The price of modesty can be late detection of breast cancer
How exactly is it possible to increase awareness when you can't mention the words 'breast' or 'women'?
Early detection is probably the most critical element in successful treatment of breast cancer. When a woman has greater awareness of the importance of regular testing and checkups, and greater knowledge of the early signs of the disease, the chances of recovery increase dramatically.
That is why the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation organizes walks and runs in a number of large cities around the world, including Jerusalem. The accompanying publicity serves to raise awareness of the importance of early detection of breast cancer and of testing.
But what happens when the Jerusalem municipality publicizes a walk, like the one that took place in the capital earlier this month, without allowing mention of a single word about breast cancer or about women in general - and without a single picture of a woman, because it's "not modest"? How exactly is it possible to increase awareness of breast cancer when you can't mention the words "breast," "cancer" or "women"?
The answer is simple: It isn't possible. And so instead of using the opportunity to drive home to the female residents of Jerusalem the need to go and be tested; instead of helping every woman understand the importance of self-examination and of mammograms; instead of reaching communities that are literally as much in need of such information as they are of air to breathe - in other words, instead of thinking about our health, the city fathers are preoccupied with our modesty.
And that comes with a price.
Ask any doctor, or any other professional who works with Israel's growing number of ultra-Orthodox women. They will confirm that among these women, there is almost no early detection of breast cancer. I have been told by a physician who treats women suffering from breast cancer that the mortality rate from the disease among Haredi women is three times that in the rest of the population. Why? Because they don't go for periodic check-ups, because they don't perform self-examinations. To put it simply, they are not aware.
They are not aware because the modesty that characterizes the Haredi community has led to a situation where the female body itself is considered "immodest," where a medical discussion is not modest, where instead of saying "pregnancy" people say "the period before the birth," and they certainly don't say the words "breast cancer."
The decision to turn a woman's body, as well as medical discussions about a woman's body, into something immodest has been made by men, of course. Once again it means that instead of a woman's body being seen through the eyes of a woman who wants to maintain her health, it is seen through the eyes of a man who might become embarrassed (or worse ) by mere mention of the word "breast."
How can it be possible, you're probably asking, that the need to spare men embarrassment, or the possibility of being attracted to a woman, justifies taking a chance on women's lives? It's an excellent question. No less significant is the question of why the Jerusalem municipality - including the city's secular mayor - would cooperate with this travesty. How is it possible that signs promoting a walk for breast cancer awareness include not a single word about that disease
I don't know. But our job as secular and observant women is to declare in a loud and clear voice: A medical discussion about our body cannot be considered something immodest, and the municipality, the Health Ministry and all the institutions involved with overseeing our welfare have an obligation to us women and to our health that supersedes any obligation to going along with some exaggerated Haredi idea of modesty.
Most important, don't forget to have regular check-ups.
Rachel Azaria is a member of the Jerusalem City Council from the Yerushalmim party.