Norma Meras Swenson is a co-founder of the Our Bodies Ourselves organization (formerly the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective) and co-author of most editions of “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” the best-selling health and sexuality guide. She is a former OBOS senior staff member and was the organization’s first director of international programs. From 2013 -2018 Norma served as an officer on OBOS’s board of directors.
Currently she is chair of OBOS’s Latina Health Initiative committee, supporting Puerto Rico’s feminist activists as they continue to work on the island’s ongoing humanitarian crisis. She also maintains contacts with other groups and individuals throughout the Latina diasporas.
Norma often speaks at meetings of diverse community and professional groups, local and global. In 2017 she marched with OBOS in the historic world-wide Women’s March in Boston. She leads discussions of the 2016 documentary, She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry, and other classic films of the global women’s health movement. In 2018 Norma spoke at the 25th memorial of Dr. Mary Howell, Harvard Medical School’s first woman dean; Columbia University’s Working Group on Menstrual Health and Gender Justice; and the annual conference of the Midwives Alliance of North America.
A leader in the global women’s health movement, Norma represented OBOS at most of the UN Decade of Women conferences, at the UN Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, and at many other women’s and progressive group meetings in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and the United States. Throughout her adult life she has played a leadership role in three women-led movements for social change: maternity care reform, feminist health and sexuality, and global health and human rights.
Norma was also a faculty member for more than twenty years at one of her alma maters, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, where she taught medical students and doctoral candidates about women, gender, and health from an interdisciplinary, social science and public health perspective. Most recently she co-taught at MIT in 2016 for the Graduate Consortium in Women’s Studies.
Norma Swenson is a recognized global expert in women and health and maternal and child health. A recipient of multiple awards from global, national, and local organizations, Norma 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 late partner, Leonard Van Gaasbeek, Jr., Norma served as an active member of his Brandeis University Class of 1952 Reunion Committee. A graduate of the Boston Girls’ Latin School and Tufts University `53, Norma has lived in Newton, Massachusetts since 1950.