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Excerpts from Nuestros Cuerpos, Nuestras Vidas


OBOS Transformed Worldwide: U.S. Spanish-Language Adaptation
Nuestros Cuerpos, Nuestras Vidas

The following is the English translation of the preface from Nuestros Cuerpos, Nuestras Vidas, the U.S. published Spanish-language adaptation of Our Bodies, Ourselves.

Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, dedicated to women’s health: twenty-five years of achievements

The struggle for justice in our lives as women is intertwined with the daily realities of our bodies. In a world where all types of privileges are offered to men, we are asked to achieve a lot for little in return. Women all over the world, with all our cultural and individual differences, need information, support and political solidarity from other women in order to improve our lives and the lives of our families. In the United States, a political movement specifically of women has achieved significantly promoting women’s rights in the areas of work, family and health. In 1969, a group of women in Boston got together to discuss their negative experiences with the health care system at that time. As a result, in 1972, the first book about women’s health with a political and feminist focus, Our Bodies, Ourselves, was born. The first edition of the book offered us basic information on specific subjects of women’s health in a social context. This was a significant step forward for us, since at that time, all the control of our bodies was still given to men, since they were either our doctors or our husbands. The first edition of the book educated us about subjects, many of which we did not dare to speak about, since they were considered taboo. These subjects were a big help for us to understand and control our own sexuality, our decisions on reproduction and contraception methods. Our Bodies, Ourselves awoke a series of concerns that culminated in more open communication amongst ourselves. This labor of raising awareness that began in 1972 continues today with the latest edition, published in 1998.

As a result of the exchange between women within the United States and their communication with women from other parts of the world, the book continues to expand and change with the goal of including diverse experiences and current medical information that reflect the transformation of political conditions that affect human rights and women’s health. For example, when the Boston Women’s Health Collective began its work, abortion was still illegal in the United States. Despite the fact that in this country abortion was legalized in 1973, the political struggle to preserve this right continues today, and this process has remained reflected in the subsequent editions of the book. When the book was published for the first time, the medical system, consisting mainly of men, dominated the world of health with almost an absolute authority and power. Today, private for-profit companies, who move billions of dollars, dominate almost entirely the health market. These private organizations, looking for higher earnings, try to control the use of the medical system, limiting access to health services for those groups of people who are the poorest and the most in need. At the same time, we are told that without the biomedical industry, we cannot maintain good health. In reality, 90% of good health indexes depend on our condition in life, such as nutrition, housing, education, economic resources, and social support. In the United States, during the last three decades, an abyss has grown between rich and poor, the majority of the latter group consisting of women with children, African Americans and Latin American women. To maintain a system of life with so much privilege for so few, an economic ideology is exported that glorifies the wealth of few and ignores the misery of many; the work force of legal and illegal immigrants is imported for the most miserable and dangerous jobs, rejecting completely responsibility for their human presence among us. Although we have achieved a lot in the area of women’s health, we need more than ever for our voices to unite to preserve our achievements, to include all women, and to continue fighting for economic and racial justice as an integral part of justice for women.

In the United States, the book in English created a revolution in so far as how women use health resources that they have at their disposal in their daily lives, and in how to use the resources of the medical system, when they are necessary. To link a woman’s health to her daily life by the processes of raising awareness and political solidarity, the book satisfies some essential needs, and is enormously popular. Millions of copies have been sold of all the editions, the most recent being the 1998 edition, which has been translated into dozens of languages. Offering the book at a modest price, placing it in such places as women’s clinics and public libraries, has broadened access to valuable information about health. The book has brought information and support to many women, and by doing so has helped them to better understand their own health needs and their sexuality, so that they feel in control when they have to make decisions about their own lives. The information in the book, which can be used like an encyclopedia, helps us to better evaluate when it is necessary to go to a doctor and when it is not. When we need to go to a doctor, the information that the book offers, with its voice of respect and support, helps us to better understand and participate actively in health decisions that are so important for our own lives. Our Bodies, Ourselves united the feminist movement, raising the awareness of thousands of women about their personal and political rights and creating a movement of consumers that watch out for individual interests against the companies that put our lives in danger for their own financial gain. This book recognizes that for all women, taking care of our loved ones has a very high priority, but in order to take care of others, we must also take care of ourselves.

Despite the fact that this book is written for all women, we recognize that perhaps it might be easier to use for those women who are used to reading books or manuals of this size. Many of us prefer to learn from our grandmothers, mothers, friends or in support groups, especially when it is about the personal subjects of our lives and bodies. The utility of this book is even greater when it is used as an educational tool about health in community groups dedicated to mutual help, personal growth, raising of political awareness and collective action. There are even educational groups for adult women who have used the English version to teach reading and writing. The book continues to change thanks to the participation of many women who continue sharing their experiences to transform it.

Language and Cultural Context: Of the Translation to the Adaptation

Over the 25 years of its publication, Our Bodies, Ourselves has converted into a health encyclopedia for women of the United States. At the same time, it has created the necessity of new versions that reflect the health needs of other countries. We realized that a simple translation does not communicate the cultural and social context where women, their lives, and their health is involved. We have worked with groups of women to create adaptations that contain basic and useful information for any woman in their own country, and at the same time recognizing big economic, social and cultural differences that affect the lives and health of women. Ideally, this work of adaptation occurs directly in countries with groups of activists and organized women that transformed the book so that it is useful to them in the actual context of their lives and struggles. This has happened in countries most similar to the United States, such as Germany, and in others as different as Tibet. A women’s collective in Egypt adapted the book with the participation of women of all ages and social classes, and including their religious values. They used an Islamic framework, supported by the words of the Koran, to confront sexism in their countries and their religious beliefs. Without an adaptation that recognizes the differences between the lives of the women in their own countries and in the United States, the information based on the experiences of some North American women limits its utility and can be potentially destructive. Information that does not reflect the conditions of the current lives of women from other countries and their social contexts, implicitly communicates the idea that the reality of North American women is more important that the reality of other women from other parts of the world.

The adaptation in agreement with each culture is necessary in order not to recreate the conditions that made this book necessary, and so that we don’t only listen to the voices of North American women, but also to those of the rest of the women of the world.

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