Archive for the ‘Global News’ Category

June 21, 2012

Want to Help Make History? Join Us in Demanding Female Condoms!

by Anna Forbes

Sign for Female CondomsHave you ever been part of an attempt to set a new record in the “Guinness Book of World Records”? Want to help break an existing world record while also helping to increase access to HIV prevention tools?

If so, your message can be featured in what we hope will become the world’s longest chain of paper dolls.

Universal Access to Female Condoms Joint Programme (UAFC) is working with CHANGE, Our Bodies Ourselves, and dozens of other organizations around the world to collect 30,000 individually completed paper dolls to display in one massive chain at the International AIDS Conference, scheduled for July 22-27 in Washington, D.C.

To participate, just go to by July 27 and write a message about why you think female condoms are important. Your message and paper doll will be included in the chain. Together, we’ll break the world record.

This extraordinary visual statement will illustrate the broad-based, urgent demand for female condoms that exists all around the world. Right now, only 1 percent of all condoms used worldwide are female condoms (FC). Most people either don’t know about FCs or have never used them because they are poorly promoted, expensive and/or unavailable. Meanwhile, more than half of all people living with HIV worldwide are women.

Female condoms are just as effective as male condoms in preventing HIV and pregnancy—and they allow women to protect themselves when male condoms aren’t being used.

Participation is free, it’s fast, and you will contribute to a powerful visual statement urging policy-makers and funders to invest more in making the FC, an under-utilized, highly effective HIV prevention tool, accessible to all women and men who need it.

Learn more about this project by visiting Thanks for taking part!

Anna Forbes is an advocate, organizer, and writer who has worked in HIV/AIDS since 1985 and on women’s health and rights since 1977.  Now an independent consultant with an international client base, her work centers around women, HIV, gender, health, and rights.

May 2, 2012

Canadian Funding of Women’s Health Research Cut

While there has been considerable attention in the United States to political moves intended to reduce access to women’s health services, our neighbors to the north are also experiencing conservative-led cuts that affect women’s health. Six Canadian organizations focused on research and communication in women’s health have been told that their funding will be cut off next spring.

The six organizations forming the Women’s Health Contribution Program focus on issues including: the women’s health implications of the federal government’s regulation of toxic chemicals; the hyper-sexualization of girls; the inter-generational legacy of residential schools on Aboriginal women and their families; the need for trauma-informed counselling for women with addictions; a working guide for conducting sex and gender-based analysis in health research; and a critical analysis of funding for the HPV vaccine. The Program’s work has also focused broadly on how to best deliver prevention and health care programs to women and their children.

A press release from the Canadian Women’s Health Network describes dissatisfaction with and potential impacts of the cuts:

Staff and directors managing the centres and networks add their voices to the growing body of Canadians who are shocked and outraged by the short-sightedness of the federal government cuts to programs, services and the federal civil service. These cuts are in direct contradiction to the pledges regarding gender equality that Canada has made both in international commitments and to Canadians. Women are being hit particularly hard with these cuts, and, because the research being eliminated generated proactive, preventative strategies for health promotion, these cuts will cost everyone in the long term. The end of this work will be most strongly felt by the disadvantaged and the disempowered.

A spokesperson for Canada’s Health Minister has said that the organizations should compete for funding for individual projects via the $33 million budgeted for “gender health research” through the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR). Critics of the cut have suggested that the move is one more sign that the current administration, led by Conservative Party leader and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is not interested in receiving the groups’ policy advice on women’s health (the non-CIHR groups being cut had a mandate to advise the federal government on policy).

An opinion writer in the Vancouver Sun calls the cuts “penny wise and pound foolish,” writing that:

Set adrift will be researchers and staff with specific expertise; lost will be the opportunity for better and more-effective care and prevention programs for two of the poorest and most vulnerable groups in Canada – elderly women and children growing up in poverty.

Federal budget cuts are also directly affecting programs targeting the health of Aboriginal women in Canada. The Native Women’s Association of Canada points out tremendous health disparities faced by Aboriginal women, calls on the government to rethink its decision, and directly addresses how the move further hurts a vulnerable population:

…more is needed to help local communities struggling with health disparities, but cutting the head off the national voice for Aboriginal women’s health shows a lack of commitment to address the issues that affect the most marginalized population in this country — a country that is envied by many other nations across the globe for its ‘great’ health care system and quality of life

March 13, 2012

National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Connects Violence Against Women and Health Disparities

If you’re online early tomorrow morning (Wednesday, March 14), head over to at 8:30 a.m. (EST) for a White House event commemorating National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

According to a blog post by the Office of National AIDS Policy, the multi-agency event “will discuss the intersection of HIV/AIDS, violence against women, and gender related health disparities. Speakers and panelists will examine the juncture of these three important issues that impact women’s lives both domestically and globally.” Join the conversation on Twitter by following @AIDSgov and @PEPFAR and by using this hashtag: #NWGHAAD

Here’s the full agenda:
* Welcome and Event Overview
* Global Announcement
* Framing the Data: A Presentation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
* Research Update: A Brief Update on Ongoing Research by the National Institutes of Health
* Panel Discussion: Linkage between HIV/AIDS and violence against women; a discussion of these issues and gender related health disparities in the global/domestic context.
* Domestic Announcement
* Global and Domestic Synergy
* Closing Remarks

For more on how PEPFAR — the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief — is integrating the issue of gender-based violence in prevention and response programs, take a look at this detailed program guide. This introduction is an important statement:

There is growing consensus that HIV prevention programs must not only address the biomedical and behavioral factors involved in transmission, but also the underlying social and structural drivers that increase vulnerability. Social, political, and economic inequities fuel women’s and girls’ vulnerability to HIV and GBV. Likewise, stigma and discrimination, including against MARPs such as MSM, sex workers, transgender people, and people who inject drugs, make it impossible to prevent or treat HIV through biomedical and behavioral approaches alone. While the evidence base for both HIV structural prevention and GBV prevention are limited, strategies to empower women and girls, engage men and boys, and challenge harmful social norms show promise for addressing the underlying drivers of HIV and GBV, simultaneously reducing the risk and vulnerabilities to both.

