I was lucky to be invited to “Healthy Cities: Healthy Women,” a one-day conference organized by UPenn Nursing Science and LA’s UPenn community around the topic of LA and Urban Women’s Health. Without having much of a sense of what to expect, I braved morning traffic to traverse the city, and was rewarded with a crash course in the complex social determinants facing medical care of the female population of our city. Whether from the top down (we heard about a mayor’s office initiative about improving the food system in the city) or from the bottom up (we heard from two non-profits that turn survivors of domestic violence and/or human trafficking into advocates for other victims), there is tremendous work being done to help women and girls living in our vast metropolis.
Yet, the problems are myriad and there is so much more to do.
As with any LA gathering, there were jokes about the traffic but were sobered to hear from Sue Dunlap of Planned Parenthood that traffic is a real factor in the “urban burden” faced by women — one of many subtle factors that affect a woman who is trying to get to work, take care of her family and, often last on the list, take care of herself. These urban burden topics ranged from the need for low-income housing to examples of unspeakable violence that is part of many women’s lives, and we heard from academics gathering data points in studies of these issues as well as advocates in the non-profit sector.
Our keynote speaker, Jonathan Fielding, the Director of LA County’s Department of Public Health, reminded us that changes don’t really happen until policy is made…. and, many of the conference participants urged us to use our voices in communicating with our local governmental representatives. Most of the doctors on the panels were engaged with gathering data for the type of studies that are needed to make substantial change on the policy level and while it’s clear that the non-profits play a vital role in caring for urgent needs of our population, both systemic and private approaches are necessary.
I learned some new vocabulary words – “food insufficient” is how academics refer to a family that runs out of money before the end of the month and must survive on large litre bottle of sugary drinks and salty junk food snacks in order to fill their stomachs until the next pay check arrives. That “social capital” — which is endangered in today’s cities — refers to the benefits of neighbors talking to one and other and taking care of each other. And, that “inter-partner violence” happens when a guy hits his girlfriend, something that is accepted in some communities as status quo and is on the rise in the relationships of younger teens, including beatings and unwanted sexual encounters.
Nicholas Kristof, columnist for the New York Times and author with his wife Sheryl WuDunn, of “Women Hold Up Half the Sky,” has made a mission of informing the world about how international non-profits (such as Women for Women International) have changed the lives of women and their communities by equipping them with the skills to support themselves. You only need to watch the powerful video The Girl Effect to understand the power behind the simple idea that you can change the world by changing one woman’s life.
It’s a message of hope that is borne out by listening to the stories told at the conference. I came away inspired to spread the word about the important work or many local organizations and am hoping that some of you will click through to learn more, as well. Please consider either volunteering your time or donating your charitable dollars this holiday season (and throughout the year). In most cases, these organizations would welcome teenage volunteers – so, consider involving your teens in these investigations and activities, as well.
By supporting one of these local groups, you can help change a life in LA.
CAST: After covering the Skirball Cultural Center’s Women Hold Up Half the Sky exhibit earlier this year, I was aware of the proliferation of human trafficking cases right here in LA (including VERY young girls being enslaved for prostitution). LA-based CAST (Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking) combats the issue of human slavery by helping survivors recover and then giving them the tools to help others. President Obama recently recognized this group for their forward-thinking approach, and what you will find most stunning to learn is that women are being held against their will by slavers in the very neighborhoods where we live. This is not a problem on another shore.
LOS ANGELES FOOD POLICY COUNCIL: One of my favorite speakers of the day was Paula Daniels, who serves as a Senior Policy Adviser for Mayor Villaraigosa and was named one of the TOP 10 people making LA a better place by LA Weekly in 2012. Daniels studied water issues in the Central Valley before turning her keen attention to creating a more sustainable food system in the city — and has already made strides in improving the quality of food in LAUSD, and establishing standards for food service providers that is similar to the LEED Certification in construction. The Los Angeles Food Policy Council is a promising example of how a “top-down” approach can bring disparate elements together and, when someone as innovative as Paula is at the hub of a wheel, make real progress on issues that can improve health for all of LA’s citizens. Click here for more detail on this organization.
PLANNED PARENTHOOD: Sue Dunlap, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, explained in simple terms how by making patients wait too long for care in a doctor’s office there is a high risk that they’ll have a change of heart about seeking care; that simple factor becomes a key barrier to the prevention of pregnancy. With over 19 sites around the city, Planned Parenthood serves over 1000 patients a day and promises never to leave a patient waiting for more than 15 minutes.
JENESSE CENTER: This organization’s goal is to change the patterns of abuse in the lives of women and children and their services range from protection and recovery to educating women to respect themselves and get jobs that will make them self-sufficient, and finally to educate subsequent generations about abuse. Jenesse Center has a youth group called The Change that operates from knowledge that behaviors can change by educating the next generation.
I hope you’ll consider becoming further informed about these organizations (get on their email lists!) and that you will seriously consider a year-end donation to one or more of them. And remember: when you change one woman’s life, you change the world.