Launch of Fatima’s Hand

One of my new creative projects is the launch of a podcast called Fatima’s Hand.

Why is it called Fatima’s Hand?

Also known as “Hamsa” – Fatima’s Hand is an ancient figure for protection and good fortune, and one of the only symbols that has meaning to Christians, Muslims and Jews. Like the name, this podcast shows the diversity and interconnectedness of social movements for parity, and the helping hand of the women behind the scenes pushing us along this path of change and resistance.

Apparently everyone and their grandma seems to be on the path to a podcast these days. For me, it’s a brave new world. And one that is not without some complications. Working in international development you are expected to be behind the scenes. This is perfectly reasonable given the sensitivities of the countries we are operating in and the delicate diplomacy required to ensure support for (and funding of) democracy development. But this approach is antiquated, and adds to confusion about how to fight for democracy, and why it’s important to do so.

As we see the world shift on its axis with the rise of alienating and exclusionary populism and the resurfacing of dictator tendencies, even in Western democracies, I have to ask myself, what role am I playing? Am I doing all I can to shine a light on the change I believe in? If “democratic development” is so behind the scenes, maybe we are part of the problem.

I’m launching this podcast to give voice, literally, to women’s participation and activism, one facet of the democracy development necessary to get us out of this deepening hole, which, I would point out, we are in partly due to the crisis of masculinity and lack of gender equality (more on that nugget later).

I am privileged to have gotten access to some of the most brave and wise women in the world, working hard to improve the lives of their country and communities. I have worked side-by-side with them, learned from them, challenged them. But this is the first time I am creating a product from this experience for a wider, public audience. So bear with me as we figure it out together.

I am going to weave a bit of my experience and observations about this work into topics that are relatable, and core to who we are and what change is needed across the globe to do better, be better, and to fight for what I believe is possible. I believe that there is a better world for women and girls to be created – no matter the cultural constructs that prevent this, or the discomfort of the leaders of international development who prefer that we navigate this work more quietly, behind the scenes.

It’s time ladies, for us to be heard and for our ideas and experience to be forefront. Enough being behind the scenes, let’s start speaking loader and more boldly about who we are and what we believe. I hope you will join me on this journey!

Listen to the Episodes!

Women and Money

PrintIn April I launched a new project with my colleague and good friend Stephanie Berger, called RISE which is a political consulting project that brings the tools of fundraising and resource development to the Middle East, Europe and Eurasia. We have vast experience in fundraising and decades of know-how in the NGO, advocacy, and political sectors in the US and globally. We believe that communities across the Middle East, Europe, and Eurasia need a helping hand. We are working with individuals on projects that give strength and empowerment to people focused on a range of issues such as women’s liberation, human rights, trauma therapy, Syrian refugees, business entrepreneurship, economic development, and other critical topics.

RISE was formed in the recognition that not enough is being done to build strong and sustainable organizations adjusted to the international realities where the culture of fundraising is so different, which is why we offer comprehensive services such as organizational management, strategic planning, resource development, event planning, and cross cultural trips between the US and international organizations and leaders.

We also have a special place in our heart for women.woman and money

In our experience, women worldwide are uncomfortable talking about money. Women are also more apt to believe that politics is dirty business. These issues are often intertwined, especially in the US where a major barrier for women’s political participation is access to money where a candidate must demonstrate an ability to raise thousands if not millions of dollars for campaigns.

Outside of the US, women are also expected to show they have access to resources and business networks where money flows.

Sadly, women are not taught financial planning or investment strategies as often as men are, which puts them at a leadership disadvantage. Not having the resources to exert on developing their own leadership profile in the community or as a candidate contributes to a widening gender gap. Nor are women included in the information boys club which gives them access to business and investment opportunities.

RISE is doing many different types of projects, with both men and women. But we also want women especially to gain the confidence necessary to raise money in order to restore the imbalance that has put women at a disadvantage. This will increase women’s leadership potential and participation in decision making globally.

So, get comfortable with money ladies, that’s where the power is. Whether that means knowing how to raise money, where to look for resources or how to make the ask, we have to restore the power imbalance of resources!

Case Study: Can TV Ads Help Women Get Elected?

The short answer to that question is no, not by themselves. What about poll tested messages relayed through a creative advertising campaign in conjunction with a grassroots strategy to promote women as leaders? Why yes, that can work! A recent pilot project in Ukraine doing just than shows the efficacy of such an effort.

