This International Women’s Day, IRI Honors the Life and Legacy of Judy Van Rest

  • Emilia James
Judy Van Rest presenting

International Women’s Day (March 8) is an opportunity to celebrate the cultural, social, and political impact of women around the world. At IRI, women’s empowerment has been a priority since our founding. In the last four decades, our organization has worked with women leaders who have made positive change in their country and in their communities across the globe.

This year, IRI is celebrating the life of Judy Van Rest, our late Executive Vice President from 2004-2021 and staunch supporter of women’s rights. Providing women with opportunities to get involved in politics and encouraging them to use their voice was very important to Judy. In 2006, she founded the Women’s Democracy Network (WDN), a flourishing global network of aspiring and accomplished women leaders in over 80 countries.

In her time as Executive Vice President, IRI became a global leader in promoting good governance, the empowerment of women and youth, political party strengthening, and free and fair elections. Judy also oversaw IRI’s Freedom Award Celebration, which honors individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to the cause of liberty, often under the most difficult circumstances. Her impact on our organization and mission to advance democracy worldwide will be felt for generations to come.

To honor Judy’s life, IRI held a memorial in late January. The service featured tributes from IRI President Dan Twining, IRI Board Members, Members of Congress, close friends, former colleagues, and several women who she inspired. 

Recounting Judy’s love for music and the arts, her knowledge of history, and the relationships she cultivated, IRI Board Member and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Constance Newman rightfully remembered her as “a Renaissance woman of the twenty-first century.” 

She believed in the power of change by helping women all over the world

Ashley Davis, Co-Chair of the WDN Advisory Council

“She believed in the power of change by helping women all over the world,” remarked Ashley Davis, Co-Chair of the WDN Advisory Council. “She always reminded us that small change led to big change and to never get frustrated when major changes weren’t happening right away.”

Many of those who paid tribute to Judy described her as inspirational, brave, funny, a mentor, and a champion for democracy, freedom, and human dignity. Through the many tributes, it was clear that Judy left a lasting impression on everyone she met.

“Judy was an inspiration to everyone in the IRI family and a powerful voice for those struggling to live a life of dignity free from political oppression,” said Dan Twining. “Her lifelong dedication to democratic progress and women’s empowerment will continue to resonate around the world. Judy’s passion for equipping and empowering women to participate in the civic and political life of their countries was an animating force throughout her career. She was a champion of liberty for all people, and she will be missed.” 

In honor of Judy, IRI established the Judy Van Rest Women’s Democracy Network Fund to empower and support women across the world to participate in the political process.

To learn more about Judy’s life and legacy, please watch the video below:

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