From Montréal to Rio: The 8th International Conference on Women and Health

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"Throughout the week, the precarious situation of the world's women made my heart ache -- it wounded me in my flesh, in my identity. . . .Whatever our country of origin, we all live under the laws of the fathers. And it is from this oppression that we must free ourselves. We must rid ourselves of the disdain we have developed towards our gender -- our body, our sexuality, our intelligence, our experiences of motherhood, our ambitions." -- A participant from Québec.

From March 16 to 20, 1997, more than 400 women from 72 countries assembled in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to review and assess the accomplishments and strategies of the women's health movement.

Lise Lamontagne, coordinator of the Regroupement des centres de santé des femmes du Québec, attended this event, along with Shirley Rivet of the Centre de santé des femmes de Montréal. The two report that the conference was an opportunity to refine their "political analysis and develop links of international solidarity."

Participants reconfirmed the importance of certain fundamental principles: the right to health, which includes reproductive and sexual rights as fundamental components of human rights, and the primacy of the body and sexuality in feminist theory and practice.

Despite significant advances, the right to health remains a precarious one. In order to confront the powerful forces of opposition, participants defined strategies under four frameworks: 1) structural obstacles to women's health (globalization, structural adjustment, religious fundamentalism); 2) obstacles to the application of policies; 3) positive contributions; and 4) current and future strategies.

Discussions led to a number of action-oriented recommendations such as building alliances with the media, and monitoring the testing of new drugs on populations. Several recommendations concerned abortion -- such as promoting the training of midwives in abortion techniques -- as well as occupational health, violence against women, and HIV/AIDS.

Ultimately, the meeting enriched the perspectives of participants on future action, and on the type of organizing that the women's health movement will need to do as we approach the year 2000.