image by: Financial Times
Leadership belongs to those who take it - Sheryl Sandberg
In the days following last January’s Women's March on Washington, Facebook news feeds exploded with images and comments about the global protest. However, Facebook COO, “Lean In” author and women's rights advocate Sheryl Sandberg was noticeably silent. In fact, the only thing she posted in the days leading up to the protest and immediately after was an interview with endurance swimmer, Diana Nyad.
Odd? Yes. Especially since Sandberg has been called one of the Top 10 Modern Feminists and the concept of a Women’s March actually started with a Facebook call to action. The March was to protest the Presidential inauguration of a man who many believe ran the most divisive, misogynistic campaign in recent history. And, a man whose shocking win has set forth an epic war on women’s rights, immigrant’s rights, civil rights, and healthcare.
So the call to protest was made, and boy, did they show up by the thousands. And not just in the United States, people all over the world showed up to protest with us in solidarity. And yet, Sandberg who has the world’s largest social media platform at her fingertips said nothing. Not one thing.
Instead, several weeks later Sandberg tried to explain her lack of involvement by claiming that she “had a personal obligation and couldn’t go.” She said, “I felt bad about not being there. So, I think once I felt bad I just didn’t feel comfortable posting, and I think that was a mistake.” It was definitely a mistake and people were very critical of her and her excuse. Sandberg’s silence was deemed hypocritical, especially since she has always been an outspoken advocate of the women's leadership movement.
But, all that changed once it was announced that President Trump had signed an executive order reinstating and expanding an old Reagan-era rule called the “Mexico City Policy.” Or, as it’s more commonly referred the “Global Gag Rule.”
The Global Gag Rule places a federal ban on funding allocated to international healthcare organizations if they speak about, or offer, abortion as a family planning option. This means that doctors, midwives, and nurses cannot even mention the word abortion, much less provide abortion services. This Rule applies even if the facility uses their own funds, even if abortion is legal in that country, and even if a woman asks about it. Therefore, if an organization does not meet these conditions they will lose all funding and contraceptive supplies provided by the United States.
What do you think the outcome will be in this situation? Well, the last time this Rule was in effect, women who lost access to contraception and family planning services had thousands of unwanted pregnancies, the abortion rate doubled, and the poverty rate increased. Yet, this Rule is in place again, and it’s more severe and more expansive than the previous order, because it now covers every program that falls under global health assistance. That means that thousands more people will be hurt by this. Oh, and by the way, Trump is expected to expand the Rule to include domestic family planning centers, such as Planned Parenthood. Yes, it will be here as well.
This apparently was the last straw for Sandberg because she is silent no more. I’m sure it’s because she witnessed first hand while she was working for the World Bank in India what happens to poor, uninsured, and rural women whose healthcare is subsidized by foreign governments.
What she found was that the only reason the majority of these women had access to healthcare was because it was subsidized. And when the money was there, and doctors could talk freely with their patients, women and babies thrived. When it was taken away, women died, the infant mortality rate skyrocketed, and poverty levels increased.
Sandberg’s first act of resistance was to offer her support of the Global Health Empowerment and Rights Act (HER) which among other things, aims to reverse the Global Gag Rule. This would allow health organizations to freely provide comprehensive family planning services to prevent unintended pregnancies, and reduce maternal and infant mortality rates without the fear of losing funding just because they also happen to provide abortion services.
Her second act of resistance was to donate one million dollars to Planned Parenthood. When her donation became public, Sandberg said, “women’s rights are human rights and there is no more basic right than health care. When women are given even the most basic health care information and services, they live longer, healthier lives and they give birth to children who live longer, healthier lives.”
So there you go, Sheryl Sandberg may have been slow to the mark, but I think this is just the beginning of her mission to empower women all over the world. And that 100 million dollars she got from selling some of her Facebook stock will surely help her accomplish a few things.
Stacy Matson is a health enthusiast from Southern California and regularly blogs on Celebrity Health for A Healthier World, as well as contributing to the Best of Best.
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