The Crisis in Leadership: Why We Need More Women

Women's Participation

Across the globe women on average comprise 22.3% of parliaments even though they are half of the world’s population. A great deal of attention is paid to the problem of women’s political participation with far too little energy spent on innovative solutions to fix it.

We have a crisis in leadership around the world. We need our best and brightest to step up, which includes women. Why? Because it’s only fair. Need more? Okay, let’s tick off a few more reasons. We need more women in power, alongside men, checking their influence, and shaping and cultivating our society. Would the policy priorities and outcomes be better for women with respect to education, health, child care, and violence against women if more women were policymakers in parliament helping shape this agenda? Yes, undeniably.

Research shows women’s political participation results in tangible gains for democracy, including greater responsiveness to citizen needs, increased cooperation across party and ethnic lines and more sustainable peace. Simply stated, getting more women elected at the national and local is both the right thing to do and smart thing to do. It is the year 2015, women have broken through in other areas of public life and in different professions, why not politics?

Okay, so now that’s out of the way, how do we get there? What is the path to increase women’s participation, exactly? Well, turns out there are several things in that toolbox, like quotas. But let’s focus for a moment on the ingredient that may be most central, yet is paid attention to the least in international development projects to increase women’s political participation: we need more sophisticated communication campaigns to change attitudes toward women as leaders before, during and after elections.

Step 1: Focus on Creating an Enabling Environment
to Build Political Will 

Establishing a proper setting where more women can lead —  and thus more people are willing to vote for women candidates — requires a deeper set of strategies to create an enabling environment for women in advance of an election.

In every country I work in people tell me, “Voters are not willing to vote for women here, period. Our country is not like (fill in the blank, mostly likely it will include referencing a Nordic country, can you say Sweden or Finland?).” Keep in mind it is Rwanda that has the highest percentage of women in the world in parliament, at 63.8%, because of a quotas policy that opened the gate. In the process of rebuilding the country Rwandans made a conscious decision to put inclusiveness and equality at the heart of their reconstruction process. Now the prominent role played by women in parliament and throughout the government has helped transform attitudes throughout Rwandan society toward women. More work needs to be done, but it has created the opening to make that more possible.

Furthermore, a little known fact: in Scandinavian countries quotas were not introduced until the 1980s, when women’s parliamentary representation already exceeded 25%. Women’s representation increased even further as a result of their long history of mobilization of women into the labor market and into political life. The point being: the conditions in which women are a greater part of parliament comes down to political will and the acknowledgement of women’s contribution. There has to be a desire on the part of stakeholders to address the systemic barriers blocking women’s entry into the workforce and elected office.

Political will to change the system is one part of the solution.

So how does that desire begin, and more importantly how can we influence it? If it’s not there on its own we can influence it through organizing and communication to transform the idea of women as leaders. For each country the problems and the solutions for involving more women in politics differs slightly, but they all have in common the need to change the values behind leadership in order to create a greater desire for women leaders among the voting public.

So, how do we get there?

Step two: Test your Assumptions about
Public Willingness to Vote for Women 

First, let’s examine the assumptions underlining the lack of women’s political participation. How do we know people are not willing to vote for women? Is this a gut feeling or a research-based position? Are we basing this conclusion on election results or actual data?

Research can show us the pathway to influencing rigid gender roles about women and their place in society. We cannot simply rely on the low number of women elected to justify the conclusion that people are not willing to vote for women. If women are less than 20% of all candidates, how can we expect they are going to comprise 50% of parliament anytime soon? Low representation of women is also the result of having so few women to vote for in the first place. Low representation is not evidence enough of voter attitudes toward women.

Unfortunately, political parties fail to recruit women as candidates also based on these assumptions, which turns into a self fulfilling prophecy. If women are blocked from leadership positions in the party or politics, or not given the opportunity to be candidates in equal proportion as men, how can we ever hope to vastly increase their numbers, or overcome stereotypes about women’s leadership qualities and qualifications in order to reach some type of parity?

While we can determine through other means that women candidates face barriers at the ballot box, we still need to have the specific evidence of why and how exactly. We need to understand what the attitudes, assumptions and stereotypes are in very specific and measurable ways. It is only through this evidence that we can hope to organize a targeted campaign to tackle what we assume to be insurmountable attitudinal barriers among voters that create an obstacle for increasing women’s participation.

