I don't like to make predictions. There's a degree of hubris involved in any effort at prognostication; the future is an unknowable thing, mysterious and hazy and prone to rapid shifts, evident in the way the last half-decade utterly upended the conventional view of where America and the world were heading. But it's not just a new year; it's an entirely new decade, which is a cause for reflection not on the past, but on the future. What kind of world do we want to build?
And the fact is that there's a lot that needs doing. We're entering the twenties faced with massive problems confronting feminism and the human project, problems that we need to keep squarely in focus as feminist issues. It can be easy to think of the work of feminism centering on legal equality, workplace equality, the ERA, and electing a woman president. Most of my own writing on the subject has focused on that top-level view, prioritizing the practical realities women face in the business world. But that's just one facet of a much larger world that feminism, with its insistence on equality and justice for women, must confront in the coming years. Poverty issues are feminist issues exactly as much as bodily autonomy and equal pay.
Take climate change. At the heart of it, women are the ones who will be most adversely affected by climate change in ways that may surprise you if you haven't stopped to consider it. Here in the US, we can be reasonably confident that we have the resources to shield ourselves from our changing planet's most debilitating impacts, but women live outside this country, too. Women are most likely to live in poverty with dependents, and the crumbling of traditional productive economies as the seas rise, the fish die, and food grows more expensive are only going to exacerbate that problem. Dwindling resources will increase the caregiving burden women across the world are subject to and destroy many opportunities to get out of poverty. Over the last twenty-five years, global poverty has declined to the lowest it's ever been, and that reduction is the key factor in the global advancement of women: increased resources means increased opportunities for women. But what happens when that goes away?
Like women's reproductive rights, it's the sort of decision that gets made by the people who are going to be the least affected; human history, to borrow a phrase, is "a rich man's war but a poor man's fight." As the powerful work to shield themselves from consequences, the hammer has only one place to fall.
Poverty is also a key factor in the fight for reproductive rights. There are consequences to the loss of bodily autonomy that rarely get discussed in our grand public debates that mirror those of climate change: reducing the opportunities for women and girls to advance economically and socially, tying us to our uteruses in perpetuity and leading to more women staying in the home. That has the further knock-on effect of forcing dependence on a breadwinner, which can mean that a woman is unable to leave an abusive situation. And as the present administration has been remaking the American judiciary in the image of Mike Pence, a man who calls his wife "mother" and wants abortion outlawed, the threat of regression is very real, especially considering the growing movement of radicalized white women eager to embrace the destruction of hard-won rights, idealizing domesticity and submission to their husbands.
And it's something I suspect we'll see more of as economic forces make it harder for women in the service economy of the West to make a living. The gig economy that was supposed to put control over labor in the hands of individual workers has been revealed as little more than another engine of exploitation, and one that keeps its workers dangling from a hook. The gig economy has been promoted as something women especially should embrace, but it hasn't panned out; women are left uninsured, uncertain, more and more likely to be shunted into "women's work" by individual contracts, and less able to negotiate their own wages.
Uber drivers, famously, are barely scraping by, and the rise of contract labor has hollowed out decades of gains in labor rights. As big companies increasingly rely on contract labor, women especially are in the weakest position to secure the stability they need, especially considering that women are more likely to both work outside of the home and serve as their household's primary caregiver.
Over and over, we see a massive intersection between poverty and the subjugation of women. If we fail to keep that in mind over the next decade, the end result – woman president or not – will be millions and millions of women left behind.
Poverty isn't a problem with an easy answer, and its complicated effects touch every aspect of human life. But action is desperately needed, and that has to start with us. Now is the time to put our focus squarely on this, the number one issue affecting women across the globe, while we still have time. That extends beyond government action, although your votes are still sorely needed, and it extends beyond our discourse. All of us involved, however tangentially, in the goal of the advancement of women need to make poverty a priority in our activism, in our advocacy, and in our lives.
