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Hesperian’s Sarah Shannon Receives Prestigious Social Justice Award

April 10, 2015


At Hesperian, we know that our Executive Director Sarah Shannon is a tireless advocate for social justice. It is reflected in her work and leadership every day, most recently as co-author of Health Actions for Women.

Her commitment to serve and support people who have been impoverished and marginalized was recognized this week by the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, which presented her with the Ruth Roemer Social Justice Leadership Award. (Read the full press release.)

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Sarah Shannon

“One aspect of Ruth’s amazing career that resonates for me was her insistence on a broad view of public health – her determination to work across disciplines and to do so in a way that addresses the underlying social and economic conditions that create poor health,” Sarah said in her acceptance speech.

“My experience is that people, especially those who are marginalized, actually see those connections quite clearly – it is part of their lived experience. And we can learn a lot from them,” she added.

The award is named in honor of the late Ruth Roemer, JD, a champion of health equity and social justice. A 1939 graduate of Cornell Law School, Roemer served as a member of the Fielding School’s faculty for more than four decades. She used the law to protect and promote health and made lasting contributions to the fields of reproductive health services, environmental health, tobacco control and the organization of health services.

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Sarah and Davida

“Sarah Shannon has lots in common with Ruth Roemer,” Davida Coady, MD, MPH, who knew Roemer as a colleague and friend, said in her introductory remarks. “She sees the big picture, she has very similar values, and she doesn’t run from the tough issues. She works incredibly hard and accomplishes more in a day than anyone I know.”

Hesperian’s new book, Health Actions for Women, provides tools and activities that challenge violence against women, promote strategies for better sexual health, improve access to family planning, and support healthy pregnancies and safe births. It has received praise from numerous health advocates, including Cecile Richards, Paul Farmer, Judy Norsigian, and Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu Tum (you can read their words, and learn more about the book here).

In support of Sarah’s nomination for the award, the Rev. David Dolan, who had Ruth Roemer as a professor during his graduate studies at UCLA, wrote: “Sarah has expanded the boundaries of what is considered primary healthcare by asking the question: Primary for whom?

She has undertaken an organizational shift to focus more deeply on women’s health, including a fundamental commitment to providing empowering information that enables women to make decisions about their bodies and their families.

Sarah has similarly led efforts to develop ground-breaking materials that incorporate workers’ rights to health and safety into a primary healthcare approach, recognizing that the conditions inside a workplace – inadequate safety protections, unfair wages, discrimination, exposure to chemicals, etc., all profoundly affect the health of individuals, their families and communities.

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David Dolan

She has also pushed to incorporate environmental health and justice into the practice of primary health care by providing clear and empowering information designed to support the poorer and marginalized communities that are most affected by environmental degradation and pollution.

All of Hesperian’s efforts and publications in these areas have deeply influenced the practice of primary healthcare in international health, and more importantly, continue to provide people organizing to improve community health with effective tools to challenge these conditions.

We couldn’t agree more. Please join us in congratulating Sarah on this well-deserved award!