Can you imagine a world where men’s bodies are subject to stigma, shame, discrimination – determined by public policy?! Me neither.
Now imagine we each decide what to do with our own bodies and lives… Isn’t that better!?
So, I just came back from Antalya, Turkey. Amazing place, by the way. Totally worth a visit. I was there for an event called Let’s Talk, organized by my old friend UNFPA and (my new friend?!), philanthropist-supermodel Natalia Vodianova. Natalia uses her platform for good – courageously convening thought leaders, change-makers and policy-shapers to tackle taboos surrounding women’s health.
We live in a world where talking about women’s bodies, women’s rights, women’s lives is stigma, taboo, controversy. This is serious stuff, and women’s LIVES are at risk because we can’t seem to talk about things!
Why is our health “taboo”? How can anyone’s health be taboo?! And yet, women’s health gets everyone all prickly, and the issues we should be confronting end up shoved onto the shelf of shame, leaving us ignorant of our bodies and our rights.
Dayle Haddon, activist-author and founder of WomenOne, said: Why can’t we just say menstruation!? Period! Menopause! Blood!
Why are these words – totally normal and natural – such a big deal!? That’s the stuff of life. Time to get over it. But here we are, world. All tongue-tied and tangled up.
And – think about how often we “apologize” for menstruation. “I’m sorry… I have my period”. As if it’s our fault?! How can we be sorry for something that is normal, natural, and beyond our control?! Enough apologies. Those who can’t deal with it should be apologizing – not the other way around.
Women’s Health Irony #784: We are bombarded with images of sex – but denied rights to learn about sex.
Enter Anya Rubic, model and mastermind of #sexedpl. [and very tall person]. Anya took it upon herself to bring sex education to Poland – because, like Lebanon and the rest of the region, young people in Poland have no national curriculum to teach them about their bodies.
Comedian and PinkProtest activist Grace Campbell confronts us with an unfortunate and unspoken truth: “We are, as women, from such an early age, taught to hate our bodies…”
And not just to hate them, but to remain deliberately ignorant of them. And then the lies we’re told across different cultures: Sitting on a boy’s lap will make you pregnant! A lollipop in the vagina prevents pregnancy! And on and on. Different cultures, different stories, but same damage for girls.
UNFPA’s extraordinary Executive Director, Natalia Kanem, said: “If you close your eyes to the facts, you will learn through accidents” This underscores our need to know – and own – our own bodies and lives.
So there I was at Let’s Talk, an event I’ve affectionately dubbed “models and midgets”. [I’ll leave you to guess which side I’m on.]
But this event was well beyond bodies. In fact, there were no boundaries whatsoever. I talked about my background, the Institute, SheDecides – and what drives me to keep this conversation going. Because this: women deserve no less than FULL ownership of their lives – including their health care – with all options available to them. Duh.
As my Iraqi activist brother Anmar Khalid said: “We face a lot of risks in doing this – but there are rewards when we see that this has meaning for people. We only have one life – and we have no choice but to make it useful.”
I’m here to make these words have meaning for women through action – knowledge of their bodies and rights, power to take control, courage to forge new paths for equality.
Bottom line: We have an obligation to do all we can with all we’ve got. And if we’re not – we’re just taking up space.
Yes – the world’s a mess. But we all still owe it something. We might not fix it all in our lifetime. But that doesn’t mean we can just sit here.