Middle East Studies

Leila Hessini

Independent Transnational Advisor and Activist

Leila Hessini is a transnational feminist leader, advocate, and advisor with over 25 years of organizing and grantmaking experience advancing human rights, gender equality, and sexual and reproductive health rights and justice in the United States and globally. Leila was born in Algeria and educated in the U.S., France, and Morocco. Over her professional career, she has lived and worked in Africa, Europe, and the United States. She held the position of vice president of programs at Global Fund for Women for over five years where she oversaw its strategic grantmaking, movement-strengthening, global advocacy, and philanthropic collaborations. From 2002 until 2016 she served on the senior leadership team of Ipas where she published extensively on abortion rights and justice, lead global advocacy efforts, and partnered with feminist groups working on self-management, community ownership, and stigma reduction around bodily integrity and sexual and reproductive rights. She also co-founded an intersectional feminist consulting firm Strategic Analysis for Gender Equality (SAGE) while based in North Africa, and led the Ford Foundation Cairo office’s gender work. 

Leila has extensive popular education, advocacy, non-profit organization, board development, philanthropic, monitoring, and evaluation experience. She is a skilled communicator committed to using an intersectional approach to centering and amplifying the voices and experiences of the most marginalized. She was a recipient of the Ford Foundation’s Op-ed Public Voices Fellowship and was a Fulbright Scholar in Morocco. Her publications cover a wide range of topics including feminist and decolonial approaches to philanthropy, advancing women’s human rights in majority-Muslim contexts, feminist strategies to promote sexual health rights and justice, advancing women’s use of self-managed abortions, and tackling stigma and discrimination.  

Leila currently serves as treasurer and executive committee member of Prospera’s Board of Directors, vice-chair of the Center for Constitutional Rights board, and member of Highlander Research and Education board. She also serves on the accountability council of the Numun Feminist Technology Fund and the advisory committee of the African Women’s Human Rights Defenders Platform. She has previously served on the boards of: SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights, Global Fund for Women, Safe Abortion Access Fund, and the Reproductive Health Technologies Project. 

Leila holds an MPH in public health and an MA in Middle Eastern and North African Studies. She studied Islamic law in Morocco and pursued doctoral studies in sociology in France. She has studied Arabic and German and speaks French and English fluently.