A look back at the biggest milestones in women’s health
“All of us must simply keep moving on it, now, I suppose, trusting ourselves, our own experience, our own questions. There are no gods, no goddesses, no outside authorities, however radical their credentials. We need and can trust no other authority than our own personal truth. The only test of our movement is whether it opens real life to real women – to ourselves.” - Betty Friedan
Friedan’s words speak to me time and time again. They help me rediscover what lives at the core of the women’s movement. When it all has become too convoluted, lost in a long string of conversations and questions, I’m reminded that no one can own our truths but us.
Looking back to some of our biggest milestones as feminists, I’m inspired to see how often women have gathered to create change. It’s easy, and often tempting, to get discouraged, especially when we know how much still needs to change. Yet fighting for women’s rights doesn’t mean putting these feelings to rest - be disappointed, be angry! But reading through these milestones, also remember to maintain that resilience generations before us have exuded.
For a little inspiration - here are just a few milestones that show how women have long lived by their truth, and demanded others to as well...
1960 – The Federal Drug Administration approved the birth control pill.
Today it’s hard to imagine not having the birth control pill available. The CDC reported in 2016 that approximately 28% of women between the ages of 15 and 44 were using the pill. The FDA approving the use of the pill in 1960 marked the start of a shift in advocating for women’s sexuality, reproductive health, and the right to control our own bodies.
1966 June 30 – The National Organization for Women (NOW) was founded.
NOW became a platform for the Women’s Movement throughout the late 1960’s and 70’s, with many important women’s empowerment groups growing from this organization. NOW’s founding President Betty Friedan, harnessed the social disruption of her book The Feminine Mystique to begin a movement that would change women’s lives forever.
1969 – Our Bodies, Ourselves is published by the Boston Women's Health Book Collective. Considered radical for its time, the book was written by a group of women in Boston who wanted women across the world access their knowledge of their bodies. The book, in its ongoing new editions, continues to provide information about cultural taboos like menstruation, masturbation, and people with physical disabilities having sex.
1970 – Title X of the Public Health Service Act is approved and signed into law.
Title X made contraceptives available to everyone regardless of income and provides funding for educational programs and research in contraceptive development. Title X is the only government program which is solely dedicated to assist with family planning.
1978 July 9 – 100,000 people march in Washington, D.C. in support of the Equal Rights Amendment.
The Amendment states, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” The amendment was first introduced in 1923 and it was not until 1978 that it was approved by Congress. The march was organized in part to convince legislators to extend the ratification deadline which was successful.
1980 – FDA requires all tampon packages to include package inserts.
In 1979, over 55 cases of toxic shock syndrome (TSS) were reported according to a study conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). People began to suspect a link between tampon use and TSS, but it wasn’t until the 1980’s that the CDC began taking preventative steps like including package inserts in tampon packaging. These inserts helped educate women about the risk of toxic shock syndrome and how to prevent it.
1990 – Congress passes the Women’s Health Equity Act
The Women’s Health Equity Act dedicated federal money to research on women’s health related needs, which had previously been underfunded and under researched. The act established the Office of Women's Health Research which ensured that research relating to women's health was identified and addressed. The research was being conducted and supported by the National Institutes of Health.
1992 – March for Women’s Lives draws 750,000 people to Washington D.C. for the largest women’s rights demonstration up to that point.
The march was organized by the National Organization for Women and strongly focused around abortion rights. Many feared that the 1973 Roe v. Wade case which made abortion illegal could be overturned due to the conservative majority of the Supreme Court. This gave people more incentive to march on April 5th in 1992.
2004 - 2005 – A partnership facilitated by the FDA between the Office of Women’s Health (OWH), government agencies, and women’s organizations, educate 15 million women about benefits and risks associated with use of hormone therapy for menopause.
Although hormone therapy can be extremely beneficial, there are many risks to the process. The widespread work to educate women about the benefits and risks shows a shift in realizing the importance in educating women about their health and reproductive health from a young age, in America and across the world.
2009 – Federal court rulings state that the FDA must make Plan B emergency contraception available over the counter to all women 17 and older.
Emergency contraception, commonly known as “the morning after pill,” was approved for distribution by the FDA in 2000, yet many women were not able to obtain the pill with ease due to restrictive rules and regulations. The federal court ruling helped advance women’s right to their own bodies while helping to break down the walls around women’s sexuality.
2017 – Congress has a record number of women, with 104 female House members and 21 female Senators.
As we are discovering through current administration, legislation plays an imperative role in the consideration of women’s health at a governmental level. The US has seen a positive uptick in women in the House and Senate and with Hillary Clinton’s recent Democratic Party Presidential nomination, there’s hope that more women will have a voice that has been drowned out for too long.
2017 January 21 – More than 2.5 million people gather worldwide for The Women’s March
The Women’s March in January is thought to have been the largest demonstration in US history. This year more than a million people gathered for the second year in a row to march for women’s rights around the US. The Women’s March promoted the many issues facing women’s equality and women’s health rights in America, while also uniting the nation after the controversial election results.
Sometimes I have to remind myself that each law passed or overturned, approval by the FDA or rise of a woman into a position of power is not just happenstance, but the result of hard work by people across the world, uniting to progress women and women’s health to the position they deserve.
Take a second to look back at the first few dates, and then at the last few; our battles are becoming more specific, more refined. We have a long way to go, but girl, look how far we’ve come. Our fight is not anywhere close to an end, and our truths are still relevant, and still very real.
Moving forward, as we most certainly will, it is important to remember we need “no other authority than our own personal truth” as Friedan said. We are navigating a difficult path, but our past and current experiences and progress guide us into a hopeful future for women everywhere.