National NOW Times >> Winter, 2001 >> Article
Women's Health Symposium Draws Visitors from Around
Co-sponsored by the NOW Foundation, Women's Institute
on Sport and Education (WISE), and the White House Millennium
Council, the Women's International Symposium on Health (WISH) was
held Oct. 14-16, 2000, in conjunction with the World March of Women
in Washington, D.C.
Women and men from 35 countries,
including Bangladesh, Sweden, India, Tunisia, Cameroon, Bolivia,
Senegal, the Russian Federation, Chad, South Africa and the United
States, joined together to discuss improving women's health care
from an activist and policy perspective.
Secretary/Treasurer Karen Johnson believes, "WISH underscored the
need for us to share health advocacy information and perspectives."
Topics discussed included reproductive health, tobacco,
HIV/AIDS, domestic violence and medical research. U.S. Assistant
Surgeon General and keynote speaker Susan Blumenthal, MD, presented
"Critical Women's Health Issues for the 21st Century."
Foundation award recipient Vivian Pinn, MD, director of the National
Institutes of Health Office of Research on Women's Health,
emphasized that research into prevention—not just treatment—of
illnesses such as depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, breast
cancer and cervical cancer should be a growing priority.
addition, Pinn stressed the importance of encouraging more girls to
pursue science careers. As an example of barriers women have faced,
Pinn described how a male medical student declared she was taking up
space a man could have filled — and how feminist poetic justice was
served when that student dropped out due to academic failure and
Expressing another theme of WISH, Marya
Grambs, an activist in the fight against domestic violence since
1975, summarized strategies around the globe employed to confront
it, including all-women police stations in Brazil, a women's trade
union in Zambia that assists survivors, and a men's organization in
South Africa which recognizes men who make strides toward
eliminating violence against women at the grassroots level. Grambs
affirmed, "A country is not free until its women are
Internationally known expert Nancy Klimas, MD,
presented data on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS worldwide and
discussion of strategies for prevention and treatment. Dr. Klimas
noted the steps taken in model programs to reduce
Fatoumata Sire Diakite, leader of an organization
working to end the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) in
Mali, reviewed its variations and impacts in different countries.
Linda Malone, JD, a professor of law at The College of
William and Mary, discussed international law and protecting women
from sexual violence, noting that often the only resource women have
for fighting rape and harassment is the power of class action
lawsuits and activism. When outside media cannot reach a village
with educational programs, women talking to other women one-on-one
about subjects like FGM can foster change.
"I was inspired by our sisters often working under adverse
situations yet demonstrating a unified commitment to improving
women's health and equality."
Discussions allowed WISH
participants not only to share experiences, but also to make plans
for renewed activism regarding health care issues in their own
communities. Attendees took Sunday off to take part in the World
March of Women, which also offered the inspiration of a
global movement dedicated to women's rights.
At the conclusion of
the long weekend, participants like Lizza Gonzales, a web site
designer, had new-found enthusiasm: "Thumbs up on a great
conference! I've learned quite a bit and am excited to share all
this knowledge with my colleagues and friends....I look forward to
attending more NOW [Foundation] events."