The actress and humanitarian discussed public health issues in a School of Public Health and Health Services event.
Ashley Judd told George Washington University students that they are the solution to the world’s most pressing problems—they’re going to “empower the health of all people around the world, particularly girls and women.”
Ms. Judd, who spoke at the Marvin Center on March 1, has traveled across the world on humanitarian missions centered on a variety of public health issues. She said she was moved to begin her work, initially with Population Services International on HIV/AIDS, when she was “really sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Throughout her career, Ms. Judd, who said her GW appearance has been five years in the making, has addressed poverty alleviation, public health, human rights and social justice, but she was focused last week on women’s health and women’s reproductive rights.
Rape on college campuses is an incredibly important issue to discuss, Ms. Judd said, adding women typically feel shame that makes them feel isolated after an attack.
“Part of what’s important, in addition to how we shape the narrative, is that we all [need to] have the courage to talk about it,” she said.
Trafficking, gender inequality, lack of access to family planning or any important health care service, and sexual assault in the military where women find themselves under the control of superiors who are abusing them, among others, are issues affecting women across the world, said Ms. Judd.
Asked about faith, Ms. Judd said she had to find something “that would work for me under all causes and conditions,” as she visited and learned about shelters for abused children, brothels, emergency rooms and orphanages.
“You know how hard it is to walk out of an orphanage?” Ms. Judd asked, equating the experience to a “spiritual death.” But, she added, she always comes back to keeping the faith.
Through it all, women need to stick together, Ms. Judd said.
“Strong female-to-female alliances are so important, and I would encourage you to cultivate them as if your life depends on it—because it does,” she said.
In her introduction, School of Public Health and Health Services Dean Lynn R. Goldman, who moderated the event, said although Ms. Judd is known for her acting, she is a “tireless advocate for women and children around the globe.”
Ultimately, Ms. Judd said, the power rests with the generation of students present in the room.
“You are the difference makers.”
Media coverage of Ms. Judd’s remarks was substantial, because she is being mentioned as a possible Democratic candidate to challenge U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky). She did not discuss her political aspirations but her sense of humor about it was evident.
“Is there an elephant in the room,” she joked, after one student mentioned her possible candidacy.