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At just 14 years old, Christine Monska began her journey on the path to women’s empowerment by starting a girls’ group at her local middle school. Now, she is the executive director of Women’s Fund SouthCoast, a nonprofit research and grantmaking organization focused on uplifting women and girls in the community through social change. The March 2023 appointment is a culmination of Monska’s past career achievements. 

Monska grew up in Easthampton, where she experienced traditional gender roles that left her feeling close-minded about her future. It was not until she attended the women’s school Smith College for a degree in government that her eyes opened to the tremendous potential of women. There, Monska was educated through a gendered lens that left her yearning for gender justice.

As Monska developed her career, she said she was exposed more and more to the inequalities women face daily in the community. As the district director for former state Sen. Ben Downing, she sat on the Commission on the Status of Women. She also served as a board member for Berkshire County Action Council and Shout Out Loud, a small nonprofit addressing human trafficking. But for Monska, one of the most influential aspects of working for Sen. Downing was hearing from the women of Western Massachusetts as they sought help from the senator’s office. She said she learned that what they wanted most was opportunities for their daughters. 


Monska attended NYU for a master’s degree in global affairs with a concentration in international law and human rights. After receiving her degree, she returned home to join the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts as a program officer, and she shifted her focus onto the youth of her community. Monska founded the Young Women’s Initiative (YMI) in 2017 as a branch of a national program stemming from the White House Council on Women and Girls. The YWI is a policy advocacy and leadership development program for young women in the Springfield area. It enables their youth leaders to identify barriers, consider solutions, and make recommendations for change in their community.

In recent years, Monska was appointed to the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women by the Caucus of Women Legislators, where she worked for two-and-a-half years listening to the stories of women and other gender-expansive residents of Massachusetts before taking the opportunity at Women’s Fund SouthCoast (WFSC). 

In addition to these contributions to government and women’s empowerment, Monska was the youth leadership programs manager for The Clubhouse Network and a continuing education adviser at Bard Microcollege. She also holds certifications in financial accounting, economics for managers, and business statistics from Harvard Business School, a paralegal certificate from Boston University, and a certificate in Transformative Leadership in Disruptive Times from George Washington University, where she also sits on the advisory council. She is also the mother to a 10-month-old.

In the short time that Monska has been with the WFSC, she said she has gained a new perspective on the South Coast community, having worked with many young women leaders in the area. She said she is confident and excited to further empower the women of the South Coast and bring gender justice and equity to the city.

One thing that Monska said she learned during her time at Smith College that she will always keep in mind as an advocate for women’s rights and equality is that “every single issue is a women’s issue.”

Christine Monska infront of the womens fund southcoast bulding on 65 William St in New Bedford. : Jonathan Leblanc-unger / The New Bedford Light

New Bedford Light: What is your family like?

Christine Monska: I come from a Polish family. I am first generation, and I think that part of why I got into gender justice or working on women’s issues was because of my family upbringing. It was a lot of stark gender roles, where women were expected to be, as you can imagine, pretty, smart, and nice, and maybe not necessarily go to college and have careers — definitely not in male-dominated industries.

NBL: How old were you when you started participating in women’s advocacy? 

CM: I was probably in middle school. I, the guidance counsel, and a couple of other young women started a girls’ group. The group came about because there were a lot of issues going on: gender-based violence in the middle school and very early pregnancies at 13 or 14 years old. There were just a lot of challenges in the city of Easthampton, and not really an outlet for girls to talk about these issues.

And then there was also the fact that girls were getting their periods for the first time and figuring out how to get pads and tampons, so we started this girls’ group. 

Facilitated by a guidance counselor, it was a place where anyone who identified could come for group, and we just got to talk about issues we were going through. That was one of the first times I was in a space of all young women and girls. That’s what really started it, and then I went to a women’s college. 

I was a student at Smith College in Northampton. There I got to see that it didn’t matter what you were studying; everything was looked at with a gendered lens. So I got to learn that, and I always say this, every single issue is a women’s issue.

NBL: What inspired you to become an advocate for women’s rights and equity?

CM: Many different things. I think back to my experience in the girls’ group, but then I also think about my experience at Smith College. I was surrounded by women who were attorneys and professors with wide worlds of experience and PhDs who lived these amazing lives, and I was just sitting there in awe because I had never met someone from Easthampton who had these experiences. 

