Archive for the ‘OBOS 40th Anniversary’ Category

March 7, 2012

Pittsburgh, PA Folks – check out the Women and Girls Health Weekend

If you’ll in or around Pittsburgh, PA this weekend, we’d love to see you at the symposium on “Women, HIV, and the 40th Anniversary of Our Bodies, Ourselves,” featuring OBOS co-founder Judy Norsigian.

The symposium is part of Women and Girls Health Weekend coordinated by Educating Teens about HIV/AIDS, Inc. This Friday, there will be a screening of the breast implant documentary “Absolutely SAFE” with filmaker Carol Ciancutti-Leyva, then Judy will speak on Saturday. Registration is required.

Details on the Saturday event:

Saturday, March 10, 8:45 a.m.-2 p.m.
University Club, 123 University Place, Pittsburgh, PA 15213

“Women, HIV, and the 40th Anniversary of Our Bodies, Ourselves,” an inter-generational symposium featuring Judy Norsigian, executive director of Our Bodies, Ourselves; in observance of National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the book that inspired the women’s health movement. $35 registration includes luncheon.

Presented by Educating Teens About HIV/AIDS, Inc. Co-sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and its Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology.


January 27, 2012

OBOS 40th Featured in The Women’s Health Activist

We’re delighted to see a piece on our recent 40th anniversary global symposium in The Women’s Health Activist, the newsletter of one of our favorite organizations, the National Women’s Health Network. In The Spiral of Women’s Health Activism, NWHN Program & Policy Director Amy Allina talks a bit about our history and reports on panels and presenters from the day, remarking:

Early in the day, Jaclyn Friedman, the symposium’s mistress of ceremonies, explained her belief that women’s health activism moves in a spiral, not a circle, because while we are connected to our beginnings, we are also continually moving forward. The day’s discussions provided a perfect demonstration of that concept.

If you weren’t able to join us for those discussions, check out video from the event, including presentations from Byllye Avery, Loretta Ross, a welcome message from Governor Patrick Deval, panels with our global partners, and more.

If you haven’t checked out the NWHN site lately, go take a look – it has been redesigned to a spiffy new look, with news and blog posts, connections to social media, and lots of great information about the organization and the health issues they work on.


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 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.


October 1, 2011

Watch Online Today: Our Bodies Ourselves 40th Anniversary Symposium

Today at Boston University’s Tsai Performance Center, Our Bodies Ourselves is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the publication of the original “Our Bodies, Ourselves” book, editions of which have informed and inspired women ever since.

40th anniversary logoTo mark this milestone, the organization is holding a free public symposium, with speakers including Loretta Ross of SisterSong, Byllye Avery of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, and OBOS’s own Judy Norsigian. Jacyln Friedman of Women, Action, & the Media is the emcee.

There will also be panels on global activism featuring OBOS’s network partners from 12 countries who will discuss their experiences transforming ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’ for their own countries (meet some of them here on the blog).

Here’s the full agenda and program guide (pdf).

Last but not least, the 40th anniversary edition of the landmark book, a completely revised ninth edition, will be released today.

I’m super-excited.

Realizing that everybody who might be interested in these sessions — which include a great deal of international representation — might not be able to attend, the event will be live-streamed online starting at 9 a.m. today.

If you’re following along at home and want to tweet about it, the hashtag we’re using is #obos40. There will be a post-event round-up at here at Our Bodies Our Blog.

Be sure to check out three new stories about OBOS posted today. And thanks for celebrating with us!


October 1, 2011

The flood of relief I felt at that moment, and the power that came from the sense of not being alone, really did change my life …

by Ruth Bell Alexander

In late 1969, a couple of months away from delivering my first baby (my son, who is now 41), I was 25 years old, living out in the country suburbs of Boston 3,000 miles away from my family, with a husband who went off to Cambridge every weekday for work.

It was a pretty lonely existence. I knew almost no one. But when my husband came home one day and told me he had met some people at work who knew about a women’s group that was starting, my life began to change. They were offering a class after hours at MIT about women’s issues. I remember the class being called Women and Their Bodies, but that’s with 42 years hindsight, so I may be wrong about the original title.

I do remember with startling clarity that although I knew only one person there, and even she I knew only barely, the roomful of women I walked into was very welcoming. The “class” was presented in a series of lectures about topics that ranged from women’s “roles,” to women’s work, health, legal issues pertaining to women, etc. — one topic per week for 12 weeks.

