By Kim Walter
Area residents are invited to a lecture series this month and next focusing on health care and gender equality as it impacts women.
The series is sponsored by the Women for Women Initiative, founded in June by 11 area women interested in creating dialogue and awareness of current issues affecting women and their families.
Mary Rodriguez, founder of the initiative, said she recognized the need for such a group since she felt that pivotal issues important to women weren't being discussed. Rodriguez had experience in organizing large events of an educational nature, and decided to try something similar on a smaller scale.
"I invited the 10 other ladies to my house, and we had a brainstorming session on what kinds of topics we need to talk about," she said. "We came up with women's health and gender equality."
The group of women felt that it was very important to present the topics in a non-partisan, well-informed way.
As a result, they've invited a diversified panel to lead the lecture, "The Issues of Women's Health," from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sept. 16 at the Margaret Stimpson Auditorium at Shenandoah University.
Mark Merrill, president and CEO of Valley Health, will serve as the keynote speaker. Rodriguez said he would give a general presentation on current health care.
Panel members include local health officials and leaders from Washington, D.C. Rodriguez kept in mind that she wanted to offer a variety of views on the topic when inviting the participants. One woman represents the National Women's Health Network, and another is the chief executive officer at D.C.'s Planned Parenthood.
The local panel members are Jordan Hoile, a doctoral candidate at Shenandoah University, and two gynecologists.
"I will say that one gynecologist is more on the 'right' side, politically, while the other is more on the left," Rodriguez said. "This is all about educating and fairly presenting all sides of the issue."
The panel members will give short presentations on their area of expertise, including health care reform, local access to health care, choices for women and ways that women can "make their voices heard" on the topics.
The majority of the time will be devoted to questions and answers.
While the initiative considered charging a fee to register for the event, they decided against it as to not limit the potential for who could attend. Rodriguez said she would like to see everyone registered by the Saturday before the event, but again, she doesn't want to keep anyone from participating.
In order to reimburse the panelists coming from D.C., the initiative will hold fundraisers.
The gender equality lecture will take place on Oct. 21 at the same time and location.
Rodriguez said if these first events bring a good turnout, then the initiative will move forward with planning more education lectures and opportunities. The group will also consider adding more women to the Women for Women Initiative steering committee if interest is shown after the events.
"I'm excited to see how this all plays out," she said. "But at the end of the day it's all about keeping our women and our community informed."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org