An alternative women’s health guide
For the last two years, the Jewish and Arab women behind Women and Their Bodies (Nashim LeGufan) have been working on a women’s health guide which aims to give answers to the many health issues concerning women. ”We are translating, editing, writing, typing and interviewing”, they explain. “Our aim is to introduce to the readers information that the establishment is not always interested in exposing”
“Women need to know more about their health in the widest context. They need to know about their rights, about the possible consequences of their decisions and what options are available to them”, says Michal Lester-Levi from Nashim LeGufan, when asked to describe the activities of the organization. “Our outlook is very knowledge-oriented, and all our work is dedicated to passing on that knowledge”.
When one looks at what that entails, it is clear that the mission which these women have taken up on is not such an easy one. In the last two years they have been holding workshops and forums, giving lectures all over the country on women’s physical and mental health, and are industriously writing the encyclopedic guide which will give answer to (nearly) all women’s health issues.
“We are writing the Hebrew version of ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’, the original women’s health guide that was published in the 1970s in the USA by an international women’s movement of the same name”, says Lester-Levi.
“Over the years it has gained popularity and has been translated into 120 languages. At the end of the 1970s a third of the book was translated into Hebrew, but this was only a partial version and is really not up to date”, she adds and points out that the aim of the guide is also to introduce the women’s perspective on many different health issues. Therefore the book will include sections on sexuality, body image, gender identity, menopause, healthy eating, fertility, and will have personal stories of Arab and Jewish women.
“In the last two years, tens of our volunteers, some from the medical and psychological fields, others social activists, have been writing, translating, typing, editing, interviewing women and investigating the political aspects of women’s health. Our aim is to bring information to the reader that the medical establishment is not always willing to expose”, explains Dana Weinberg, chairwoman and founder of Nashim LeGufan, Israel Venture Network granter in the program of social entrepreneurship.
“Women in Israel, for example, are not aware that a women’s condom is available for their use”, protests Lester-Levi. “In other western countries it is a very popular form of contraception, but it is not clear why Israeli doctors don’t encourage its use. The woman’s condom is designed for a woman’s body and means that we don’t need to ingest hormones”.
In between writing the guide and their jobs, the volunteers at Nashim LeGufan take part in women’s forums, workshops and group counseling. “We are active at every level so that we may help women go through the processes concerning sexuality, body image and medical issues”, explains Weinberg. “We want to give women, all women, a broad set of tools to help them understand their health”.
Once a week they have a group meeting, each time at a different house, and diligently write and edit the guide. According to Weinberg, there is still a lot of work to be done. “There are 34 chapters in the original version and we’re only on the ninth”, she says with a smile. But Lester-Levi, appointed to be in charge of the volunteers is worried. “We need a significant strengthening of Arab volunteers because only a woman who lives in the Arab society, who speaks the language and knows the culture from up close, can really do the work”.
The Arabic edition of the guide is dedicated too, to body image, sexuality, relationships and the view of women in Islam, “Relevant issues to all Arab women, whether she’s going through puberty or through menopause”, says Safa Tamish of Acco. Tamish has a master’s degree in sexuality from NYU and is one of the directors of Nashim LeGufan. “Another important aspect is the generation gap between parents and children. The younger generation is more exposed to information and has had more experiences, and parents don’t always know how to deal with them. We hope to fill that gap, to influence and to educate, she says.
Tamish is head of another organization The Arab Forum on Sexuality, which aims to educate and increase awareness of sexual relations in the Arab society. “The changes which our society is going through are far-reaching”, she says. “There is a heterogeneity that hasn’t been before alongside exposure to the internet and information. The result is a need for knowledge bigger than ever before”.
Tamish, whose family is secular, describes how she experienced first-hand some of these changes. “When I was studying for my master’s degree, my environment didn’t accept it easily. For a long period my mother would tell people that I was studying ‘family planning’. Today”, she laughs, “they call a spade a spade”
To join Nashim Legufan and participate in writing the guide, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org