Each week had a “presenter,” and everyone in the room was invited to ask questions, offer comments, and discuss the issue at hand. I remember the Pregnancy class most clearly of course, and most specifically I remember raising my hand, with some trepidation, to ask about nightmares. During my pregnancy I had been having troubling nightmares, one of the issues that led me to brave the New England winter nights to drive 20 miles into Cambridge for the class. So I raised my hand and asked, “Has anyone experienced nightmares during pregnancy?”

Remembering this brings tears to my eyes even now at age 67, because my question was met with such loving responses that I felt embraced by the warmth and power of the experience and a deep connection to every woman in that room. No one patted me on the head and told me not to worry, as my doctor had done. No one scoffed at me. Instead, they listened and they responded from their hearts. And several of them had nightmares during their pregnancies, and they told me it was a fairly common experience for pregnant women to have strange dreams.

The flood of relief I felt at that moment, and the power that came from the sense of not being alone, really did change my life. The course ended after my baby was born, but I remember being at the last class when anyone there who wanted to participate in the writing of the lecture series into a book was invited to come to the next meeting.

I did show up at that next meeting and I have been involved with the OBOS collective since then. Happy 40th Anniversary, “Our Bodies, Ourselves.”

Do you remember when you first read “Our Bodies, Ourselves”? Take part in OBOS’s 40th anniversary by sharing how “Our Bodies, Ourselves” made a difference in your life. View more stories and submit your own.


October 1, 2011

OBOS was my midwife — always informative, always encouraging me to hear and express my own voice …

by Maura Ann Dowling

In 1986 I was a senior in college, had just ended a relationship with my boyfriend who had anger management challenges from some unresolved issues in his past. Then I found out I was pregnant. My parents were very concerned with image — so this was not an event they were able to open their hearts to for many months.

Fortunately I owned a copy of “Our Bodies Ourselves,” because my mother had planted a seed in me to question the medical establishment, and one of my professors in college was part of the generation of 1968 in France and she had raised my feminist consciousness. Neither my mother nor my professor had the ability to advise me in this, so OBOS gave me that mentoring supportive voice that I needed.

For me, an abortion was not an option. I always knew I would carry my pregnancy to term and raise the baby on my own. And OBOS continually gave me the women’s wisdom I needed. I was 24 at the time but looked about 17 — and when I went to physicians’ offices, I noticed the disconnect between what I wanted to be a positive nurturing pre- and post-natal experience.

Just the forms I filled out asking for the “father’s name” even before my name was appalling. Then the “meet-the-doctor-naked-in-a-paper-gown” was uncomfortable. And then the insistence on ultrasounds and tests that I didn’t agree with. All through this OBOS was my midwife — always informative, always encouraging me to hear and express my own voice.

I declined prenatal tests with 30 percent failure rates. I requested to meet and speak with my physician clothed and with questions about their practice. I discussed natural childbirth and what reasons would cause them to use medical interventions. Once I was faint on the examining table and the female physician asked if I always acted this way! I changed physicians four times through my pregnancy because of the way they handled my taking the lead in me and my baby’s care.

Through all of this, my family went through all manner of projecting judgment and fear on to me — my father didn’t speak to me for four months, my mother made inquiries into an unwed mother’s home, my brother asked why I wasn’t getting an abortion, my Godmother told me I could never wear a white dress at a wedding in future. OBOS validated me while my family heaped their shame on me.

I kept up a full-time course load, and waitressed part-time until I was eight months pregnant. Then the physician I had come to trust told me my baby was breech and that she would schedule me for a C-section. After I had gotten dressed and met her in her office, I knew enough to ask questions because of my intense reading of OBOS. Formulating the question in the heat of the moment was very challenging because this news came at me so suddenly.

I managed to ask why we wouldn’t wait until I went into labor to plan the C-section, because then we would have a clear indication that the baby was ready to be born.

Her response stunned me. She asked, “Why would you want to go into labor — it’s no fun.”

I drove straight home and pulled out OBOS. I searched for some answer — this didn’t feel right. My father stopped by, he was speaking to me now and I told him what had happened. He was an HR executive, and he told me that the major medical health insurance I had paid a physician a higher rate on a C-section than a natural birth.

Since midwives were discussed, I decided I needed advice from one. I obtained a phone number of a midwives association in the New York City area where I was — and when I discussed what had transpired with the midwife, she asked how I knew to call them. I told her about OBOS! She was so supportive of me and encouraged me for standing up for myself — then she gave me three physician’s names and why she thought they were worth a try in my case. She did warn me that changing physicians at almost nine months was tricky due to the way insurance pays.