Domestically, Kaiser Family Foundation last month released an updated fact sheet highlighting the impact of HIV/AIDS on women in the United States. The fact sheet provides current data and trends over time. In 2009 (most recent year), more than 290,000 women were among the approximately 1.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States. Women of color, particularly black women, are disproportionately affected, as are low-income women. And most women with HIV/AIDS receiving medical care have children under age 18.

Here’s a list of events around the country organized in connection with National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The Centers for Disease Control last week launched Take Charge. Take the Test – a HIV testing and awareness campaign from Act Against AIDS. The campaign ill include radio, billboard and transit advertising along with a website and community outreach efforts in 10 metro areas where African American women are most affected by HIV.

March 8, 2012

International Women’s Day – Stories and Activism

International Women’s Day is traditionally marked as a day to celebrate women’s accomplishments and advocate for gender quality. The advocate component looms large today, considering the stepped-up attacks on women’s health and human rights. A sampling of stories and activities are featured below (most of which have been excerpted from their respective websites). Feel free to add your own links in the comments.

* Reproductive Rights and Justice in the United StatesDemocracy Now talks with Loretta Ross of the SisterSong Reproductive Justice Collective about the latest wave of legislative attacks on reproductive rights. Virginia has enacted a controversial law forcing women seeking abortions to have an ultrasound. Lawmakers in Georgia and New Hampshire meanwhile have advanced new curbs on abortion and contraception coverage. Georgia lawmakers are also considering a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks based on the highly contested notion that fetuses can feel pain at that stage.

“In Georgia we got tossed back to the 19th century,” Ross says. “Republican legislators really didn’t want to hear from women, they didn’t want to pay attention and presumed that they could tell us what to do with our bodies again.”

Plus: For a close-up look at the effect of anti-Planned Parenthood sentiment on health care for low-income women, read today’s New York Times story on the closing of women’s health clinics in Texas.

And for a very funny look at women responding to the ridiculous assaults on women’s health and human rights, check out “International Slutty Women’s Day: A Story in GIFs“ by the amazing Ann Friedman.

* Women of Courage Awards: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton hosted the 2012 International Women of Courage Awards Ceremony today. First Lady Michelle Obama, Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Melanne Verveer and other U.S. and foreign dignitaries also took part. Special guests this year included Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. The names and photos of this year’s honorees — a remarkable group of activists, many of whom are working on gender-based violence issues — are available here.

The International Women of Courage will now travel to 10 U.S. cities to engage with their American counterparts through the International Visitor Leadership Program. Cities include Bozeman, MT; Cincinnati, OH; East Lansing, MI; Indianapolis, IN; Jackson, WY; Kansas City, MO; Minneapolis, MN; Pensacola, FL; St. Louis, MO; Salt Lake City, UT; and Seattle, WA. Their visit to the United States began March 5 with a stop in Pittsburgh.

* Hollaback!: Support the efforts of women around the world fighting street harassment by sharing your story today at On March 22, the group will launch its new “I’ve Got Your Back” campaign.

* Women are the Fabric: A new exhibition of quilts in the lobby of the United Nations, a tribute to the enduring strength of women and a plea for the support and protection they need to take care of themselves and their communities, opens today. Women are the Fabric displays 20 quilts embedded with powerful messages and appeals for action. Some are cries of pain from women who have directly experienced sexual violence and massacres. Several express anger at the impact of war on women. One depicts the magic of a rainforest threatened by oil exploration. Together they convey the strength of women working together on shared concerns.

Women are the Fabric quilt exhibit

* Global Maternal Health and Family Planning: The International Museum of Women (IMOW) is presenting “Healthy Mama, Healthy Baby,” the newest gallery in the online exhibition MAMA: Motherhood Around the Globe. The gallery showcases creative works, profiles, statistics and online advocacy steps to help support maternal health worldwide.

According to the United Nations (2010), a woman dies every 90 seconds from preventable causes during pregnancy and birth. “Healthy Mama, Healthy Baby” examines the current state of maternal health, as well as what is being done to improve upon the world’s maternal mortality rate.

* Planned Parenthood also has a global campaign focused on the fact that millions of women worldwide want to plan their births but lack access to modern contraception. Just last month in Honduras, the Supreme Court upheld a decision outlawing emergency contraception — and now, any woman or doctor found using or distributing the “morning-after” pill could face criminal prosecution and jail time.

Do anti-women’s health attacks like this sound familiar? That’s because the same people behind the attacks on Planned Parenthood and the women that it serves are attempting to eliminate health care funding and increase barriers to reproductive health care for women and mothers in countries all over the world. Watch the video and tell your legislators today — Health Has No Borders!

* RH Reality Check has published an article by Dana Hovig of Marie Stopes International and Alvaro Bermejo of the International HIV/AIDS Alliance on the importance of integrating family planing and HIV services.

“It is 2012, three years before the 2015 deadline the world set for itself to reduce preventable maternal deaths and new HIV infections. If we are to reach this goal, we must act more boldly than we have up until now,” they write. “Women who are at risk of unplanned pregnancy are also at risk of HIV, and vice-versa so separation of these services no longer makes sense. The global health community must work to bring family planning and HIV services together – and quickly – to save women’s lives.”

* Also at RH Reality Check, Jessica Mack writes about the maternal health advocacy group Women Deliver, which this week named its “Women Deliver 50” — a list not of individuals, but of solutions. The list includes advocacy and awareness campaigns, educational initiatives, health interventions, and more.

“It’s not quite as sexy, true, but it’s refreshingly pragmatic,” writes Mack. “Recognizing individual change makers is important, but it is almost always the case that change happens thanks to many, many people. Why not focus on how that change happened (or is happening), so others can be inspired to think bigger and crazier, and do better work?”

