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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.