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Global Health Advocate Honored in New York

July 21, 2006

Geeta Rao Gupta, an international expert on gender issues of HIV/AIDS, was destined from an early age to work involving her passion for women’s human rights. Accepting the Working Mother Media Legacy Award this week, she said, “How could any thinking woman grow up in India when I did and be blind to the inequity experienced by women?” As president of the International Center for Research on Women (, Rao Gupta’s choice of a professional focus “is not something to be applauded. It is what is to be expected.” An advocate on such issues as sexual health and family planning and the prevention of child marriage, her groundbreaking project—on factors behind the spread of HIV/AIDS among women—involved 27 studies in 15 countries over four years. She was able to document how globalization caused the rapid spread of infectious disease—particularly HIV/AIDS—across national boundaries, and how, in the developing world, women and girls are the most vulnerable. Her own family history, said Rao Gupta, demonstrates how access to family planning choices holds the key to women’s social and economic empowerment. While both her grandmothers married and became mothers young, her maternal grandmother was able to limit her family thanks to her husband’s access in 1932 to one of India’s first vasectomies.  She and her children went on to become college educated professionals.  Denied such access, despite her other grandfather’s best attempts to obtain contraception, her paternal grandmother died of tuberculosis at 33 shortly after giving birth to her 11th child. Many of her children continue to suffer the deprivation accompanying limited access to education. For Rao Gupta, the story illustrates “the dramatic way in which the lives of two families were transformed across generations by the health and well-being of the women.”   Women’s inequality “is something that’s insidious, that exists all over the world,” Rao Gupta said in an interview following the award ceremony. “It’s just more in some parts and has dire consequences for families who are poor.” In pursuing changes in women’s and girls’ status globally, she stresses the importance to listening to women in the developing world. “They know what the solutions are. They just can’t communicate to the policymakers who can make a difference,” she insists. “When I actually meet women in the villages and small towns and hear about their courage and their spirit, that’s what inspires me.” The Legacy Award was presented July 18 at the Working Mother Best Companies for Women of Color Multicultural Conference 2006 in New York City.