Shape Our Future by Respecting Girls and Women!

Jan 18, 2013, 9:00 AM, Posted by

By Elizabeth A. Kostas-Polston, PhD, ARNP, WHNP-BC, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholar and assistant professor, University of South Florida; and Versie Johnson-Mallard, PhD, MSMS, ARNP, WHNP-BC, RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholar alumna and assistant professor, University of South Florida.

file Kostas-Polston and Johnson-Mallard at the International Council on Women’s Health Issues 19th International Congress on Women’s Health 2012: Partnering for a Brighter Global Future, November 2012

On November 14, 2012, we met a princess. No, we were not at Disneyworld or Disneyland. The princess was beautiful, talented and focused on making a difference in her country for girls and women. The princess’s name is Princess Bajrakitiyabha Mahidol, her Royal Highness of Thailand. We met her when we were invited to Thailand to present at the International Council on Women’s Health Issues (ICOWHI) 19th International Congress on Women’s Health 2012:  Partnering for a Brighter Global Future

During the conference we unveiled our national/international initiative, The Blue Bra Campaign: Leading Global Change in Women’s Health. The Blue Bra Campaign is housed at the University of South Florida College of Nursing, under our leadership. The name for the campaign was inspired from an international event that occurred in 2011, when a young Egyptian woman was beaten, stomped on and nearly stripped while participating in a political demonstration. Aside from the sheer brutality inflicted upon her by Egyptian police, what stood out to millions viewing the nightmare as it unfolded on international television was the young woman’s abaya falling open to reveal a lacey, bright-blue bra. That moment was so unexpected, so shocking—so transforming!  The young woman, covered from head to toe in traditional dress, refused to remain invisible demonstrating her femininity through her choice of undergarment—a blue bra!

Sally Quinn of the Washington Post later shared her thoughts while watching the horrific event.  Quinn wrote: “The blue bra said what I imagine her to be feeling: I may be oppressed. I may not have rights. I may have to cover up my body and face. But, you cannot destroy my womanhood. You can’t rob me of my femininity. You can’t take away my power.”

This sexy symbol packs power amid repression. It is a bold statement!  The decision to launch the Blue Bra Campaign resulted from this young woman’s public humiliation and the irony that it brought attention to her courage and strength. The blue bra emerged as a symbol of determination, resilience and the voice of women amidst oppression.


More and more, there are Blue Bra moments around the world!  Recent examples include: 1) Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke, who became a central figure in the national debate over access to contraception in the United States; 2) 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai who, while riding her school bus home, was shot in the head by the Taliban in Pakistan for advocating the education of girls; and 3) a 23-year-old, university student in New Delhi who was gang raped while riding on a public bus (she later died from massive internal injuries). 

These tragedies are only a few of the many Blue Bra moments that continue to fuel the campaign, which aims to support the health and well-being of women globally. In a non-partisan manner, the campaign aims to raise women’s voices through advocacy, research, education and practice. 

Giving voice and promoting respect for women by unveiling their strength, which is intertwined in their femininity, underscores the importance of such a campaign.  The Blue Bra Campaign calls attention to social, political and economic issues that impact women’s health policy, thereby heightening awareness of women’s oppression, violence and inequalities throughout the world.

Additionally, the campaign serves as ambassador to women across the globe and works to send messages of goodwill and hope. With the multiple roles that women play in society, to invest in the health and well-being of women is to invest in progress for all. Many challenges and questions remain. For example, Are women’s issues personal or societal responsibility?  BLUE BRA...Respecting Women...Why?...The Time is Now!   

The authors would like to acknowledge the Blue Bra Campaign’s Advisory Committee members for their dedication and commitment.   

- Afaf Meleis, PhD, DrPS(Hon.), FAAN, Dean, University of Pennsylvania; RWJF National Advisory Committee (NAC)
- Beverly Malone, PhD, RN, FAAN, CEO, National League for Nursing; RWJF National Advisory Committee (NAC)
- Patricia Davidson, PhD, Counsel General of the International Council on Women’s Health Issues (ICOWHI)
- Diane Seibert, PhD, CRNP, FAANP, Professor, Uniformed Services University
- MaryJo Goolsby, EdD, MSN, NP-C, CAE, FAANP, Director of Research and Education, American Association of Nurse Practitioners
- Dianne Morrison-Beedy, PhD, RN, WHNP-BC, FNAP, FAANP, FAAN, Senior Associate Vice President, University of South Florida (USF) Health; Dean, College of Nursing

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.