at Amherst, Bangser—a native of Larchmont, N.Y.—has dedicated her career to international service. After earning her B.A. in political science, she enrolled in a master’s program in public and private management at Yale. Bangser went on to join the International Women’s Health Coalition, managing projects in Bangladesh, India and the Philippines. As Program Officer for Reproductive Health and Gender Relations for the Ford Foundation in Eastern and Southern Africa from 1992 to 1995, she developed a grant-making program for Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. From 1996 to 1998, she coordinated the Fistula Project at Bugando Medical Centre in Mwanza, Tanzania—the first comprehensive program to address fistula in that nation, and the seed from which Women’s Dignity soon grew. In 1998, Bangser was named a Research Affiliate and joined the Gender and Health Equity Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies.
In 2007, in recognition of more than a decade of multifaceted, life-changing work by Women’s Dignity, the Campaign to End Fistula honored Bangser as an “Outstanding Fistula Pioneer.”
Hear Bangser’s talk, “The Right to Be Safe: Fistula, Maternal Health and Health Equity in Tanzania,” on our audio page, Conversations with Honored Guests.