Step 3: Do the Research! Seriously, you really can! 

The tools of advocacy campaigns, including public opinion research, have become much more affordable and in the reach of NGOs. I do not accept the assumption that research is too expensive, this does not match the reality of how polling is used all over the world. Research-based evidence, through public opinion surveys and focus groups, to redefine the leadership qualities of women, is fundamental to challenging sexist perceptions about women candidates.

Do we have research that shows all things being equal, men and women are going to discriminate against a qualified candidate just because of her gender? And on what basis? What are the underlining assumptions behind such attitudes? And most importantly, have messages based on altering attitudes been tested, in order to be used in change oriented campaigns? Millions of dollars are spent on sophisticated ad campaigns to get people to stop smoking, use a condom or vaccinate their children. Where are the ad campaigns, and the research efforts, about voting for women? I can count the number of such campaigns on one hand.

CASE STUDY: Research into action 

Over a two year period I was an adviser to the National Democratic Institute’s effort to increase women’s political participation. Among other activities we chose to focus change the role of women as leaders in the minds of Ukrainian voters through a public opinion-based ad campaign using tools of grassroots organizing. This campaign was made possible by the generous support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation and several others.

Through a series of surveys and focus groups conducted by Lake Research, the following picture emerged:

  • In 2012 nearly half of Ukrainians believed there were too few women in elected office. The research showed us that demonstrating how women are different, and priming the areas where they are perceived as better managers than men, could help convert this sentiment into greater support for women candidates.
  • There was only a 2% difference between men and women in terms of strong likelihood of getting involved in political life.
  • By 2014, 49% of all Ukrainians thought there were not enough women in elected office. And nearly half of women, irrespective of age, believed that increasing the number of women in power in Ukraine would have a significant impact.
  • Research also showed that women enjoyed strong advantages on a host of substantive issues, including child care, health care, education, and ending discrimination against women. Respondents also saw women as much more likely to help children, families, and seniors, and better equipped to address concerns over pensions and retirement security—though this last issue exposes a gender gap in the data. While many of these associations stem from traditional stereotypes of women as “caretakers”, they also provide a strong foundation on which to build a profile for women leaders on issues more central to the ongoing public debate in Ukraine.

Step 4: Put the Research Into Action,
Start a Campaign 

With a team of local and international ad campaign experts that included GMMB and the Ukraine-based firm Me Too, we made a strategic choice to target women in this campaign given that women were more receptive to the call to action and to our messages. The evidence showed that creating a narrative through a visual story — showing women as leaders in their everyday lives, while working with men collaboratively —  should be the basis of the campaign. Further research showed that despite upheaval in the country there was still an opportunity to link the desire for change with the role of women in political life and to capitalize on women’s strengths in terms of both issues and values.

The campaign had three prongs:

  • Media component: Identifying effective ways of changing the portrayal of women leaders through targeted advertising campaign on TV, outdoor, Internet, social media
  • Civic action component: Maximizing positive perceptions of women in politics through local pilot public relations campaigns and warming up media environment in advance of the advertising campaign
  • Public education component: Identifying ways to minimize negative gender biases in media through innovative web-based anti-sexism campaign and training of journalists on gender sensitive coverage Anti-sexism web campaign:
    (“Povaha” means “Respect” in English)


Watch the ad

Web hub with the ad campaign,

Using social media to stir the environment and generate conversation on gender
Facebook campaign, 

A pool of journalists from across Ukraine were also trained on gender-sensitive news and editorial coverage. A network of trainees is active and keeps applying standards of unbiased coverage, and women leaders are starting to pushback themselves, like when a deputy minister told Ukrainians to stop “beauty shaming” women politicians.

The Results: More Women Were Elected and
the Conversation about Women as Leaders has exploded

The Revolution of Dignity and the armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine have been explosive events through which successful positioning of women candidates was made possible, by message research that enabled advocates to help women seize ground on dimensions of strength, leadership, and an ability to bring order, while simultaneously elevating the salience of the qualities that women are perceived as dominate in — such as ethics, justice, and empathy. This message environment made possible through research and deep examinations of women was illustrative in the 2014 local elections in Kyiv and special parliamentary election.