* “Our Bodies, Ourselves” Worldwide: One proven solution: women learning about and sharing information about their bodies and health. Take a look at the global projects based on “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” which has now been adapted by women’s groups in dozens of countries. OBOS staff has facilitated the publication and in-country use of materials in more than 25 languages, in print, digital and socially interactive formats. Learn more about these efforts by viewing panels and discussions from OBOS’s 40th Anniversary symposium, which featured our global partners in Armenia, Bulgaria, India, and Senegal, among other countries.

January 9, 2012

Get Karen to Haiti! Support Local Midwives Serving Women in Earthquake-Ravaged Region

Weeks after the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake decimated Haiti’s health infrastructure, Karen Feltham, a certified nurse midwife and nursing instructor at Binghamton University, traveled to Fond Parisien, Haiti, to provide support for pregnant and laboring women at a local birth center.

Two years later, she is returning — leaving today to spend 10 days working alongside the two local Haitian midwives that staff the HCM Maternity Clinic, a birth center that serves more than 2,000 women a year. While the midwives provide the best care possible under difficult conditions, outcomes for mothers and babies could be improved with additional training and support.

Karen’s trip is sponsored by Circle of Health International, which works with local health care providers in crisis- and disaster-struck regions to ensure access to quality reproductive, maternal and newborn care. Like all COHI volunteers, Karen is donating her time, and COHI is fundraising to cover the transportation to Haiti (about $800 in airfare and local travel) and room and board on the compound where the birth center is located (about $300).

Here’s where you come in. For as little as $10, you can help send Karen to Haiti. Want to donate more? Please do so! Numerous gifts are available as perks for donors who can offer $20, $35, $50 or more.

Circle of Health International - images from Haiti

Training drills like the one shown (left) help ensure safer births in unsafe times. Women in areas of crisis or disaster often struggle to secure basic reproductive health care. The Fond Parisien Birth Center (right) serves more than 2,000 women a year, providing critical care.

It’s all part of the Get Karen to Haiti campaign that Our Bodies Our Blog and other bloggers involved in improving maternal health are participating in for the next two weeks. Hillary Boucher and Jeanette McCulloch at BirthSwell have more information about the collaborative effort.

Your donation can make a huge difference. According to COHI:

Birth Centers like the one at Fond Parisian provide a model of care for other areas in Haiti and around the world, where maternal mortality is at the highest rate in the Western Hemisphere, with 630 deaths per 100,000 live births (compared to 11 deaths per 100,000 births in the US).

The midwives at the Fond Parisien birth center have received training in supporting women in low-risk births, providing care in common emergencies, and are developing protocols for when to transfer to other emergency medical facilities. But unlike their peers in the U.S. and in other industrialized societies, they do not have access to the latest research or journals, conferences where they can share skills, or even family support.

Karen took a moment as she was preparing for her trip to talk with Our Bodies Our Blog about her birth philosophy and why she’s returning to Haiti now (see below). Her goals are specific:

* Review existing protocols for managing emergencies and deciding when to transfer to the local hospital. Provide clinical support and skill-building where it could improve outcomes for Haitian women and their babies.

* Run emergency drills using improved protocol for complications most likely to be seen at the clinic, including shoulder dystocia and postpartum hemorrhage.

* Improve monitoring processes so that the clinic can evaluate their existing protocols and make improvements based on evidence, not just anecdotal understanding.

We hope you’ll consider supporting Karen’s efforts in Haiti and visit COHI’s Facebook page to follow along on Karen’s journey. You can learn more about COHI’s efforts in Haiti on its website.

* * * * * * * * * *

Our Bodies Our Blog: You first visited Haiti after the earthquake. How did that experience affect you and your commitment to expanding access to evidence-based care?

Karen Feltham: Arriving in Haiti, especially Port Au Prince, was overwhelming. I kept thinking of how long the earthquake lasted, counting in my head and imagining the earth shaking and the buildings falling — the world changing in 30 seconds. What was that like? Homes become rubble, the living-dead. It has changed everything for me, in a way. Anything can happen, in any instant. It might sound funny, but I run through worst-case scenarios in my head and with my family. Where will you go? Where will we meet?

Witnessing the work of countless NGOs and volunteers was inspiring, as well as a bit maddening. There was (and is) really good work happening in Haiti. There are excellent providers and logisticians providing great, life-changing (and life-providing) services. And that is inspiring.

At the same time, I think that there is a feeling of, “Anything is better than nothing.” I have seen that lead to a neglect of clinical standards.

OBOB: Why are you returning now?

KF: The organization that I volunteer with (Circle of Health International) is completing their work there and turning over the operation of the clinic to a local organization. This is a nice opportunity to re-connect with midwife colleagues who I had worked with previously. My goals for the trip are to run emergency obstetric care management drills, review core competencies, and always to reinforce and encourage the midwifery model of care.

Also, skilled birth attendants at delivery (and fewer pregnancies) definitely lower the maternal mortality rate. The international community is expecting quite a bit from newly trained midwives, and midwifery is a tough job. In the United States, a licensed midwife is more likely to begin independent practice with the benefit of collaboration and experienced colleagues. And so, I feel a commitment to providing something similar to this midwife team.

OBOB: How does your birth philosophy inform your volunteer efforts?

KF: I absolutely believe in the power of kindness and how it can be transformative, even revolutionary. Think of what women bear, here and elsewhere — assault, abuse, submission. I can’t change a country’s infrastructure, health care and education policies. But I can listen. I can provide the most gentle pelvic exam and the most respectful atmosphere.

If my touch is the first that a newborn feels, then I promise to make it a gentle one. If my voice is the first that she hears, then let it be welcoming. This is what I can bring, a reminder that excellent clinical skills are essential, but that kindness is life-changing. At least that’s what I think, and it’s the best that I can offer.

