Empowerment through “Cervical Self Exam”
Ladies, last weekend my daughter and I (who, by the way, is 33) shared the most amazing empowering experience while we attended the 2009 Sistersong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Conference in Washington D.C. What we both discovered when we participated in a Cervical Self Exam Workshop conducted by staff of the Women’s Health Feminist Clinic of Northern California, was the astonishing power we were able to feel as women able to examine our own cervices and vaginal walls. Yes and you heard me correctly, we all learned how to perform cervical self examinations. The prelude to the power we felt as women to be able to examine our own cervices was the unique discovery of the realization that as women we do have an absolute right (unbeknownst to many of us) to be able to look at our own cervix whenever we please, including during our routine GYN check ups. For so long, society has made women feel as though our vaginal walls and our cervices were something that we had no rights or privileges to examine. At least that is the way I felt all of my life. As a mature woman, age 56, I’ve always felt as though I was pretty familiar with all of my human rights as well as reproductive rights , and I must admit that I wish I had this sort of information years ago. What however, brings me enormous joy is that my daughter is embracing reproductive justice and that I am able share this information with her and also women like myself who are living with HIV. We also learned that particularly for many Native American Women and women in general who have little or no health insurance, that regular cervical self examination has played a significant role in the early detection of both bacterial vaginal infections and/or of yeast infections. I tell you this workshop was amazing and like no other I have ever attended. The women from the feminist clinic who conducted the workshop gave us so much information and showed us a video so we could see what our cervices look like at different parts of the month …like right after a menstrual cycle or during ovulation or even in the presence of a yeast infection. Then these women offered all 30 participants of the workshop an opportunity to look into their vaginas and examine their cervices after inserting speculums. I recall experiencing an acute awareness of an undiscovered layer of empowerment and ownership of my own body as woman that I had never connected with. As parting gifts all of the workshop participants were given our own Cervical Self Examinations kits which included a speculum and we were all allowed to select the size speculum they wanted. Now I ask you, how cool is that? As a woman--and particularly as a woman living with HIV--I strongly feel as though learning cervical self examination is something that would positively work towards eradicating some of the internal stigma so many of us (unknowingly) place on ourselves. Many of us may have a dreadful sense that something bad and frightening is going on inside of our vaginas because we have been diagnosed with HIV. Being able to look inside of our own vaginas with a mirror either at home or during our routine GYN check ups and see our own vaginal walls and cervices (where our babies are delivered through) may do well to ensure us all that women living with HIV have healthy vaginas…and that we can and should pursue the enrichment that good sex can add to our lives. Thank you for letting me share this with all of you and you care to learn more about Reproductive Justice and cervical self examination here are the websites: www.sistersong.net and www.womenshealthspecialists.org.
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