Archive for the ‘Our Bodies Ourselves’ Category

October 25, 2011

Watch Tonight!: NBC Nightly News Featuring “Our Bodies, Ourselves”

Our Bodies, Ourselves CoverThe new edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” has been picking up some great press from coast to coast, and tonight we’re going national!

NBC Nightly News is doing a segment on the book and its 40th anniversary featuring OBOS co-founder and executive director Judy Norsigian as well as Susan Love, Nora Ephron, Faye Wattleton and book contributor Veronica Arreola, an all-around awesome feminist and women’s health advocate.

NBC also filmed a book discussion and signing held last week at Porter Square Books in Cambridge and may include some of that footage.

NBC Nightly News is on from 6:30-7 p.m. EST. We hope you’ll watch!
UPDATE: OBOS will be featured in a 2.5-minute report at the end of the show.

Plus: If you haven’t bought your copy yet, you can learn more about the book and order it up here.  Also check out of the amazing coverage it’s received so far.

And did you know that “Our Bodies, Ourselves” is available at a 70 percent discount to health clinics and certain other nonprofit organizations? Seriously. That means it’s only $7.80 per copy. Check out the clinic discounts page for more details.


October 24, 2011

I remember being horrified and intrigued at the same time…

by Anonymous

OBOS means being a nine-year-old girl and sneaking to flip through the contents of my mother’s copy. I recall seeing a drawing of a woman growing pubic hair and using a tampon. I remember being horrified and intrigued at the same time. It’s been many years since I’ve thought about that book but it would be 15 more years before I could muster up the courage to use a tampon.

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 19, 2011

I was hungry for all the things I couldn’t name…

by Vanessa Fernando

I first came across a copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” in a used bookstore when I was fifteen. I had been making myself throw up for about a year by that point, counting calories and restricting my sugar intake during the day just to sneak downstairs at night, quietly eating pretzels and cookies while trying not to wake my mother up. My world consisted of a high school where the ‘pretty’ girls were all white and wore two-hundred-dollar jeans. I was hungry for all the things I couldn’t name- community, self-acceptance, a feminist analysis that could help me sort through the layers of my identity (queer, mixed-race) and find wholeness.

I can’t say that Our Bodies, Ourselves ‘cured’ me of my bulimia and solved all my problems. But what OBOS did was help me realize that women– women with very different backgrounds and from very different life experiences — have been mobilizing for years to create resources for girls like the one I was then. OBOS provided a community of sorts, a refuge, in which women discussed their own thoughts and fears and insecurities and shared information with one another in a way that alleviated my fears and my feelings of isolation.

Throughout my teenage years, as I started trying to stop my disordered eating and replace it with less destructive habits, questioned my sexual identity, and thought about becoming sexually active, OBOS was there with me, a friend to turn to in the middle of the night as I tried desperately to resist purging, as I tried not to listen to those voices in my head telling me that I was ugly, that I was disgusting, that I wasn’t worth loving.

I am proud to be a part of this project [ed note: Vanessa is on the cover of the new edition of OBOS], because I know that I have come a long way since then, and OBOS has helped me countless times as I’ve worked so hard to get here. OBOS has also allowed me to share my growth with others. I gave my mother a copy of ”Our Bodies, Ourselves: A New Edition for a New Era” when it first came out, hoping that she might be able to find a similar refuge in its pages as she struggled to embrace menopause and her aging body. Since then, I’ve noticed that her copy’s pages are dog-eared. In addition to providing me with personal support, OBOS has also helped build empathy, as well as solidarity, between myself and my mother. That, I believe, is feminism in action.

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 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.


September 7, 2011

New Blog Series: Meet OBOS’s Global Partners Working to Advance Women’s Health and Human Rights

Today we kick off a series of blogs posts by and about members of the Our Bodies Ourselves Global Network who have adapted “Our Bodies, Ourselves” in their own countries, using a range of print, digital and social interactive formats for outreach and advocacy.

40th AnniversaryAs part of its 40th anniversary celebration, Our Bodies Ourselves decided to honor its global partners by adding them to the Women’s Health Heroes Hall of Fame.

These courageous women join an impressive group of U.S. and global advocates — including midwives, student activists, abortion counselors, health care reform activists, bloggers, physicians — who have been nominated in past years by OBOS readers.

In this blog series, we’ll introduce you to some of our health heroes who are coming to Boston on Oct. 1 to attend the OBOS anniversary symposium, “Our Bodies, Our Future: Advancing Health and Human Rights for Women and Girls.”

The symposium is open to the public but seats filled quickly and there is now a long waiting list. The good news, though, is that the event will be broadcast live online, and we’ll soon post information for groups and individuals who would like to host viewing parties at their homes or schools. You can view panels featuring these extraordinary women and hear for yourself how they are working to transform the lives of girls and women worldwide.

The first posts in this series focuses on the work of Women and Their Bodies, a collaboration of Israeli and Palestinian women who are publishing Arabic and Hebrew resources based on “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” and the Research Group on Women and Laws in Senegal (Groupe de Recherche sur les Femmes et les Lois au Senegal, or GREFELS), which created the health book “Notre Corps, Notre Sante” for French-speaking Africa. In the coming weeks, you’ll meet our partners in Japan, Armenia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Turkey and India.

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to use the comments to ask questions about their work.

http://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/programs/network/foreign/default.asp