When Sandra Fluke become an overnight celebrity, she wanted the media to focus on her messages for women – not her fame.
Fluke sat down for an interview for USA Today College not long ago, hoping to relay her healthcare policy concerns to a university audience.
Starting in August, President Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act will provide free contraception to students with university healthcare plans – except those at religiously affiliated universities that request a one-year delay in providing it.
Georgetown University, at which Fluke is a student, is associated with the Catholic Church, and has the option to prevent student contraception coverage until August 2013.
“There are a lot of students with extreme medical need for contraception, and they need that now,” Fluke said. “I’m hoping that students around the country will make sure that their voices are heard by their universities.”
Fluke’s inbox fills up daily with messages from women, men and the elderly, expressing their medical concerns and thanking her for her activism.
She receives messages from 72-year old grandmothers who wish for their grandchildren to have access to contraception. Young women, who gain inspiration from Fluke’s courage, express their gratitude, while some men hope for their daughters or girlfriends to have access to a pill that’s vital for their health.
“I’m writing to you because I can’t believe that you’re fighting the battles that I had to fight in the 60’s,” some women tell Fluke. And many of these messages are reposted on Fluke’s website for her followers to read.
Although Georgetown has supported Fluke’s civil discourse on healthcare for women, the school has not yet changed its policy to accommodate students’ contraception needs. And students at other universities may not be aware of the decisions being made this month by their administrations.
“The decisions are something that probably happen during spring semester and a little bit into summer,” Fluke said. “And of course, students will soon become engulfed in finals, so the time for action is today.”
In addition to free contraception, the Affordable Health Care Act will require healthcare plans to cover the costs of well-woman visits and domestic violence screenings.
Fluke, who was insulted repeatedly by Rush Limbaugh over the course of three days after her testimony, is using her heightened profile to bring attention to a number of other problems that young women are facing today – including inadequate medical care, domestic violence and a lack of political influence.
Women make up only 17 percent of Congress, and only six women are serving as governors in the United States. This directly relates to the lack of attention that women’s issues receive in Congress, Fluke said.
“The numbers are terribly low – we’re nowhere near leading the world,” she said. “Women should be 50 percent of our elected officials – we’re 50 percent of the population.”
But even students who are trying to make a difference on their campuses through activism often take an ineffective approach, Fluke said.
“We have a lot of events. We have movie nights to raise awareness, panels to raise awareness, and we pass out flyers to raise awareness,” she said. “We put a lot of energy into it and we’re not creating real concrete change.”
Instead, Fluke suggests students should engage in campaign-oriented activism towards a single goal.
Meeting with university administrators, creating petitions, submitting comments to federal agencies and lobbying state legislators are all good approaches to take.
And Fluke hopes young women will take their leadership a step further, by running for student government or considering running for city council after graduation.
Although Fluke is unsure about her own post-graduation plans, she is using her time between classes to continue talking about the causes that ignite her passion.
“I’m trying to use the fact that I was thrust into the media spotlight as a way to get out the messages about how important these policies are to women’s health and to student health and to draw attention to things that are really critical.” she said.
And her determination is obvious.
After a morning that began with an 8:30 a.m. interview, Fluke squeezed in a second one before rushing to her 11 a.m. class at Georgetown Law.
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