How Women and Thier Bodies came to be

A segment of an interview with Dana Weinberg, founder and chairperson of the association / Written by Ronit Hed, editor of the chapter: The Politics of Women’s Health – Taking Action

‘Women and Their Bodies’ was born as an idea a long time ago, when a friend gave me the American book: Our Bodies Ourselves. For me, this was an amazing encounter. Many things I read in the book made me wonder: “How didn’t I know that?” Following this experience, I wrote a thesis on the subject, and the things I heard from the women whom I interviewed reinforced my belief that most of us carry with us many cultural biases and live with a strong sense of alienation from our own bodies, health and sexuality. During the interviews, women told me about their great frustration stemming from their lack of knowledge, from a sense of distance from their bodies, and from problems with the health establishment.

I began organizing a group of women from various professional areas: medical doctors, nurses, dieticians, sexologists, and professional colleagues in the fields of gender studies and feminism socially or academically active. We all felt that there was a lack of knowledge, and that the existing knowledge was limited and problematic. And if we felt that way, all the more did weakened excluded populations suffered from the same problem.

From the very beginning both Jewish and Arab women joined the group, as it was clear to us that any problem in women’s health in Israel was far more prominent in the Arabic society. We started looking into the data and found that despite the National Health Care Law and advanced technology, the situation in Israel was especially concerning. We felt that the issue required focused action from a different position – from women to women. 14 women from different social classes and of different ages arrived to the first founding meeting, held in Neve Shalom. The excitement was great. We discussed whether we should form an association or join existing groups; however, after short discussions we understood that this was an extensive task, and that we needed to form a unique discourse that would allow a space to be created in which women could meet, write, and talk about these subjects.

The first project we took on was writing two books in both languages – Hebrew and Arabic – based on the well-known American book, Our Bodies Ourselves – that are a cultural adaptation of it to the Israeli reality. We built a complex and interesting work model: for each of the 32 subjects in the book, we set up a writing team, and integrated interviews with a variety of Israeli women, professional texts and political, economical and ethical viewpoints into each chapter. The idea was that each chapter would be a composition of information and knowledge from various sources.

Writing is a significant tool, however it is not a medium that can reach everyone and therefore we have built a set of workshops in Hebrew and Arabic, and created a website that performs as an online women’s health information center. Before beginning to work on each project, we conducted a thorough field study to check the true need for its realization.

Even after 5 years of strenuous work, we are still surprised that almost every woman we have met and interested in our activity has responded with warmth and a will to participate and lend a hand. I believe that women join our project because they relate to it – as professionals, as mothers to daughters and as women. Different experiences bring women to join us and volunteer to help our work.

Associations similar to Women and Their Bodies have been founded in about 20 countries worldwide, with the encouragement and inspiration of Our Bodies Ourselves. Anywhere in the world, it is always a women-to-women project, social action that stems from the field and ascends from there. ‘Women and Their Bodies’ functions with out any offices, mostly by volunteers working from home at the computer, or at workshops.

One of our greatest difficulties is to set boundaries and decide what to exclude from the book or where to cut short. We have a pretense of reaching everyone, and giving as many viewpoints on each subject as possible. For instance, we feel obligated to present the experience of a deaf woman giving birth with the help of a sign language interpreter, or of a disabled woman undergoing a gynecological examination. There are voices that we feel obligated to bring into the book, because these are voices that have no other place to be heard in; but on the other hand we try to keep the book reasonable and unthreatening in size.

One of the greatest challenges we face is to encourage the raising of questions about issues which were obvious until today. Many times when reading our material more question marks than exclamation marks arise. We want women to use the information we write when they feel confused, before a doctor’s visit, when standing in crossroads of decisions about their health or sexuality, and also in the effort to broaden their knowledge and get to know their selves better. That’s why we try to keep the text accessible and clear and integrate updated information and references for assistance and further reading.

Today I speak with my daughter in a completely different way about her health, menstrual cycle, and sexuality. I believe that she will talk differently to her friends and that the circles of influence and awareness are expanding.

My hope is that our books, website and workshops reach as many Israeli women as possible, and affect them and touch their lives as they have touched ours. The social change is already happening, on a small however significant scale.