OBOB: You’ve identified three goals for your time in Haiti. Can you give readers a sense of how those goals will be achieved?

KF: I’m not sure how each day will unfold. One must be very flexible in these situations. But I’m certain that each day will be very full. My volunteer partners and I will run through management of the obstetric emergencies; postpartum hemorrhage and shoulder dystocia — the “what-ifs.” It’s so valuable to run through what everyone does in these situations, and then do it again.

Also, each day will include conferencing with the midwives, which involves reviewing clinical cases and addressing whatever concerns that they might have, along with symptoms, diagnoses, and procedures they have questions about.

OBOB: Have you incorporated into your teaching at Binghamton any experiences or lessons learned from working alongside midwives in Haiti and Nicaragua?

I guess that every experience influences every other, even in subtle ways.

I teach at the Decker School of Nursing at Binghamton University in both the graduate and undergraduate programs. I love working with nursing students! They are amazingly good people. One of the courses that I teach is in global nursing. So many students are interested in really making a difference but don’t know where to begin. I try to share a bit of my own experience and encourage each individual student to find their own way. I believe in the ripple effect of good work.

Also, one thing I try to do intentionally with students is to blur the line between “us” and “them.” Haiti and Nicaragua are very far away, and it’s easy to think that the people, clinicians and patients are so very different from us. I try to refer to clinical cases that I have seen elsewhere and good clinical work and speak to the shared experience between provider and patients that happens everywhere.

Health care is what happens between midwife (and doctor and nurse) and patient. It doesn’t happen at the upper levels of the bureaucracy. It’s the thing that takes place between two people. And that is true in Ithaca, N.Y., Fond Parisien, Haiti and Managua, Nicaragua.

January 4, 2012

OBOS Global Symposium Spotlights Challenges to Securing Health, Human Rights

This article was recently published in OBOS’s winter newsletter. View the full newsletter.

* * *

“I did training for more than 5,000 women across the country, and all their stories and all their experiences are in Our Bodies, Ourselves. Along with the stories and political activism, we started brokering power at the personal as well as at the political level. As of this moment, we have something to celebrate.”

Those words were spoken by Renu Rajbhandari, a prominent women’s rights activist in Nepal, during our 40th anniversary symposium, Our Bodies, Our Future: Advancing Health and Human Rights for Women and Girls, on Oct. 1. Co-hosted with Boston University, the event marked four decades of activism and celebrated our evolution from a small group around a kitchen table in the United States to a vibrant network of social change activists at the table in countries around the world.

Held in conjunction with the release of the ninth edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” the symposium was also an opportunity to meet 12 of our global partners, including Renu, and listen to their extraordinary journeys of claiming and transforming this landmark book for the women and girls of their countries. Renu referred to the effort as a “transcreation.”

Many women talked about the cultural, political and social challenges to their activism and the relationships and networks they have built in order to effect change. (View videos from symposium, including the global panels.)

The book’s impact and legacy was described by many speakers, including local luminaries. In a video welcome, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick recalled how he was 15 years old when “Our Bodies, Ourselves” was first published; it was considered “racy,” yet filled with information that made him “a better person, and certainly a better partner.”

Robert Meenan, dean of Boston University School of Public Health, offered a formal welcome, followed by an all-star cast of women’s health advocates, including Byllye Avery, founder of the Avery Institute for Social Change and the Black Women’s Health Imperative, and Adrienne Germain, president emerita of the International Women’s Health Coalition. Marie Turley, executive director of the Boston Women’s Commission, brought greetings from Mayor Tom Menino, who had declared Oct. 1 Our Bodies Ourselves Day in the city of Boston.

These terrific presenters, and our energetic emcee, Jaclyn Friedman, executive director of Women, Action and the Media and a contributor to the new edition, spoke about the personal impact “Our Bodies, Ourselves” has had on their lives and the important role played by organizations like OBOS in realizing health equality and human rights, while at the same time reminding the audience of the sizeable challenges ahead.

They symposium paid tribute to the 14 OBOS founders who changed the world of women’s health 40 years ago. Sam Morgan Lilienfeld and Judah Rome, sons of deceased founders Pamela Morgan and Esther Rome, shared memories of their mothers – not only as feminist moms, but as powerful and positive role models.

“My mom viewed birth as an experience that has the power to change and define the life of a woman,” Sam said, “and her spirit of embracing and celebrating these major life events, which we sometimes may welcome and sometimes greet with trepidation, is something I’ve always admired.”

In his remarks about Esther completing the manuscript of “Sacrificing Ourselves for Love” just before her death in 1995, Judah said: “Watching my mom through the final months of her life was very painful for me, but it taught me how to live.” He told the audience he had hoped that her legacy would live on, adding, “I can tell from the energy in the room that it does.”

Our courageous global partners have used “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to develop and bring culturally unique health and sexuality information to their own communities. In addition to the challenges they encounter, they also discussed their success negotiating with power brokers – from men and matriarchs in the family, to religious leaders and heads of institutions.

Their stories of transformation, in Tanzania, Turkey, Japan, Israel, Serbia, India, Nepal, Senegal and Latin America, were reminiscent of the journey taken by OBOS founders 40 years ago. The parallel between the two groups of women was palpable and confirmed that not only has the book gone global, but it continues to inspire movement building by and for women and girls in every region of the world.

Loretta Ross, national coordinator of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, closed the day, firing up the audience by reminding everyone of the very real threats to women’s reproductive and sexual rights in the United States and around the world. Even so, she said the global partners’ activism and their use of the human rights framework made her “excited and optimistic” about the future.

As the day started with reminiscences of the 1960s and 70s, it ended with a freshly-stoked fire in the belly. OBOS is at the forefront of changing the lives of women and girls and will continue this work in the U.S. and around the world — into the next 40 years and beyond.