The second physician’s office took me in for an appointment. My mother went with me and told me I was being vain to avoid a C-section. I reached behind her seat in the car and handed her a copy of “The Silent Knife” that OBOS had recommended and told her the page number to read where they described a C-section step-by-step. My mother had been an RN so I knew she would understand after she read — she did, and she stopped resisting my medical choices. The new physician was willing to discuss ways for the baby to adjust position before birth, as well as manual ways to change her position and he reassured me that a C-section would be a last resort.

By the time I had an ultrasound to check, the baby had moved with the exercises. My former physician called me to see why I was terminating our relationship, and when I explained she went on the fear-path, telling me how big my baby was. I just quoted something from OBOS and told her I felt natural childbirth was the right path for me to pursue.

My beautiful daughter, Maia, was born a few days later after a long and vigorous labor with no drugs or surgery. I spent one night in the hospital (my choice) and took her home, and we were a champion nursing team. She lost 2 ounces, and then gained weight at a robust clip. She was born on a Monday and then on Wednesday evening my mother and aunt babysat for a couple of hours so I could go to my feminist economics class where I got so much positive support along with my trusty OBOS.

My daughter and I thank you — all of you past and present! And for many years now my daughter and her father have cultivated a deep and growing relationship. We are a family that started with bumps, but have found resolution, love and peace.

Do you remember when you first read “Our Bodies, Ourselves”? Take part in OBOS’s 40th anniversary by sharing how “Our Bodies, Ourselves” made a difference in your life. View more stories and submit your own.


October 1, 2011

Midwives are the guardians of normal and natural birth …

by Whitney Pinger

As a young teen in the 1970s, OBOS taught me that women’s health was ours, and that we did not have to give up or strength and power.

I learned that midwives are the guardians of normal and natural birth and that is what I have come to incarnate.

I have been learning to be a midwife since I opened my first copy of OBOS … my journey took me many places but I am now the Director of Midwifery at The George Washington University.

I was an OBOS Women’s Health Hero in 2010.

My entire life has flowed from OBOS.

Do you remember when you first read “Our Bodies, Ourselves”? Take part in OBOS’s 40th anniversary by sharing how “Our Bodies, Ourselves” made a difference in your life. View more stories and submit your own.


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.


September 7, 2011

2011 Women’s Health Hero: Women and Their Bodies, an Israeli and Palestinian Collaboration

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 Paula Doress-Worters

In 2011, Women and Their Bodies — a collaboration of Israeli and Palestinian women — will publish Arabic and Hebrew resources based on “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” By doing so, they will make an important social and political statement, challenge the status quo, and further their message of collaboration.

As a first generation Jewish-American woman growing up in the safety of Boston, but sharply aware of my parents anxiety for family left behind in Europe, I feel a cultural-spiritual connection with the land and the peoples of Israel. I am also passionate about finding paths to peace, whether in women’s health, environmental science, or the arts, and I am enthusiastic about Women and Their Bodies setting an example for us to follow.

I anticipate our 40th anniversary celebration with great excitement. Among OBOS’s global partners attending the event will be Dana Weinberg, the founder of Women and Their Bodies, and Raghda Elnabilsy, a certified sex educator who coordinates the organization’s outreach to Arab populations in Israel.

The Israeli-Palestinian project has been close to my heart for many reasons. As a founding co-author of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” in the United States, I appreciate and support women coming together across differences to gain greater control over their lives and bring that knowledge to their countrywomen.

This “coming together” is a hallmark of WTB. The group, which was founded in 2005, has brought together more than 300 volunteers from different professions — physicians, psychologists, gynecologists, midwives, sexologists, gender and social studies researchers — to develop and share information and language on health, sexuality and rights with Jewish and Arab communities (read more about the project).

Women and Their Bodies

The "Our Bodies, Ourselves" project team at Women and Their Bodies

Together, they are a powerful symbol of co-existence, not only respecting ethnic, political and religious difference but bringing them together towards shared goals.

Arabic and Hebrew women’s health resources are already in use in the community via workshops, trainings, advocacy efforts and other capacity-building initiatives run by Women and Their Bodies. A tri-lingual women’s health website will also increase online access. The information provided will be vital to those seeking honest, accurate information through anonymous channels. These important resources will reach women and girls in Muslim and Christian Arab, Bedouin Arab, and Jewish Israeli communities, and help increase knowledge, leadership and activism in the region.

In 2007, Dana won national recognition for her work. Israel Venture Network’s Social Entrepreneur Fellowship Program, an affiliate of The New Israel Fund, awarded her one of its two fellowships for 2007-2009. In its awards announcement, the Network described WTB as “a unique multicultural, multi-professional non-profit organization of women in Israel, Jewish, Arab and Palestinian, who have made it their mission to work towards empowering women to become self-health advocates who can protect and promote their own health.”

