On the Women's Health Movement in the Context of Globalization

By Rachel Walden — October 7, 2011

As we reflect on our 40th anniversary symposium with its focus on global initiatives, this excellent plenary address delivered by Sylvia Estrada Claudio at the 11th International Women’s Health Meeting (IWHM) in Brussels in September on women’s health and globalization is especially relevant.

In it, Claudio touches on many important themes: human rights, reproductive justice, body image and media, class, race, heterosexism, the environment, corporate greed, and more. There is much to consider in this piece. In particular, she speaks of the need for the women’s health movement to work at the intersections of many forms of oppression:

…this is the 11th IWHM, we are on our 34th year of the contemporary women’s health movement since the very first IWHM was held in Europe in 1977. On the one hand we have achieved much as a movement. And yet on another, whether it be in Asia or Europe we are experiencing backlash and the continuing control of our bodies.

In 1977 and today regimes of control determine the way we work, love and live. Then and now, women have resisted. As long as there is a need for resistances there is a need for a movement. Where women work together to free themselves from class, caste, race, colonial, neo-colonial, heterosexist, and other regimes of control, there we shall find our movement.

She writes that we should not all stop noting differences between us that cause divisions, but should instead move beyond a focus on ourselves and the bigotry encouraged by our larger systems, and work against oppression by refusing to divide into “us” and “others:”

What is the problem, is my ability to accept the world according to their making. Where I exclude myself from others and their struggles, there is where I fall into error. Where I conceive of the women’s health movement as not also a movement against globalization; where I conceive of the movement against sexism as not also a movement against heterosexism, where I conceive the movement against racism as not a movement against caste—that is where I fall into error.

…It is wrong to think that world poverty comes about from the lack of democracy and equity in the area of production and not in the area of reproduction. The women’s health movement must not feel itself out of its depth when it engages the movement against globalization. At the very least we must recognize that the medicalization of the bodies of women who can afford the expensive drugs and procedures, something I have seen discussed well in this meeting, comes from the same logic that denies life saving drugs to those who cannot afford to pay.

Just read the whole thing!

And sometime soon we will have archived video from our own event available online, where you will be able to see and hear our global partners discuss their inspiring women’s health work around the world, including the need to work at the intersection of many oppressions and to frame women’s health in the context of human rights. We’ll post something as soon as the videos become available.

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