by Robin Gerber | bio

[Ed. note: Please join us in welcoming Robin, our new contributor on politics and women’s issues.]

Sometime in 1972, after I’d dropped out of college, hitchhiked around the world for a bit and landed in a low-wage job in Boston, I needed a doctor.

I remember my problem was female-related, possibly for birth control, and I didn’t have much money. Someone told me to go over to a place called the Boston Women’s Health Collective.

As I waited for my appointment, a woman came out and asked if any of us would like to observe a gynecological exam. She explained that part of the Collective’s mission was education, and that women were often woefully uninformed about our own bodies.

I followed her into the exam room, realizing that I had no idea what either my private parts or those of another woman looked like other than in pictures. Worse, I had little knowledge of my reproductive physiology. "Down there" was like another country that seemed mysterious and a little forbidding.

By the time I left, I was enlightened and empowered. I paid for my visit, and gave an extra 30 cents for a stapled newsprint booklet with a picture of young and old women marching together on the cover holding a sign that said, "Women Unite." It was called, "Our Bodies, Our Selves."

I still have that booklet. It’s aged, like me, but still strong in its message and passion. It’s a manifesto for women to understand and take control of our health.

We’re entering an election year where health care is much on people’s minds. Women have a special role to play, because we have special problems. We live longer and use more health care services than men, but have less ability to pay for them. We have chronic health problems as we get older, but are less likely to have health benefits.

Our health is also affected by gender bias, both because of the kind of research that gets funded — or not — and because of differences in care. How many women have died of heart disease, the greatest killer of women, because their treatment was not as aggressive as that of men? And on a lighter note, but one that illustrates the larger issue, why isn’t there a Viagra-type drug for women?

The Society for Women’s Health Research is one place to learn more about gender bias and women’s health. Better start now. There’s going to be a lot of talk about health care next year.

We need to remind the candidates that protecting women’s health means paying special attention to women’s health issues. These are our bodies, and we need to fight to protect them ourselves.

Robin Gerber writes about women and politics for Women’s Voices for Change. Visit her website.

Read the preface to the first edition of "Our Bodies, Ourselves" (now one word). The most recent edition was published in 2005, and today there is also a book about menopause, among other publications, and many global translations.

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