Norma Swenson is an officer and co-clerk of the Our Bodies Ourselves (OBOS) board of directors and chair of its Latina Health Initiative committee. She is currently supporting Puerto Rico’s feminist activists who are working in the island’s ongoing humanitarian crisis. Norma is also an enthusiastic supporter of the OBOS-endorsed effort SASS (Self-Managed Abortion, Safe and Supported).
Norma marched in the 2017 Women’s March and often leads discussions after screenings of the 2016 documentary, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry. A co-founder of OBOS (formerly the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective), she is one of the original co-authors of the groundbreaking women’s health and sexuality guide, “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” She was a senior staff member of OBOS for many years as well as the organization’s first director of international programs and a past-president of the OBOS board of directors.
As a leader in the global women’s health movement, Norma represented OBOS at most of the UN Decade of Women conferences and at many other women’s and progressive group meetings in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, as well as in Europe and the United States. She played a leadership role in three women-led movements for social change in health and human rights throughout her adult life: maternity care reform, feminist health and sexuality, and global health and human rights.
Norma was a faculty member for more than twenty years at her alma mater, the Harvard School of Public Health, where she taught medical students and doctoral candidates about women, gender, and health from interdisciplinary, social science, and public health perspectives. Most recently she taught at MIT for the Graduate Consortium in Women’s Studies.
A recipient of multiple awards from global, national, and local organizations, Norma continues working with students while also speaking to professional and community groups in many diverse settings. She is on the board of Refuge Place, a Liberian NGO near the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak that provides maternal and child health services. She also sustains her longstanding consultancy with the president of Leipzig University in East Germany, where she helps evaluate global exchange programs and frameworks for community health research.
With her partner, Leonard Van Gaasbeek, she is also an active member of his Brandeis University Class of 1952 Reunion Committee. A graduate of the Boston Girls’ Latin School and Tufts University, Norma has lived in Newton, Massachusetts since 1950.