June Tsang is the program associate for the Our Bodies Ourselves Global Initiative

November 28, 2011

Don’t Miss: Videos and Stories from OBOS’s 40th Anniversary Global Women’s Health Symposium

Did you miss the 40th Anniversary global women’s health symposium at Boston University back in October? If so — or if you just want to relive the day (yes, it was that awesome) — we’ve edited and posted videos from the symposium on YouTube. Take a look and feel free to post and share these presentations.

The list of speakers includes:

  • Byllye Avery, founder of the Avery Institute for Social Change and the National Black Women’s Health Project, on the impact of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.”
  • Adrienne Germain, president emerita of the International Women’s Health Coalition, on the challenges and opportunities for our health and human rights.
  • Sam Morgan Lilienfeld and Judah Rome, sons of OBOS founders Pamela Morgan and Esther Rome, on growing up with feminist mothers.
  • Sally Whelan, program director for the OBOS Global Initiative, discusses the efforts involved working with groups around the world that are adapting “Our Bodies, Ourselves” for their own communities.
  • Ayesha Chatterjee, program manager for the OBOS Global Initiative, introduces the organization’s global partners.
  • Loretta Ross, founder and national coordinator of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, delivers a rousing closing keynote filled with personal stories and political wisdom. Don’t miss this.

Plus there are welcomes by Massachusetts Gov. Patrick Deval, Robert Meenan, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, and Judy Norsigian and Zobeida Bonilla, OBOS executive director and OBOS Latina health initiative coordinator. And it’s emceed by the one and only Jaclyn Friedman.

And, of course, there are the stories from OBOS’s global partners — women from Tanzania, Israel, Turkey, Senegal, Nepal, Japan, Puerto Rico, India, Bulgaria, Serbia and Armenia who shared their extraordinary journeys transforming “Our Bodies, Ourselves” into different texts and languages, sparking movements and change in their own countries. Along with U.S. participants — including myself and SPARK’s Dana Edell, they address the successes and challenges of the global women’s health movement in three panel discussions on YouTube.

Learn more about the symposium, which also celebrated the launch of the brand new edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” Even those of us who expected great things came away more emotionally overwhelmed (in a good way) than we could have imagined. Hearing how groups literally created words for women’s bodies that didn’t exist, or how they dealt with harassment, threats and other obstacles to sharing accurate information about women’s reproductive health and sexuality, are stories that stay with you. We hope these videos can be used to educate and inspire.

Here’s Byllye Avery on women’s health and self-knowledge before the publication of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” It sets the stage for everything that happened (and will happen) as a result.

October 27, 2011

Judy Norsigian on “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” Past, Present and Future

NBC Nightly News, which broadcast a great report this week on the 40th anniversary of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” has posted an exclusive web-only interview with Judy Norsigian, OBOS co-founder and executive director, that is well worth viewing and sharing. (Also see the equally impressive interview with Dr. Susan Love.)

Norsigian talks about how the earlier “Our Bodies, Ourselves” editions demystified health and medical care, helping women to feel entitled about their right to ask questions — and get answers — from a paternalistic medical system. The book “changed the basic discourse” around women’s bodies and health, while also offering explicit information about access to birth control and abortion.

One of the ongoing health challenges, she notes, is the rate of sexually transmitted infections; women around the globe still struggle to have sex that doesn’t put their health at risk.

The video includes footage of a recent book signing for the brand new 2011 edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” held at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass., and references the work of women’s groups in other countries that have adapted “Our Bodies, Ourselves” for their own communities.

In under 3 minutes, this interview provides one of the best historical and forward-looking assessments of the impact of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” around the world.

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October 12, 2011

Women Deserve Answers: Depo Provera and HIV Risk

A recent study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases drew attention and controversy this month because of its finding that women using injectable types of contraception (known by the brand name Depo Provera) had twice the risk of acquiring HIV from their infected partners.

Heterosexual couples in which one partner had HIV were studied in seven African countries. The participants were sexually active, not pregnant, and not on antiretroviral medicines. Women were HIV-tested quarterly and asked at those times about their contraceptive use.

The researchers found that unprotected sex and sex with other partners was more likely when women used a hormonal contraceptive, but even when they controlled for this, the risk of HIV infection was higher in women using injectable contraceptives compared to oral or no hormonal birth control. Risk of infection in uninfected men from their infected partners was also higher.

The study was limited in that it relied on women’s self-reporting of contraception use and methods. The way participants were selected could have biased the results, and condom use was also self-reported. The study did not randomize women to a birth control method, nor was it designed from the outset as a test of HIV risk and specific types of contraceptive use. It also could not clearly evaluate any risk associated with oral birth control, because there were not enough users of the pill in the study.

Despite these limitations, there is reason to be concerned about whether there is a link between Depo Provera or its generic forms and risk of HIV infection. There are several ideas about how the drugs could potentially increase risk, but the HIV question has been around since at least 1996. That year, researchers working with monkeys and implantable contraceptives published a study suggesting increased risk of a similar virus. Researchers involved with early work on this subject have responded:

How many years has it been that the non-human primate model, and other researchers, have been warning about this and being ignored? What, 15 years now? Shocking.
It’s not like we did our work and it was published in an obscure journal. There’s absolutely no excuse for people doing contraceptive work to not have known this, and not to have taken this forward in the late ’90s. We should have had this answered [in humans] ten years ago.

Global health programs often promote long-acting methods like Depo Provera for women in areas where access to regular medical care is difficult and maternal mortality is high. These same areas often have high rates of HIV. I find it unacceptable that the question of contraceptive use and HIV risk has been around for years, and we don’t appear to be much closer to a clear answer. As Charles Morrison wrote in an accompanying editorial:

The question of hormonal contraceptive use and risk of HIV acquisition remains unanswered after more than two decades. Active promotion of DMPA in areas with high HIV incidence could be contributing to the HIV epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa, which would be tragic. Conversely, limiting one of the most highly used effective methods of contraception in sub-Saharan Africa would probably contribute to increased maternal mortality and morbidity and more low birthweight babies and orphans—an equally tragic result. The time to provide a more definitive answer to this crucial public health question is now; the donor community should support a randomised trial of hormonal contraception and HIV acquisition.

