Self Help Groups

How To Start A Self Help group

Self Help as a strategy for women to maintain control over their own bodies and health choices needs to be shared to continue to reach as many women as possible. The Women's Health Movement has had an enormous impact on abortion care in the United States and has affected how routine health care is provided to millions of women. Very importantly, Self Help has affected the relationship and understanding thousands of women have with their own bodies.

When Carol Downer was a reproductive health activist she demonstrated how women could use speculums with mirrors and flashlights to see their own and each other's cervixes. Women took turns doing self exams and talked about the importance of doing self exam could see the range of normal, healthy women's experiences. Later the same year, Carol Downer and Lorraine Rothman went on a six-week cross-country tour (via Greyhound bus!), sharing self-help with women everywhere from Wichita to New York City. Many long-lasting groups were started.

Ready to start your own Self Help group?

What happens at a Self Help group meeting?

One or more women demonstrate Self Help by showing the group how to insert a speculum and use a mirror and flashlight to view their cervix. It's an amazing experience to see both the similarities and variations of individual women's cervixes. Everyone is welcome to talk about their experiences with Self Help, abortion, gynecology, women's health care, childbirth, or anything else the group decides is open for conversation. Some groups demonstrate how to insert cervical caps.

How big will your group be?

The size of your group will depend on your preferences and intent. Whether it's going to be an intimate group of people you know, a large demonstration open to a wider group of women from your community, or a recurring group that intends to offer demonstrations at various organizations to spread the Self Help concept will help you decide what steps to take to get your group set up.


If your group is going to be large or recurring, outreach for attendees as well as locations to hold your Self Help Vaginal Exam demonstration might be to universities women's studies programs, community health centers, women's organizations, abortion service organizations, local social media groups. You can gather contact information as you connect with organizations through your outreach.


The easiest way to send and track attendees is with online invitations (gives your invitee a single click yes/no response) or an automated email platform so you can follow up just as easily afterwards. Once you get your message set up you can use it over for future meetings. There are lots of choices you can find online, here are a few free tools:

Paperless Post Invitations (their flyer option is free)

Mailchimp Email (their free plan lets you send up to 12000 emails a month to a list of 2000 or fewer contacts)

Benchmark Email (their free plan lets you send up to 14000 emails a month to a list of 2000 or fewer contacts)

Things to think about including specifics about: Who, What, Where, When, Asking invitees to share the invitation, If you'll be selling kits or other material like books.

Day of

Use a sign in sheet (names, emails, contact information) to both track who came but also to follow up afterward. Decide if photographs will be acceptable to the group. Use this site to share information.

Follow up

Obviously a follow up will include thanking women for coming but it's also a good way for you to find out how women found out about the meeting, Self Help itself, whether they have an organization or location that would host your group in the future, if they have or would be willing to share your group information, if they'd like to become active in the Self Help movement, and to give you feedback on their experience at your group.

The Feminist Self Help Movement has been shared with three generations of women by the community of Feminists who remain committed to Self Help as foundational to self-determination and women’s liberation

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