The 2014 parliamentary election was a small improvement overall in the position of women in the parliament (nearly two points compared to the 2012 Parliament), which amounts to 11.3%, but given the circumstances of a snap election and a country in war time, any increase of women elected to higher office is significant because it demonstrates the perceived contribution and potential of women leaders even in times of conflict when “strength” and “toughness” (qualities often associated more with men) are of greater importance to voters.

In 2014 a much bigger leap forward was made by the women standing on party lists, largely as a result of the introduction of a gender quota in 2013 and decisions made by some parties to place more women in winnable positions. The trends are positive for future women candidates and the commitment of new parties to ensuring more gender parity.

The end result: Progress for women in 2014 is an indication of Ukraine’s ability to systematically address barriers to women’s political participation election by election.

In addition to parties nominating more women in the winnable positions on the party lists in the last election, new parties have worked on gender mainstreaming and adopted strategies of women’s empowerment since. For the first time in many years a woman was nominated as vice-speaker of the Ukraine Parliament. Political parties have also adopted internal quotas for women, established women’s departments, and are acting more strategically about the role of women in advance of the 2015 local elections.

A quotas reform legislative package has been developed in the context of election reform and will continue as these legislative debates on election law continue. The need for corrective affirmative action is now obvious for both the civic activists working on gender and for the parliamentarians themselves.

Success: Raising measures that remove barriers for women in Ukrainian politics into the public dialogue have been made possible by spurring the conversation about women and politics in a more public way with an organized advocacy and communications campaign about women as leaders.

The great news is that research shows voters are looking for a new type of politics, which Ukraine deserves and aspires to. Women are strongly associated with the new way of doing politics as those who are in touch with people and well equipped to make reforms. Those standing at the forefronts of gender equality campaigns need to take the next step to build on what was achieved and push out more public communication efforts to alter public sentiment. The opportunity for women is greater than it has ever been in Ukraine’s history, which is significant because realizing the ambitious goals set forth by the Revolution for Dignity requires that women get the political respect they too fought side by side men to achieve.

Let’s talk about boobs

A headline like this is sure to peak the interest of many, and equal discomfort of others. It is a problem that not enough countries outside of the West are in fact talking about boobs and the issues surrounding women’s health care. In conservative cultures across the world it is taboo to talk openly about breasts. This reality has a direct impact on the detection and treatment of breast cancer and possess some serious challenges in how we organize awareness and advocacy campaigns for prevention.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. One out of eight women is diagnosed with breast cancer annually and 143,000 deaths occur each year in Europe as a result. While the reality of cancer is grim, the good news is that efforts to address this as a health care crisis have substantially changed attitudes, approaches and outcomes for women who face the disease.


When did Women Get Active?

In Western countries, campaigns to bring attention to breast cancer began in the 1970s as women increased a sense of control over their own health and healthcare options. Women began to believe that they had a right to be active participants in their health care treatment decisions — a right that was earned and not assumed. Awareness about breast cancer shifted dramatically when women began speaking out as survivors rather than staying hidden as victims. Attitudes toward breast cancer moved from thinking of the disease as a death sentence to something that was treatable.

The second stage of breast cancer awareness moved into advocacy in the 1980s and 90s with women and healthcare activists decrying the lack of understanding of the causes of breast cancer. Advocates were successful in pushing for additional funding to examine causes and assess effectiveness of various prevention and treatment options.

What was the outcome of increased advocacy?

Increased attention to breast cancer research resulted in:

  • Better surgical options
  • Improvements in turnaround of pathology reports
  • Treatments centers within hospitals, and
  • Studies into environmental toxins and other potential causes of breast cancer, which are increasingly examined and regulated, although some would argue that despite the $6 billion raised for breast cancer each year, we are woefully behind understanding causes

The challenge: breast cancer prevention advocacy in conservative cultures

In more conservative cultures open discussion of breast cancer has historically been taboo. If the breast is associated with sexuality instead of health, some view it as immoral for women to go to the hospital for screenings or discuss it even within their family.

So, let`s get this straight. Not only are the body parts of women objectified all around the world in entertainment, media and culture in general, but when those said body parts have a problem, it is suddenly inappropriate to discuss them in what may be a life or death situation? The risk of this cultural discomfort is that women tend to die at greater rates in countries where the disease is detected later and understanding of related health care options is more rudimentary and advocacy of any sort is often viewed as inherently political.