Such a trial would require careful design in order to minimize any risk to participants and to stop as soon as any increased risk of one method is clear. It might be impossible to get funding for, but we owe it to women, who deserve clear and accurate information about the potential risks of injectable and all forms of contraception.

October 7, 2011

On the Women’s Health Movement in the Context of Globalization

As we reflect on our 40th anniversary symposium with its focus on global initiatives, this excellent plenary address delivered by Sylvia Estrada Claudio at the 11th International Women’s Health Meeting (IWHM) in Brussels in September on women’s health and globalization is especially relevant.

In it, Claudio touches on many important themes: human rights, reproductive justice, body image and media, class, race, heterosexism, the environment, corporate greed, and more. There is much to consider in this piece. In particular, she speaks of the need for the women’s health movement to work at the intersections of many forms of oppression:

…this is the 11th IWHM, we are on our 34th year of the contemporary women’s health movement since the very first IWHM was held in Europe in 1977. On the one hand we have achieved much as a movement. And yet on another, whether it be in Asia or Europe we are experiencing backlash and the continuing control of our bodies.

In 1977 and today regimes of control determine the way we work, love and live. Then and now, women have resisted. As long as there is a need for resistances there is a need for a movement. Where women work together to free themselves from class, caste, race, colonial, neo-colonial, heterosexist, and other regimes of control, there we shall find our movement.

She writes that we should not all stop noting differences between us that cause divisions, but should instead move beyond a focus on ourselves and the bigotry encouraged by our larger systems, and work against oppression by refusing to divide into “us” and “others:”

What is the problem, is my ability to accept the world according to their making. Where I exclude myself from others and their struggles, there is where I fall into error. Where I conceive of the women’s health movement as not also a movement against globalization; where I conceive of the movement against sexism as not also a movement against heterosexism, where I conceive the movement against racism as not a movement against caste—that is where I fall into error.

…It is wrong to think that world poverty comes about from the lack of democracy and equity in the area of production and not in the area of reproduction. The women’s health movement must not feel itself out of its depth when it engages the movement against globalization. At the very least we must recognize that the medicalization of the bodies of women who can afford the expensive drugs and procedures, something I have seen discussed well in this meeting, comes from the same logic that denies life saving drugs to those who cannot afford to pay.

Just read the whole thing!

And sometime soon we will have archived video from our own event available online, where you will be able to see and hear our global partners discuss their inspiring women’s health work around the world, including the need to work at the intersection of many oppressions and to frame women’s health in the context of human rights. We’ll post something as soon as the videos become available.

October 6, 2011

Want to Protect Life? Protect Funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

We’re working on pulling together images and stories from this past weekend’s incredible 40th anniversary symposium. Our global partners from Turkey to Tanzania go to great lengths to ensure women in their countries have access to resources and information that enable them to make decisions about their health and the health of their families. Stories from these women affected everyone who watched and listened (see E.J. Graff’s great post over at The American Prospect).

Meanwhile, over on Capitol Hill, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs voted Wednesday to approve a bill (H.R. 2059) that would prohibit the U.S. government from providing funding to the United Nations Population Fund.

The International Women’s Health Coalition, in an alert sent out Wednesday morning on the assault on funding for services that help the world’s poorest women, noted that the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC), “may not understand how essential and cost effective UNFPA’s work to promote the health and rights of women and girls really is.”

Here’s what UNFPA does for the world’s poorest citizens (feel free to call Rep. Ellmer’s office, 202-225-4531, to share this information):

  • Access to contraception and family planning services
  • Midwifery and emergency obstetric care
  • Prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections
  • Prevent and treat obstetric fistula
  • Work to end female genital mutilation and other harmful traditional practices such as child marriage
  • Essential reproductive health services in post-conflict and disaster situations

We’ve heard the stories first-hand of how funding and access to services can save lives, yet right-wing politicians continue to malign the UNFPA out of ignorance and bias.

Reality check: The UNFPA “supports countries in using population data for policies and programmes to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.”

Read more about the international development agency’s programs, along with this FAQ, and please spread the word.

September 29, 2011

2011 Women’s Health Hero: Mavi Kalem Expects Turkish “Our Bodies, Ourselves” to Spark Reform

As part of its 40th anniversary celebration, Our Bodies Ourselves is honoring its global partners who have adapted the “Our Bodies, Ourselves” book for their own communities. Twenty-four groups have been inducted into the Women’s Health Heroes Hall of Fame, joining dozens of advocates working to advance the health and human rights of women and girls. In this blog series, we’ll introduce you to some of the global partners attending OBOS’s anniversary symposium.

Gamze Karadagby Gamze Karadağ
OBOS Project Coordinator, Turkey

I’m a 29-year-old feminist from Turkey. It is hard to be a feminist in Turkey, as I know it is in many countries.

When you state that you’re a feminist, people judge your appearance and question whether you hate men. They speculate about your sexuality, asking if you are a lesbian and why feminists are so “offensive.” Pity we have to encounter such prejudices.

In Turkey, women who call themselves feminist have increased in number in the past few decades, but they are still a very small group. Of course, there are many women who, though they fear being associated with the term and the clichéd prejudices, are still interested in feminist issues.

Many women go about their daily routines giving little thought to obtaining information about their rights, health and body. At the same time, they have difficulty finding sources of information if the need arises. So feminism remains not well understood.

Also, there are some separation points in the women’s movement, including ethnicity, religion and sexual identity, that make moving forward with common goals more difficult. Groups tend to focus on specific concerns, such as legal regulations and violence against women, instead of women’s health and broader political issues. In addition, women’s issues are pushed to the side in Turkey’s political institutions.

