Women's Rights Activist Finds New Ways to Provide Family Planning to Men and Teens in the Texas Panhandle

Claudia Stravato is being honored for her work in advocating for and providing access to primary care and family planning for low-income and uninsured families and teens.

Claudia Stravato works to improve the lives of young people in an area of Texas with some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and child abuse in the nation. “When you have kids having kids, you have a lot of child abuse,” Stravato says. “We need to make birth control affordable in our society. We have already seen the devastating impact on children when we fail to do that.

“Striving for women’s reproductive rights is essential for so many other issues—quality of life, environment, education—if women can’t control their reproductive lives, then we can’t control anything in the world,” says Stravato, whose goals include access to birth control and quality of life for children.

Stravato’s work for reproductive rights and sex education has its opponents, but she argues that without information about sex and birth control, “kids’ lives will be ruined because they don’t know anything.”

More recently, Stravato launched a different strategy to reduce unwanted pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted disease. “Fifty percent of the STD problem is a male problem and fifty percent of the teen pregnancy problem is a male problem, so we need to deal with the men.” Stravato did just that in July 2008, when she opened a men-only clinic that’s been flooded with patients. While the men and boys seek treatment for STDs, Stravato attempts to educate them about birth control and condoms.

Stravato is equally committed to expanding access to all forms of health care services for the poor and uninsured. “I came from a poor family, and it was always difficult for us to obtain health care. Then I was married, and my baby came a little bit early, and the local hospital was filled, so I got put in the charity ward. I learned how horribly the poor are treated in our health system.”

Despite the opposition she has faced over the years, Stravato remains undeterred. “I am 67 years old and waiting to wind down, but it hasn’t happened yet. Heck, I am the sex lady in my town. Isn’t that funny?”

In the middle of her third or fourth career, Stravato says she used to be a “corporate housewife” before she started working to improve the lives of women and children. In the 1970s, she got involved in the National Women’s Political Caucus with several friends, including the late Ann Richards, a former governor of Texas. She worked at a medical school in Dallas and later in the Texas state Legislature for 20 years, where she served as deputy state controller and as deputy chief of staff to a lieutenant governor.

Her volunteer work for a rape crisis center led to becoming chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle. She is now a board member and the retired executive director of the Panhandle Family Planning and Health Centers. “Feminism, when you first get it, is like a disease. It’s a high fever that opens your eyes to all the ways that women are being ignored or their needs are not being met,” says Stravato.