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Women's History Event A Call to Action

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Gathering focuses on health disparities and national healthcare reform

By Chris Levister –

A capacity crowd of inland women gathered at the Rialto Senior Center Saturday for the 6th Annual State of Women. The event marked the start of Women’s History Month 2012 designed to highlight modern women’s accomplishments and issues.

“I feel like it’s a chance to let people shine that don’t necessarily get the opportunity to do this all the other months of the year,” host Rialto City Councilwoman Deborah Robertson said about the celebration. “I think it’s really empowering. I think it gives people an opportunity to not only learn about history but learn about themselves.

Women of all colors and stripes dined on healthy salmon and chicken salads, shared stories, experiences and ideas. But all agreed we live in an era in which women's rights can no longer be taken for granted.

Recent attacks on access to basic women's health care, like contracept ion, breast cancer screening and prenatal care, necessitate immediate action to preserve and advance equality for women.

“This is a call to action,” declared keynote speaker B. Darcel Lee, Execut ive Director of the California Black Health Network.

“As we reflect upon and celebrate the myriad ways that women’s shared histories unite families, communities and the country, as well as the positive strides that women across the country have made, it is important to remind ourselves that there is work that still remains to be done. This is especially true of women’s health,” Lee told the crowd.

It has been two years since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was signed into law. Lee said the landmark legislation has already had and will continue to have a disproportionate and positive effect on the health and health care of women because it will take the nation several significant steps forward in efforts to eliminate gender health disparities.

“For example, not only does the new law ensure that being a woman will no longer be treated as a “preexisting condition,” but it also ensures that women will not be dropped by insurance companies when they become sick or charged higher health care premiums than men for the same coverage,” said Lee.

She said the new law improves the coordination of care for older women under Medicare, expands access to free preventive services — such as colonoscopies and mammograms — and, beginning in 2014 when the health insurance exchanges are established, will move millions of women out of the ranks of the uninsured.

She explained the anticipated positive effects of forthcoming health care reform provisions that are yet to be implemented could not have come at a better time because numerous studies confirm that there are grave inequities in health care access, quality and health outcomes across different populations of women.

“For example, the racial and ethnic disparities in women’s health that leave millions of hardworking women in poorer health, without reliable access to highquality, affordable health care and thus more likely to die prematurely and often from preventable causes are well-documented.”

Lee told the listeners that every 35 minutes, a woman tests positive for HIV in this country. Yet the impact of HIV among Black women and girls is even more startling.

She said nationally, Black women account for 66% of new cases of HIV among women.

HIV/AIDS related illness is now the leading cause of death among Black women ages 25-34.

An estimated 40 percent of adult women are at risk for heart disease. That number soars to more than 52 percent for Black women. African American women have the highest rates of being overweight or obese compared to other groups in the U.S. About four out of five African American women are overweight or obese and about 53 percent of white women say they exercise regularly, compared with 49 percent for women overall.

“Let’s get moving,” Lee told the women, referring to First Lady Michelle Obama’s fitness campaign “we’re eating ourselves into oblivion.”

“Women often make the health care decisions for their families and are the primary caregivers when a family member falls ill. Therefore, the health of women affects not only the individual, but her family and her community,” said San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors Chair Josie Gonzales.

She told the crowd despite the slumping economy and growing desperation among many women and children there is reason to celebrate.

“Thanks to a lot of very committed people in our county doing very hard work we are seeing progress in areas of women’s health and well being to include a host of programs that tackle homelessness, mental health, infant mortality, HIV/AIDS, insurance and family and children’s services.”

“What better way to honor Women’s History Month this year and every year, and what better way to continue to show that “Our History Is Our Strength,” than by seizing the moment we have today to reduce gender and women’s health disparities by protecting the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and ensuring that it is well-implemented?” said Assemblywoman Wilmer Amina Carter.

In doing so, we will be improving the health, health care and thus wellness and life opportunities of every woman, family and community across the nation. To do otherwise is not only a nonoption, but also is wholly unacceptable,” Carter said.

Women’s History Month traces its origins back to the first International Women’s Day, which was celebrated March 8, 1911. By 1978 the event had expanded to an ent ire week, and in 1987 the United States Congress formally extended the celebration to an entire month.

Since 2010, the Library of Congress has issued a national theme for each year’s Women’s History Month. This year’s is “Women’s Education and Empowerment.”

"Working together, we can celebrate our progress, address the inequities in women's lives and ultimately improve the quality of life of all women,” said Robertson.

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