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The OBOS Global Network

The 9th International Women and Health Meeting Toronto, August 2002


Leda Avramova, from the Women’s Health Initiative in Bulgaria has a translated, adapted OBOS that is one year old. Working on it was an enriching experience and also illustrates how such a book can make a swift journey into the world and be transformed. They added some chapters, including one on the Bulgarian women’s health movement and one on resources, and they shortened others, consulting with members of the medical profession. The process took two years. Although there are images of Bulgarian women in the book, it contains few women’s voices, as the SOROS grant they received meant strict deadlines for finishing the project. They hope to expand both the number of images and personal experiences. They see the current book as a basis for dialogue, placing the validation of personal, individual knowledge within the context of feminism and Eastern Europe, and discussing women’s NGO organizations, minority rights and the minority communities (the Roma constitute 10% of the population and they are the most vulnerable, with limited access to health care). Already in existence for spreading the word are community centers and reading houses, the Chitalishte - formed in the 1850s, considered by the UNDP as a ‘national treasury’, and used as a women’s meeting place.

Marcia Good Maust, Fellow at the Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership (CWIL), Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Indiana has worked with Zobeida Bonilla from OBOS in using Nuestros Cuerpos, Nuestras Vidas (NCNV) in the initiation of a pilot project for the NCNV- based training manual in South Bend, Indiana. Saint Mary’s College, in conjunction with Memorial Hospital and Saint Joseph’s Regional Medical Center (two local hospitals), are now collaborating in this project which takes place at a local Hispanic Outreach Center - “La Casa”. The group of women, who now refer to themselves as “Las Comadres” come from Venezuela, Colombia and Mexico, among others, so there is great diversity of language and of age which brings great richness to the dialogue. Marcia noted that the presence of older women who participate vigorously in the group gives a kind of permission for the younger women to share information. Ongoing issues are the struggles and strengths of working with hospitals (and their tendency to bring in materials that are condescending in their stereotypical attitude towards Latinas, such as “Latinas are very prudish and only want to be with their families”). A few other struggles have been how to use these guides and talk about women’s rights in a Catholic context, how to help women become aware of superior/inferior attitudes between them that are caused by class differences, and how to improve communication between mothers and daughters.

Emine Filiz Ayla from Mavi Kalem, Turkey, had several informative handouts complete with facts and figures about women in Turkey. To complement them, in her talk she reported that there is absolutely no sexual or reproductive information in schools. Women learn from friends, mothers, older relatives, and the media. Most women believe that their hymens are closed and that athletic activity damages the hymen. Menstruation is considered to be dirty or an illness. Although abortion was legalized in 1983, women can still be seized for performing them and having them. Turkish women have had contraception since 1965. Most women’s groups there do not consider women’s health problems to be a political issue. However, Mavi Kalem wants to create a women’s health book since health affects every aspect of life, and knowledge increases the potential for change. It will bring a wide range of information together, inform younger women and serve as a permanent reference point.

Lea Melo and Monica Maia, from MUSA (Mulher e Saúde), Brazil. The group was founded in 1989. In the beginning, they used the first edition of OBOS in many women’s groups. MUSA’s history is close to the book’s history. Other groups have considered translating OBOS into Portuguese, and it is now the turn of MUSA. They want to adapt it to their culture and their needs. Brazil is a huge country with many different cultures. The book will be huge too. One organization will not be enough to create and distribute the book; they must put many organizations together. The most important thing is to offer a strong political perspective and to fight against the medicalization of women’s bodies. They have already produced booklets with the idea that knowledge is not only technical, but political. There are class and regional differences in Brazil, and many feminists involved in the Ministry of Health end up being co-opted by the government in power. The audience for the book will not only be Brazilians, but women in Africa and Portugal.

Renu Rajbhandari, a physician from Nepal, said that she had been working with thousands of women throughout the country and had developed several training modules using content from OBOS. She thought she might adapt the whole of OBOS, for women’s health trainers and workers.

Afternoon Meeting of the OBOS Network

(adapted from Jane Pincus’ notes by Marianne McPherson, OBOS Staff)

In assessing the morning’s workshop, the OBOS Global Network members remarked that it was informative, productive, and brought many issues to light. These issues revolved around two broad areas: organizations involved in book production and the books themselves.

Discussions and questions regarding members of the OBOS Global Network (“we” refers to members of the Network):

  • The idea of locating groups of immigrant women in the US and distributing OBOS translations to these women (for example, the use of Notre Corps, Notre Santé for French-speaking African women in the United States). There is also a possibility of adding material especially for refugee women.
  • How can we be sure that we are not being used in ways we don’t want by our governments?
  • How can we be true to the mission of our work while simultaneously responding to the demands of non-profit fundraising and the requests and guidelines of funders?
  • How can we find effective ways to evaluate our work?
  • How can we measure consciousness-raising and feminism?
  • How can we use global networks to empower ourselves?

A discussion of the pending Brazilian and Turkish editions prompted questions around content and audience issues for each translation/adaptation. These issues include the following:

  • What is the philosophy behind a book, and who is its intended audience? To what extent do time and money determine these decisions?
  • How do we actively distinguish low income from low literacy? We must keep this distinction in mind, as low income does not de facto signal low literacy. It is better to give more information and more choices to the reader.
  • Women deserve to know about, so books should account for both new (possibly more cutting-edge or controversial) and older (often more conventional) procedures, events and ideas.
Written by Jane Pincus, with assistance from Sally Whelan and Marianne McPherson.






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