My good friend and women’s health advocate Marta Hill Gray recently attended the first summit of The United State of Women, a gender equality movement with high-profile support from Michelle Obama, Warren Buffet, Oprah, Meryl Streep, Amy Poehler and other well-known celebrities. (To learn more, watch this two-minute film.) Naturally I was interested (and very curious) to hear all about this event, which was convened by the White House in Washington D.C. Here are highlights of my recent conversation with Marta:
I understand the topic of this summit was ‘Healthy Women, Healthy Families.’
Yes, you can’t talk about women’s empowerment in any fashion without talking about their health—it’s one and the same, and it hasn’t been given enough attention and respect. It was exciting to see 5,000 women who took time to fly from around the world for this event.
It was a tsunami of attention around women’s issues.
What was your main take-away?
There was a lot of sizzle with big-name celebrities… but more importantly, it really put a spotlight on younger women who are dedicating their lives to women’s issues
Millennials are really stepping up and very much engaged in ways we may not have been at that age. The younger women are leading the charge and they will not be denied. They have no fear. I just think it’s fantastic, and I think it’s going to get better and better.
What kinds of speakers did you encounter?
I saw some wonderful health care professionals who are working with underserved communities, helping women get the support and education they need, and helping them understand their rights are in terms of pregnancy, treatment options and even what insurance will (and will not) cover.
For example, The Women’s Law Center spends all of their time answering the phone and explaining to women what their rights are, like the right of all women to have breast reconstruction surgery after a mastectomy.
Those are the kinds of things that many of us take for granted, but not all women get the same information or the same treatment.
What surprised you?
I am seeing a real shift in the language and the public perception about women’s health. This isn’t just a women’s problem—it’s a problem for men, for boys, for sons. This impacts families and it impacts lives.
Why this special focus on women’s health?
Here’s an epiphany: Women’s bodies are not like men’s bodies. They need to be respected and understood separately. Yet, women don’t know about their bodies, there is often shame about it and there many cultural nuances. The question is, ‘How can we support women who need this kind of care?’
But the good news is that things are changing. This summit was full of vibrant conversations instead of the shame of years ago.
I was encouraged by the young women. To them, it’s so important that there’s no thought of repercussions. It gave me great hope to see women who are so sharp and directed and capable.
My conversation with Marta went beyond the summit to the topic of women, aging, and sexuality. Watch for my next blog to learn more.