I got involved in the women’s health movement when I started working at Mavi Kalem as a volunteer. We were organizing health programs and implementing house visits. At the end, my teammates mentioned the “Our Bodies, Ourselves” book and the possibility of starting that project. It was a brilliant experience to be part of such a project as a health trainer, and with OBOS I started specializing on women’s health rights.

Being a part of this project, I learned a lot — especially about myself, my body, feminism and women’s solidarity. My commitment to finding solutions to problems affecting women in Turkey increased when working on “Bedenlerimiz Biziz,” the Turkish version of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” (read more about the book in progress).

Now we are developing educational modules on women’s health based on “Bedenlerimiz Biziz,” and we are working on women’s health and women’s rights education. In these times, coming together with women are the moments I enjoy in life. The experiences give me energy and hope.

We expect to complete the “Our Bodies, Ourselves” project by the end of 2011. When “Bedenlerimiz Biziz” emerges, we believe many women will take steps to improve their lives. We also believe that this book’s arrival will create an opportunity for reform around the politics of women’s health and the feminist movement in Turkey.

A native of Çanakkale in Turkey, Gamze Karadağ is the general coordinator of Mavi Kalem. She organizes its volunteer and field teams, conducts health trainings for women in local communities, factories, and shelters, and contributes to its monthly women’s health magazine, Zuhre.

September 29, 2011

2011 Women’s Health Hero: Women’s Health Initiative in Bulgaria Focuses on Health Disparities

As part of its 40th anniversary celebration, Our Bodies Ourselves is honoring its global partners who have adapted the “Our Bodies, Ourselves” book for their own communities. Twenty-four groups have been inducted into the Women’s Health Heroes Hall of Fame, joining dozens of advocates working to advance the health and human rights of women and girls. In this blog series, we’ll introduce you to some of the global partners attending OBOS’s anniversary symposium.

Irina Todorovaby Irina Tordorova
OBOS Project Coordinator, Bulgaria

The Women’s Health Initiative in Bulgaria (WHIBG) published a Bulgarian adaptation of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” in 2001, with support from the Open Society Institute and Global Fund for Women.

In the years following its publication, we have used the book as a base for discussions in many seminars in community centers (or “Chitalishte”) across the country, as well as in other outreach activities with women’s groups in small towns and villages. These seminars have been met with great interest and support.

Some of the women’s health topics on which we focus are health disparities, particularly in relation to cervical cancer, cervical cancer prevention, and infertility/assisted reproductive technologies. Our outreach and health promotion activities are based on extensive quantitative and qualitative research that our associates conduct in Eastern Europe.

The situation in Bulgaria concerning cervical cancer prevention is worrisome, since cervical cancer mortality has risen during the past two decades. In Western European and most other Eastern European countries (except Romania and Serbia), in contrast, the incidence and mortality rates are consistently decreasing. In Bulgaria, mortality from cervical cancer has increased from 3.9 per 100,000 women in 1980 to 6.9 per 100,000 women in 2006, which is more than three times the rate for Western European Union countries.

Though Bulgaria sustained a regular screening program from the 1970s until the late 1980s, this program was discontinued when the healthcare system underwent restructuring during the nation’s transitional period. The results vividly illustrate the effects of the rapid dismantling of the existing healthcare system on women’s health and mortality. Screening is currently conducted on an ad hoc, opportunistic basis. Rather than making PAP tests part of a preventive program, they are usually done as part of exams for other purposes.

Women are facing structural barriers, which limit motivation and access. In a nationally representative study we conducted with women age 20 to 65, we found that relatively few women (46 percent) have ever had a Pap test. Socioeconomic conditions were related to the extent to which the women reported facing healthcare system barriers to screening (difficulties in access, transportation, price, communication with providers, etc.).

Quite striking were the disparities in the different ethnic groups. For example, 51 percent of women of Bulgarian ethnicity reported being screened, while only 39 percent of Turkish women and 8.8 percent of women of Roma ethnicity reported screenings.

More recently, there have been initiatives by the Ministry of Health to develop contemporary strategies to reduce mortality from cervical cancer. So far, the process has been slow. However, our associates have been conducting health promotion activities. They are also providing policy recommendations and participating in Parliamentary and Ministry of Health working groups to develop successful prevention strategies and programs.

Cervical cancer mortality is a vivid indicator of inequalities between and within countries, as well as an indicator of the health of a health care system. Cervical cancer is highly avoidable, and continued health promotion and policy efforts are needed to reduce incidence and mortality in Bulgaria.

Irina Tordorova is a health psychologist and professor at the Center for Population Health and Health Disparities at Northeastern University. She is also past president of the European Health Psychology Society (EHPS) and EHPS representative to the United Nations. She co-founded the Women’s Health Initiative in Bulgaria, which published a Bulgarian adaptation of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” in 2001.

September 19, 2011

2011 Women’s Health Hero: Shokado Women’s Bookstore Shows Language is Power

As part of its 40th anniversary celebration, Our Bodies Ourselves is honoring its global partners who have adapted the “Our Bodies, Ourselves” book for their own communities. Twenty-four groups have been inducted into the Women’s Health Heroes Hall of Fame, joining dozens of advocates working to advance the health and human rights of women and girls. In this blog series, we’ll introduce you to some of the global partners attending OBOS’s anniversary symposium.

by Kathy Davis

My first face-to-face contact with the women from Shokado bookstore responsible for the Japanese adaptation of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” was at a Crossing Borders with OBOS conference in the Netherlands in 2001.

Three women entered the room, and I vividly remember the one in the middle who was wearing a hat and smiling broadly. I had a sense that she was being respectfully escorted to the meeting by her friends, and I wasn’t far off the mark. As Sally Whelan, OBOS program manager, later explained, this woman was a “real hero.”