The Middle East tends to have younger sufferers of breast cancer in comparison to the rest of the world. In Lebanon, for example, 50 percent of breast cancer patients are below the age of 50 – this compares to 25 percent in the United States and Europe. While the incidence of breast cancer in the Middle East is much lower than say Europe or US, the mortality rate is higher. According to the World Health Organization, this is because the region lacks a culture of regular breast cancer screening and therefore, early detection of the disease in part because talking about boobs is uncomfortable culturally.

Another issue concerns visibility events to raise awareness are whether they are culturally appropriate. Women and men in Saudi Arabia are not going to be running a marathon together raising funds against breast cancer anytime soon. Campaigns like Race for the Cure, which has been a great vehicle to raise awareness in the West, just don’t translate in countries like Kuwait, Libya and the like, although the United Arab Emirates started “The Pink Walkathon” a few years ago which is one of the biggest breast cancer walks in the Middle East. Where there is a will, there is a way!

So what can we do? 4 Simple Lessons

1. Target daughters as educational vehicles for their mothers

Take the approach of Europa Donna in Turkey, an organization I work with in Istanbul. Given increased attention to breast cancer prevention, every woman in Turkey above the age of 50 is entitled to a free mammogram. However, not many women take advantage of this option. The value of prevention cannot be overstated. Evidence has shown that outcomes are better when women are diagnosed and treated in units that meet the standards of EU guidelines. For this reason Europa Donna remains committed and steadfast in its mission to ensure that all women have access to high quality breast services.

“In Turkey, woman taking care of themselves is not important. They are mostly taking care of other people. If you tell them you should go to get the mammography, they don’t do it. But if you explain to their children the impact of early diagnosis through mammography and healthy living, healthy eating with regular exercise, which is hugely beneficial in the prevention of breast cancer, than they can be convinced and can encourage their mothers”¨ says Violet Aroyu, National Representative of the Turkey chapter of Europa Donna.

Through Europa Donna, high school students are the targets. All across Turkey programs are organized to provide education about breast health and cancer, so that they in turn can convince their mothers and other women in their families and neighborhoods, emphasizing the important of early diagnosis.

Peer-to-peer education has proven to be an effective means to get information to their target audience. Europa Donna uses seminars, documentaries, videos and social media sources to get their message to a teenage audience who is very receptive to the information. Read more about programs for breast cancer awareness in Turkey published in Lale, the magazine of the International Women of Istanbul. Turkey and Breast Cancer Awareness

A similar strategy, to find culturally relevant ways to motivate women to seek breast cancer screening, was rolled out in an animation video, ‘Shared Wisdom,” sponsored by GE. The video highlights GE’s “healthymagination” initiative, that works towards increasing access to high quality medical care to more people at lower costs with an emphasis on early diagnosis. Addressing the various societal concerns that discourage women to undertake breast cancer screening, the video also demonstrates how the new campaign has made screening convenient and easy to access for women.

2. Mind the culture

womeninMEIn countries were men are not going to be participating in the pink ribbon campaigns or talking openly with the women in their family about breast cancer, we can still push for creative and culturally appropriate awareness strategies to soften the ground, like Pink Hijab day

Furthermore, in a campaign from Qatar, advocates designed a presentation with messages specific to the principles of Islam —  what it means to be healthy and protect women through their guidebook on Muslim Women and Breast Cancer Prevention. In their material they use the words of Prophet Muhammad to make an argument for women to take care of their health as a tenet of the religion.

Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) is quoted as saying: “Make the best use of five things before the onset of five others: your life before your death, your health before your illness, your free time before being too busy, your youth before your old age and your wealth before you end up in poverty”. [Related by Al-Hakim and Al-Baihaqi on the authority of Ibn Abbas.]

3. Share stories 

The power of storytelling cannot be overstated as an essential advocacy tool on a wide range of topics. Stories help humanize an issue. Stories create a sense of shared experience. Breast cancer survivors have been encouraged to speak out publicly as a way to reduce the stigma of the disease and educate others. Stories from survivors are used to inspire hope, motivate and comfort others. Personal testimonials are used by nonprofit organizations, large and small, as well as a frequent feature in popular culture, as exemplified in the Women’s Health Magazine. In the Middle East, an online publication in the UAE is an example as well as the Model of Courage event in Qatar, sponsored by Ford. You may recall that it was Former First Lady Laura Bush who made breast cancer in the Middle East a focus through a trip taken to focus on joint partnerships for prevention. When high profile people speak out, it creates a climate where survivors can come forward without as much stigma.