With so many groundbreaking medical advances being revealed to the world every single day, you would imagine there would be some advancement on the plethora of many female-prevalent diseases (think female cancers, Alzheimer's, depression, heart conditions etc.) that women are fighting every single day.
For Anna Villarreal and her team, there frankly wasn't enough being done. In turn, she developed a method that diagnoses these diseases earlier than traditional methods, using a pretty untraditional method in itself: through your menstrual blood.
Getting from point A to point B wasn't so easy though. Villarreal was battling a disease herself and through that experience. “I wondered if there was a way to test menstrual blood for female specific diseases," she says. "Perhaps my situation could have been prevented or at least better managed. This led me to begin researching menstrual blood as a diagnostic source. For reasons the scientific and medical community do not fully understand, certain diseases impact women differently than men. The research shows that clinical trials have a disproportionate focus on male research subjects despite clear evidence that many diseases impact more women than men."
There's also no denying that gap in women's healthcare in clinical research involving female subjects - which is exactly what inspired Villarreal to launch her company, LifeStory Health. She says that, “with my personal experience everything was brought full circle."
“There is a challenge and a need in the medical community for more sex-specific research. I believe the omission of females as research subjects is putting women's health at risk and we need to fuel a conversation that will improve women's healthcare.,"
Her brand new biotech company is committed to changing the women's healthcare market through technology, innovation and vocalization and through extensive research and testing. She is working to develop the first ever, non-invasive, menstrual blood diagnostic and has partnered with a top Boston-area University on research and has won awards from The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Northeastern University's RISE.
How does it work exactly? Proteins are discovered in menstrual blood that can quickly and easily detect, manage and track diseases in women, resulting in diseases that can be earlier detected, treated and even prevented in the first place. The menstrual blood is easy to collect and since it's a relatively unexplored diagnostic it's honestly a really revolutionary concept, too.
So far, the reactions of this innovative research has been nothing but excitement. “The reactions have been incredibly positive." she shares with SWAAY. “Currently, menstrual blood is discarded as bio waste, but it could carry the potential for new breakthroughs in diagnosis. When I educate women on the lack of female subjects used in research and clinical trials, they are surprised and very excited at the prospect that LifeStory Health may provide a solution and the key to early detection."
To give a doctor's input, and a little bit more of an explanation as to why this really works, Dr. Pat Salber, MD, and Founder of The Doctor Weighs In comments: “researchers have been studying stem cells derived from menstrual blood for more than a decade. Stem cells are cells that have the capability of differentiating into different types of tissues. There are two major types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. Adult stem cells have a more limited differentiation potential, but avoid the ethical issues that have surrounded research with embryonic stem cells. Stem cells from menstrual blood are adult stem cells."
These stem cells are so important when it comes to new findings. “Stem cells serve as the backbone of research in the field of regenerative medicine – the focus which is to grow tissues, such as skin, to repair burn and other types of serious skin wounds.
A certain type of stem cell, known as mesenchymal stem cells (MenSCs) derived from menstrual blood has been found to both grow well in the lab and have the capability to differentiate in various cell types, including skin. In addition to being used to grow tissues, their properties can be studied that will elucidate many different aspects of cell function," Dr. Salber explains.
To show the outpour of support for her efforts and this major girl power research, Villarreal remarks, “women are volunteering their samples happily report the arrival of their periods by giving samples to our lab announcing “de-identified sample number XXX arrived today!" It's a far cry from the stereotype of when “it's that time of the month."
How are these collections being done? “Although it might sound odd to collect menstrual blood, plastic cups have been developed to use in the collection process. This is similar to menstrual products, called menstrual cups, that have been on the market for many years," Dr. Salber says.
Equally shocking and innovative, this might be something that becomes more common practice in the future. And according to Dr. Salber, women may be able to not only use the menstrual blood for early detection, but be able to store the stem cells from it to help treat future diseases. “Companies are working to commercialize the use of menstrual blood stem cells. One company, for example, is offering a patented service to store menstrual blood stem cells for use in tissue generation if the need arises."