Toyoko Nakanishi, Shokado Women's Bookstore

Toyoko Nakanishi (left) was the owner of the Shokado Women’s Bookstore, which she founded in 1975. For many years, Toyoko single-handedly produced a newsletter on women’s books and tirelessly supported countless women’s projects, including — at the time — the extremely daring and daunting adaptation of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” As she put it: “If I won’t do it, I’m not a woman.”

True to her words, she opened the second floor of her book shop to the translation team for weekly meetings, attended nearly all of them herself and, during the three years it took to finish, she was constantly on the phone (this was before email!) networking with hundreds of people and organizations that helped make the book possible.

No wonder Toyoko was smiling.

Every “Our Bodies, Ourselves” adaptation is exciting in its own way, and the Japanese project is no exception. This edition, published at a time when women did not have words to talk about their bodies, opened up a new way for Japanese women and girls to discuss their bodies and sexuality. Previously, they could not explain their physical experiences or express their desires to their partners, and they were at the mercy of physicians.

A case in point was the Fujimi hospital scandal that broke in 1981. More than a thousand unnecessary hysterectomies were performed on women, all of whom who were told that their uterus was “rotten” or their ovaries “a mess.” At the time, many of these women could not even utter the word “uterus.”

Japanese adaptation of Our Bodies Ourselves

Fortunately, the situation is very different today, and much of this is due to the pathbreaking work that took place on the bookstore’s second floor. The women who worked on the Japanese edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” got rid of all the expressions that treated women’s bodies in a negative way — including words that implied shadiness, shame, or secrecy. They developed a whole new language, one that empowered women and girls and made them feel good and confident about themselves.

For example, the term “shame hair” became “sexual hair,” and menstruation, which had been linked to the word for “pollution,” was straightforwardly named “a monthly occurrence.” Some of these newly invented words have even made it into the latest Japanese dictionaries, showing just how influential this project has been.

One of the most wonderful things about the different resources based on “Our Bodies, Ourselves” is that each project looks for a way to make a difference in its own context. The Japanese project shows that language is power and that being able to talk about our bodies in positive and affirming ways is empowering.

Kathy Davis is a senior researcher at the Institute of History and Culture at Utrecht University in The Netherlands. A noted authority on feminist scholarship, her publications include, among others, “The Making of Our Bodies, Ourselves: How Feminism Travels Across Borders.”

September 15, 2011

2011 Women’s Health Hero: “For Family and Health” Pan Armenian Association Provides Lifeline for Women

As part of its 40th anniversary celebration, Our Bodies Ourselves is honoring its global partners who have adapted the “Our Bodies, Ourselves” book for their own communities. Twenty-four groups have been inducted into the Women’s Health Heroes Hall of Fame, joining dozens of advocates working to advance the health and human rights of women and girls. In this blog series, we’ll introduce you to some of the global partners attending OBOS’s anniversary symposium.

by Sophia Moradian

In the spring of 2009 of my freshman year at Boston College, I received an advanced study grant to travel to Armenia. As an 18-year-old of Armenian descent who had never been to the country, I had few expectations of the one month I would spend investigating small business entrepreneurship in rural Armenia.

I soon saw the links between economics, socio-cultural norms, and the status of rural women and girls, many of whom are confined to their homes. Living in disproportionate and desperate poverty, they are unable to influence or control household finances and decisions. Many of the women’s husbands work outside the country, and while this leaves their partners back home more vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections, women are unable to protect themselves or access basic health and reproductive services. I learned that more than half of rural Armenian women have never visited a gynecologist.

OBOS’s partner in Armenia, the “For Family and Health” Pan Armenian Association (PAFHA), is working to address these inequities via education, advocacy, training and service programs throughout the country. The Association has informal branches in all 10 regions of Armenia and is headquartered in the city of Yerevan.

The main areas of focus include abortion, health care access, adolescents, advocacy and HIV/AIDS.  Its work includes health clinics, one of which provides free reproductive care twice a week to women and girls, subsidized by sales of the 2010 Armenian adaptation of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” (Tour the clinic here.)

For Family and Health Pan Armenian Association

Clinic staff undergo training at the Vernissage Reproductive Health Clinic at the St. Mary’s Family Health Centre in Yerevan, Armenia. Click the image to tour the clinic. Proceeds from the sales of the Armenian edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” are used to provide free reproductive health care to girls and women.

I have worked on gender and economic rights in Armenia and in the greater Middle East region and witnessed first-hand the impact of poverty on access and health in these communities. For the women and girls who cannot afford health care, PAFHA’s clinics are essential lifelines.

As the president of the Boston College Armenian club, I am an active voice in the Armenian community on campus and in the greater Boston area, organizing events on the health of rural Armenian women and the Armenian Genocide, including an annual Remembrance Day gathering on campus. These are my actions — a way for me to raise awareness about human rights and engage people on issues and injustices that affect Armenian women and girls.

PAFHA’s work in Armenia, under the leadership of Meri Khachikyan, should inspire all of us who believe women’s rights are human rights. The group’s “Women’s Manifesto,” for example, is a courageous call-to-action that will soon be submitted to the Armenian government with the endorsement of approximately 500 community leaders.

Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health, has called for taking up the health rights of those who cannot provide basic health services for themselves. Meri and her team are answering his call, and it is my hope that we can all do the same.

I am now applying for a Fulbright scholarship that will take me back to the Shirak province of northwest Armenia. This time I hope to build on my previous experience and further the economic rights – and ultimately the sexual and reproductive rights – of women and girls. As a young activist preparing for this assignment, and as a member of the Armenian Diaspora, I am eager to meet and listen to Meri’s experiences this October at the OBOS symposium and I hope you will join me, in person or by webcast.

Sophia MoradianSophia Moradian is a senior at Boston College majoring in international studies with a minor in Islamic civilizations and societies. After graduation, Sophia plans to work internationally in the field of economic development and human rights.