By Karuna Jaggar, Executive Director
The presidential election is days away and the stakes couldn’t be higher on a range of critical issues, including women’s health. No matter who is elected next week, Breast Cancer Action will continue to demand that our elected officials at every level of government take meaningful action to address and end the breast cancer epidemic: action that moves beyond the mainstream approach of more awareness and more access to screening. Our elected officials have a unique role to play in the breast cancer epidemic and we’re urging all of them to support independent research into areas overlooked by Big Pharma and biotech and establish strong regulation of toxins that increase our risk of breast cancer.
Recently, we’ve seen an upsurge of, perhaps, well-intentioned but ultimately empty ’feel good’ bills legislating that doctors must tell women if they have dense breasts. While I certainly feel that doctors should have robust conversations with women about their specific health concerns and needs, this kind of ‘feel good’ legislation does more for the politicians’ image than it does for women at risk of or living with breast cancer: political pinkwashing. Count on it, we will challenge our elected officials who engage in political pinkwashing and demand they take bold, meaningful action on breast cancer.
Highlighting the role of our government is not to suggest that our elected officials are the only people responsible for addressing and ending the epidemic. But only the government has the authority to regulate chemicals and protect public health by preventing exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. And as the largest breast cancer research funder in the country, we need the government to invest in independent research that fills the gaps left by industry.
Over the last year, we’ve seen a seismic shift in the breast cancer movement. The public and the media are asking pointed questions about what we have to show for 30 years of awareness and strong emphasis on screening. Earlier this summer, the Canadian Film Board documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc. sparked conversations across the country about the impact of pink ribbon marketing and the shortcomings of mainstream breast cancer organizations. And the firestorm over Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s move to defund Planned Parenthood this spring got people talking about the central role of breast cancer in debates about women’s health.
A realization is setting in. We will not get ahead of this public health epidemic as we continue to focus all our efforts on promoting awareness, improved access to screening, and women’s individual behavior and so-called “lifestyle choices.”
For too long, the government has outsourced its job to address the breast cancer epidemic to largescale philanthropic organizations—like Komen and Avon—that are beholden to corporate funders. We’ve all seen that this strategy is not working. Billions have been raised in the name of breast cancer and we have too little to show for it. We shouldn’t be surprised. When we ask organizations that rely largely on corporate funders to protect and provide for public health, they’re going to go astray. Since its inception in 2002, our Think Before You Pink® campaign has been very successful in challenging corporate pinkwashers because of the fierce and relentless activism of our members. Now, it’s time for government step up its game and help address and end this epidemic through independent research and strong regulation.
It will take more than symbolic gestures of support through pink ribbons, pink bracelets or even heartfelt personal stories from my candidates to win my vote. Symbolic gestures tell me a couple of things: breast cancer is still a popular and important cause; and politicians, knowing this, are seeking our votes through seemingly supporting this cause without having to take any real impactful action to address and end this public health crisis.
No more. Not while Breast Cancer Action is here to stand up for women’s health.