4. Run for office, ladies!

When it comes to issues of equality, ultimately all paths should lead back to getting more women elected to public office. Advocacy and civic efforts outside of the halls of parliament are not enough. —Although women comprise half the population of the world, currently men make up 78.1% of seats in national parliaments worldwide. If the rate of progress stays the same as last year (about one percent difference), it will take us another 20 years before we reach parity. Likely it will be much longer! Why is this so important? Because when women are at the policy making table, issues like domestic violence, rape and breast cancer are moved from outside of the shadows and dealt with as public issues, with real solutions.

bkb508-119-2014-134224-high-jpgWomen leaders like Pakistani politician Fehmida Mirza, a breast cancer survivor and prominent leader, have made great strides to break the silence surrounding cancer. When women are in parliament they are in a better position to advocate for women’s health issues. Not all women need to take the mantel of breast cancer or focus just on women’s issues (a label which tends to marginalize the importance of social, economic and health care topics that disproportionately impact women), but some of them have to. While we need male allies, there is no country in the world were men are the primary architects of campaigns on breast cancer or violence against women. Madeline Albright makes an excellent case for the power and potential of women and their impact on policy in her Ted talk “On being a woman and a diplomat.”

Rather than these issues being a negative to women as candidates or elected officials, they can be used as organizing vehicles and leadership opportunities. In 2010 in Ukraine I was training candidates to run for office by teaching them how to organize their campaign, develop a message and implement a “door-to-door” program in order to talk to voters about why they should elect them (what a novel concept, but in developing democracies these are the building blocks of campaigning that have to be taught). I was lucky enough to work with Zinayida, age 65, who was running for local office in Zaporizhzhya. She won her race by mobilizing a team of 20 volunteers to go door-to-door and to speak directly with voters. She was a civic leaders who ultimately gained the support of her constituents by her experience providing rehabilitation and treatment to cancer patients. Zinayida, a breast cancer survivor, made a promise to herself during treatment to step into political office in order to push for health care policies as an elected official, if she lived. She survived the cancer, ran an all-volunteer campaign with little support from her party, and she won. She wrote about her personal experience in her campaign literature making the issue of breast cancer and her personal experience an asset — in fact her main campaign message.

Women can do what politicians are failing to do in many places around the world, connect better to average voters. After all, women tend to be in touch with everyday issues. Women know the price of groceries, moms know what is like to worry about a sick child home from school, and daughters know what it is like to care for aging parents who have poor access to health care and small pensions. Some women know what it is like for be a survivor of breast cancer. We need more people in power who are in touch with the lives of ordinary people and willing to talk about issues that are fundamental to women’s health and well-being.

TOMATOTools for future candidates:

  • Download the OSCE-ODIHR Handbook on Promoting Women’s Participation in Political Parties” which aims to encourage political party leaders, men and women alike, to support the integration of gender aspects into internal political party decision-making processes. It also seeks to develop the capacity of women politicians to advance their political careers.
  • Turn your attention to the Barbara Lee Family Foundation´s new guide on “Keys to elected office, the essential guide for women” or a newly launched campaign VoteRunLead, based on making it as simple as possible to reach across the aisle and encourage women to get involved with tools that can help them succeed.
  • An excellent library of campaign training material can be found at the National Democratic Institute‘s website in the updated Democracy and the Challenge of Change modules. These new training materials take best practices and approaches from NDI’s work around the world and make them into a set of tools to increase the quality of training programs for women as voters, advocates, elections officials, political party members, candidates and office holders. The training materials build on the 2011 guide, a resource for democracy practitioners to help them develop and carry out effective programs to bring more women in government and politics.

The Goodbye Boobs Party

Although this would not be possible or culturally appropriate in a Muslim country, it is useful to review the spectrum of communication at the grassroots — from women once they are empowered to take ownership of their health care decisions. After losing both her mother and her sister to breast cancer, Claira Hermet learned she had the BRCA 1 gene that significantly increases the risk of getting cancer. Claira made the incredibly brave choice to undergo preventative surgery by having a double mastectomy. She also had the courage and sense of humor to blog about it, raise public attention and funds for Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention. She held a Goodbye Boobs party before her surgery.  When we take what are otherwise private issues and shed some light and levity on them, real change becomes possible and women begin to see that they are not alone.