Dana expressed her delight at news of the award, exclaiming: “This is so meaningful for me and my partners in this project because [of] it’s recognition of the importance of our vision and goals; and it means practical assistance through mentoring and funding which will enable us to run this important initiative in an optimal way to add to its success.”

That same year, on my second trip to Israel, I was honored to be warmly welcomed to a gathering at Dana’s home, with delicious food and enthusiastic introductions all around. When we shared our experiences of writing and reaching out to women in our respective communities, I was deeply impressed with the commitment of the WTB women, most of them health professionals and many working mothers as well, who regularly give so much of their time, creativity, and skill to make vital health information available to women and girls in their country.

If you are attending OBOS’s anniversary symposium, you will have a similar opportunity – to meet Dana and Raghda, listen to their extraordinary journeys, and become involved in a pioneering peace-building effort to raise the status of women and girls in the Middle East.


Paula Doress-WortersDr. Paula Doress-Worters is a founding co-author of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and contributor to subsequent editions for over three decades. Currently, she is a resident scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University where she chairs a Women’s History Symposium, the most recent featuring women’s leadership toward co-existence.


September 7, 2011

2011 Women’s Health Hero: Research Group on Women and Laws in Senegal

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 Jane Pincus

I first met Codou Bop, in Utrecht, the Netherlands, in 2001 and felt instantly connected. We were both attending the initial international gathering of women translators and adaptors of “Our Bodies, Ourselves.”

Codou Bop

As an integral member of the Research Group on Women and Laws in Senegal (or Groupe de Recherche sur les Femmes et les Lois au Senegal; the group is known by the acronym GREFELS), Codou (left) had coordinated a team to create the francophone African health book “Notre Corps, Notre Sante,” a 10-year-process that was finally coming to an end. It was thrilling to see the final typewritten version awaiting printing and publication that she had brought to the Utrecht meeting.

Now in its second printing, “Notre Corps, Notre Sante” serves 21 francophone countries as well as immigrant communities. It is distributed for free to schools, health centers and women’s groups, and translated into local dialects for wider use and accessibility (read more about “Notre Corps, Notre Sante”).

We can learn so much from “Notre Corps, Notre Sante.” Its authors urge African women to value and care for themselves in the context of economic, political and religious issues that affect their lives. Addressing society’s attitudes toward health and sexuality, the book describes how women’s bodies are used, taken care of, dressed, and violated.

While emphasizing women’s strengths, each chapter addresses oppressive and harmful practices and beliefs. The list is long. Some examples: Women, as the prime caretakers of their communities, must care for others; they are not “allowed” to be ill. In general, they belong to fathers, husbands or uncles, and young women rank low in the social hierarchy of power. Over half of them end up marrying and becoming mothers by age 17. It is desirable to be fat, since thinness is associated with poverty and AIDS. Young women age 15 to 19 are most afflicted by HIV/AIDS (an insidious myth exists that a man infected with AIDs needs to have sex with a virgin to purify himself). And, as a result of colonization, many women seek “whiteness,” whitening their skin with bleach, which can cause skin cancer and kidney problems.

In Senegal, laws beneficial to women exist but are not enforced. Women have little or no access to health care, land, jobs or schooling. Increasingly, religious fundamentalist beliefs stand in the way of their achieving health information and human rights. Women and families feel these privations keenly in their everyday lives.

GREFELS and its partners aim to change the behavior of institutions and rural communities to prevent disempowerment and violence against women.

Take, for example, the practice of female genital mutilation, which was banned in 1999 under the Senegalese penal code but persists, resulting in nearly 700,000 girls being circumcised each year. GREFELS educates girls about the risks and dangers of FGM, provides a network of support so they can protect themselves, and aggressively advocates to eliminate the practice altogether.

I love Codou and admire her strong spirit and her dedication. Traveling constantly throughout the world, she represents not only GREFELS but lives out her own keenly held beliefs in women’s powers and in the necessity of fighting to maintain them.

For those of you attending the 40th anniversary symposium, I hope you will meet Codou and speak with her about her efforts and the work of GREFELS.


Jane PincusJane Pincus is a co-founder of Our Bodies Ourselves and co-writer and co-editor of previous “Our Bodies, Ourselves” editions. She is also a women’s health activist, artist, writer, editor, singer, horseback rider, Ed’s wife for 51 years, Sami and Ben’s mother, and Jordan, Caleb and Kai’s grandmother.