I just knew what I learned from Easthampton and my working-class family, where women often played these very traditional gender roles as caretakers, teachers, bookkeepers, or hairstylists. And those are all great but very different from this world that I had been just introduced to, and I thought: “Oh my gosh, maybe I can be one of those amazing women.” Even though I come from this kind of different background, still with privilege of course, but different. And I think that, for me, sparked it. 

Christine Monska outside of the Women’s Fund SouthCoast building on William Street in New Bedford. Credit: Jonathan Leblanc-Unger / The New Bedford Light

And then, I got to do this fellowship at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.. That experience really stuck with me, too, because when I was there, I only worked with one woman attorney on the entire floor of the Office of Legislative Affairs. There were a couple of women who were in more of an administrative position, but there was really only one woman attorney, and I was like, “oh, we gotta change this.” 

So I thought: “Well OK. That’s gonna be me.” And then, I did that. I started to work in state government. I worked for former Sen. Ben Downing out in Pittsfield for a couple of years. I got to work on issues affecting the entirety of Western Massachusetts. There, I got involved again in gender justice because I got to see a lot of constituents that would come into the office, definitely gender-diverse, but we would see a lot of women. And it was many women coming in as caretakers to their grandchildren in multigenerational homes and single mothers looking for support. And if you’re looking for support, you probably don’t think about going to your senator’s office. That is probably your last step on the road. Just to hear so many coming in, I was able to talk to the senator and present the issues facing women here in particular. Of course, we worked on many different issues, but that one made me think a bit further. 

Then I started working on the Berkshire County Commission on the Status of Women. I was only, I think, 20 or 21 at the time, but because I was talking about all these gender-justice issues, I had just come from Smith College and had this all on my mind, I started working on more of a regional level on women’s issues. And then, from there, I thought, “Oh, well, I’m going to be an attorney. I am going to go work on gender-justice issues from the law. And I am going to do it at an international level.” 

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And so, I went to NYU and studied international law and human rights with a gender justice component, and then again, was working internationally with government. I was working on research looking at gender in the security sector reform and looking at women’s participation in government and what that looked like in different contexts. And I thought, “oh, there is so much I can do. This is such a huge, huge issue,” and talking with so many women, mainly about reparations, and they would say, “economic opportunity for myself, but really for my girls. I want my girls to go to a good school. I want them to have opportunities.” 

So then again, I’m thinking, “what’s the answer to solving these gender-justice issues?” I went back home, worked for the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, and realized there was so much I could do at home in my own community. But I was focusing again on working with youth. It was particularly important because what the women had said to me was that they really wanted opportunities for their girls. And so, with that, I started the YWI. The YWI is a leadership development policy advocacy program that covers young women ages 12 to 24, so you are hitting middle school, high school, college, and out of school in a cascading leadership model, and that was an amazing program. One of the young women in the program went to the United State of Women Conference in California when she was 14 years old. She was from Springfield and talked about her issues and what she wanted to do about it. And I tell this story a thousand times, but she exits the stage, and then Michelle Obama comes on and takes the stage next. And oh my gosh, for her to have that story, and for me to retell it a thousand times, is amazing. It just makes the work all that more important.

And where did it go from there that led me to here? I was then appointed by the state’s Commission on the Status of Women about two-and-a-half years ago, working on a state level listening to issues affecting women, girls, and gender-expansive folks. I heard different stories with the same themes: access to reproductive justice, affordable childcare, menstrual products in schools and prisons, and much more. And then I heard about this opportunity popping up at the Women’s Fund SouthCoast. I worked across the state, but not necessarily in the southeastern part of the state, so I thought it was an excellent opportunity to learn more about this community apart from at the state level.

NBL: How would you describe the WFSC?

CM: I would say we do research on the status of women and girls so we know exactly what the issues are in collaboration with the community. We can then use that information which fuels our grantmaking. That is one of the organization’s primary functions; like many other women’s funds, if not them all, we give out money to women and girls serving organizations as well as other organizations that help bring about gender justice. We do that in partnership with the whole region. I would say the last thing that we do out of our whole “systems thinking” is around advocacy. So working with education, thinking about “how do you train people to be able to advocate for themselves and other people within their communities for programs and policies that affect them?” 

