Nancy Strichman
Nancy Strichman
Spotlight on Civil Society

Documenting the heroic adventures of womanhood

Group facilitators of Women and Their Bodies who lead conversations on health and wellness with women and girls all over the country. Credit: Or Kaplan. Fall 2014

So I am off to some new adventures these days, a bit out of practice, but ready to get back to exploring. My own version of a proper excursion? Traveling around the country to meet women engaged in community activism. And while I venture out with my research hat on, I am still always showing up as myself- a daughter, mother, aunt, sister, wife, friend, teacher and more…

After all, we take on so many roles throughout our lives, leaving us with so many points of entry for conversation as women. Gathering women’s stories, while of course professionally significant, is like finding unexpected treasures for myself along the way. It always reminds me that this is never a solo trip. And there are countless intrepid travelers who have covered this ground before.

Community workshops provide an opportunity for storytelling, connection and engagement on a variety of issues related to women and girls. Topics over the years have touched on everything from sexuality, body image, gender identity to menopause, healthy eating and fertility. Fall, 2014. Credit: Or Kaplan

I am a big fan of organizations that collect women’s stories in a methodical way, sharing signposts for all of us to learn from on this feminine journey of ours. Especially when it comes to stories about our health and wellbeing, it is like discovering a gold mine. We cycle through so many versions of ourselves in a lifetime. Markers set along the path are always welcome.

A news update above refers to the Midwives Pact project, which seeks to improve the experience of childbirth, and the upcoming opening of an information center focusing on the health of elderly women. The Midwives pact, based on feedback from thousands of women and midwives, is currently being distributed to all maternity units in Israel. Spring, 2021.Credit: Women and Their Bodies.

The nonprofit Women and their Bodies creates this kind of navigational aid. Better yet, it helps us to locate our own GPS system — to understand more about our bodies and our sexuality, our wellness and our choices as women and girls.

Over the past 15 years, it has offered both resources and gathering spaces to take a deep dive into issues related to the health and quality of life for women and girls all over Israel.

Workshops for women cover a range of topics such as exercise and wellbeing, access and advocacy of health rights with specific populations including elderly women and women of East Jerusalem. Spring, 2015. Credit: Or Kaplan.

The founder and director of Women and their Bodies, Dana Weinberg, was given an English version of the famed book, ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’ by a friend back in 2001. Enthralled by the stories, as well as by the wealth of information it contained, she realized the power of this resource for her own journey. The discussions on natural childbirth options were of particular relevance to her as a young mother at the time. Dana soon became determined to bring an adaptation of this ‘women’s health bible’ to Israel, and to use it as a starting point to begin so many needed conversations.

The cultural adaptations of ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’ was published after a collective effort by more than 350 women- lay and professionals from various health and medical fields who contributed to the project. Spring, 2011. Credit: Women and Their Bodies

By 2005, Dana had already established Women and Their Bodies, happily attracting co-conspirators to this ambitious undertaking early on, including Tal Tamir as editor of the Hebrew version of ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’ and Nava Braverman as chairperson. And when Raghda Elnabilsy joined as the editor of an Arabic version, everyone got to work building up a treasure trove of research, data and stories.

Announcement of a new initiative on internet safety for young women. Partnerships like those with AMAZE have also led to adaptations of videos this past year that address topics such as pornography online, sexting, and more. Spring, 2020.Credit: Women and Their Bodies.

Hundreds of women generously contributed, volunteering their time and expertise along with their personal experiences. As the adaptations of the book were being developed over the course of a few years until publication in 2011, community workshops began in Hebrew and Arabic as well as in Amharic and Russian.

The process of adapting ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’ produced a groundbreaking text and sparked both advocacy efforts and community outreach that have distinguished the work of Women and Their Bodies over time.

The new refurbished website in Arabic (along with Hebrew and English) is advertised above. Publications in Arabic serve as a resource to Palestinian women and to women all over the Middle East. Spring, 2021. Credit: Women and Their Bodies

Dana’s instinctual response followed the reaction of so many women across the globe who have stumbled across or were introduced to ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves.’ Now celebrating its 50th anniversary since publication, the book has been translated into 33 languages and has helped to spawn a global women’s health movement. My own students, who are coming from around the world to study international development at Hebrew University, speak with reverence about the adaptations in languages such as Nepali, Spanish, Chinese and Swahili. This seminal text has shaped the consciousness of activists who are currently addressing critical issues such as maternal health, reproductive rights and domestic violence in their own countries.

‘Knowledge and Action Groups’ have taken place for young women over the years, as well as with particular populations and topics requiring more research such as migraines, fibromyalgia, and psoriasis. Spring, 2014. Credit: Or Kaplan

There are lots of reasons why this is the case. Real-life stories are, well, just so real. They speak to us in ways that medical information or statistical data alone cannot. Often it is the gift of a new observation post, a broader vantage point that signals how social, political and economic dynamics may be shaping the choices available to us.

We all have blind spots, no? Seeing a larger narrative past our own particular story can always enlighten, all the more so when we have forgotten that there may be more than one predetermined route to tread.

Over the years the team at Women and Their Bodies has continued to expand this navigational system, a database of sorts that generates both ‘knowledge’ and ‘knowing’. It is something that we don’t find so easily out there in the world. It requires a continual dance of integration, an ongoing conversation that is curated by the team at Women and their Bodies between those with lived experiences and ‘institutionalized’ knowledge. Luckily for us it is available in all types of formats and languages for us to absorb — everything from reports and policy briefs to workshops and videos.

An announcement of a course on mindfulness and anxiety that is targeting young women. Additional workshops raise awareness on topics such as healthy sexuality, gender equality and social responsibility. Spring, 2021. Credit: Women and Their Bodies.

This intertwining of experience and expertise together flourish best when it is grounded in collaborative efforts, a feature of the work since the beginning. Just as a quick sample, current partnerships of Women and Their Bodies extend from those within Israel (the Ministry of Education, the Israel Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the National Council for Women’s Health and the Israel Midwives Association), to organizations working on global women’s health abroad (AMAZE, and of course Our Bodies, Ourselves Global Initiatives).

Workshop facilitators of Women and Their Bodies who have led both community outreach efforts and ‘knowledge and action groups’ that focus on education and advocacy. Fall, 2016. Credit: Women and Their Bodies.
An announcement of research on menopause –carried out with the input of thousands of women and medical professionals -which led to various advocacy efforts on the topic of women’s health in mid-life. Spring, 2020. Credit: Women and Their Bodies.

So how does all of this sound? Perhaps you are feeling more inclined to share your own stories?  You too can be a part of planting guideposts for those who may be starting out on their own expeditions.

Consider this as your formal invitation from Women and Their Bodies. Take it and run with it. Or fly. It’s your choice. Just as long as we all keep making sure that we aren’t on auto-pilot mode when it comes to making decisions about our health and wellbeing. Just as long as we all keep helping one another find our way to the best version of ourselves.

About the Author
Dr. Nancy Strichman teaches graduate courses in evaluation and strategic thinking at the Hebrew University’s Glocal program, a masters degree in International Development. Her research has focused on civil society, specifically on shared society NGOs and gender equality in Israel. She lives in Tivon, Israel with her four children and her very patient husband.
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