Christine Monska at Advocacy Day on May 31, 2023, at the State House in Boston speaking about the Girls Empowerment and Leadership Initiative and her work with the Women’s Fund. Credit: Courtesy of WFSC

NBL: What are some programs that WFSC has funded in New Bedford?

CM: I can tell you what I have learned so far in my two-and-a-half months in this role and what I can remember. I came from a site visit this morning, and it was at the Fishing Heritage Center, where we funded Herstory. It is one of my favorite projects to learn about. It utilizes young people, primarily high school and some college, that get to learn from the aging population about their very rich history in the fishing industry. It helps young people learn more about oral history and how to do the interview process. The project connects aging women with an outlet to tell their stories, empowering them to reflect on their life with a young person. That’s one. 

There is also Mujeres Victoriosas, which is part of the Community Economic Development Center, and they have a project that focuses on economic prosperity and leadership development for immigrant women. That is another amazing program. 

We had Girls on the Run in the past. Girls on the Run is all across the nation, I believe, and it teaches leadership development while also running in races. Those are just a few; there are many more.

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NBL: What is one of your favorite events that you held in the past?

CM: I would have to say my favorite event so far in my short time here was one with the Girls Empowerment and Leadership Initiative, which was run through the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women. I chaired the GELI, and it was the very first time we had an in-person event. It was in Worcester and was open to any young person high school to post-college age. We had two young women from New Bedford and two young women from Taunton in collaboration with the Bristol County Commission on the Status of Women. 

In my first month working here, I got to work with these two young people from New Bedford, and we facilitated a session called Finding the Power of Your Voice or something similar. I got to work with them a couple of times; we had meetings, and I got to learn a little more about them. And while I was their mentor, they really facilitated the session. There were over a hundred girls from all over the state; commissioners and legislators were there. It was really fantastic. They got to go to different workshops we put on. There was one on economic empowerment, one on how to run for office, and one on advocating for yourself, which was all gearing up for our Advocacy Day. Southeastern Massachusetts had the highest showing from all across the state. It was because of girls here in this region that the commission even considered having girls track this year and started doing more around girls for this state. 

NBL: What can people do to help support WFSC?

CM: We are always looking for volunteers. We are a volunteer lead organization. We have multiple different committees in which folks can sit on. We have a grants committee, an engagement committee that does a lot of development fundraising work, an events committee, a finance committee, and we may develop some new committees, perhaps on research and communication, just to name a few. And then, for events, we are always looking for volunteers to help staff those. 

And then I would also say to come in and stop in the office. We have people do that, and we tell them about the work we do, and then based on their interests and passion, we might recommend an internship as a good fit. Maybe a job shadow. Maybe a committee or our board of directors. We work with people on an individual basis to find their passion, and if it necessarily isn’t the best fit for WFSC, we also have current and past grantees that are always looking for volunteers. 

NBL: What is one of your most prominent memories from doing hands-on advocacy?

CM: I think that it was going to Advocacy Day and being there with all the folks throughout the state and regions that I had worked in. I knew most of the people in the room. Being able to work with the Berkshire County delegation, including past commissioners, young people, and the legislators I used to work with as an employee of former Sen. Ben Downing, everything kind of came full circle for me. I got to spend time with those folks and worked on state-wide issues as a state commissioner on the Status of Women. So I got to represent myself and my work throughout the state. I was in community with young people and the young women who worked with me on the GELI session. One of the girls was there with her mom, and we just got to talk about what she learned from the day. Just to see her being involved in the GELI session and be at Advocacy Day, it was a full-circle day for me. I got to talk about our legislative priorities, not just from a state level, but voices from the Berkshires, Hampton, and the South Coast. 

NBL: Do you have any messages for young women in the New Bedford community?

CM: Please get involved with WFSC (Women’s Fund SouthCoast). We really would love to have more young people, particularly more young people who identify as BIPOC, LGBTQ+, or anyone who has a compounding and intersecting marginalized identity whose voices we need to hear the loudest; please find us. Find us on social media, come to our office, email me, and get involved. Get involved in your school. Continue to ask questions. Be brave. Settle into your leadership, and please contact us because we can collaborate!

Email reporter Roxanne Hepburn at

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