the gentlewoman

The Reader

It took one speech from Bill Gates for Cristina Ljungberg to dedicate her life to her calling: women’s health. Since that day in 2012, the Indiana native has devoted every minute to raising awareness for overlooked, underfunded causes, recently through her foundation The Case For Her, which she co-founded in 2017. The initiative addresses key women’s health issues, such as menstruation and female sexual health, via grants, investments and advocacy, with a reach that spans the globe (though the American expat is herself based in Sweden, where in normal circumstances, she enjoys hiking and perfecting her recipe for wild blueberry pie).

Cristina Ljungberg

Lucy: Tell me, how does someone born and raised in the American Midwest find themselves so at home in Stockholm?

C: I met my Swedish husband as a sophomore at Tufts University in the 1990s; we were both in the competitive down-hill ski team. We’ve been living here for 18 years now.

L: That’s quite the meet cute story! What did you study?

C: I have a bachelor’s degree in biology, and a masters in bio-tech. Initially, I worked for a large global healthcare company, but it was specifically women’s health I felt passionate about – issues that affect half the population yet tend to be overlooked or ignored by those in power. Take menstrual health, for example: there are currently two billion people of menstruating age, which means there are approximately 300 million people menstruating today – and there’s still zero funding for access to adequate menstrual products. Not to mention the social stigma surrounding that conversation.

L: Why do you think that still exists?

C: Honestly? Because it’s not sexy. People don’t want to talk about it. It’s even worse when it comes to discussing female sexuality; women’s pleasure is always categorised as being “adult”, or even pornographic. Somehow erectile dysfunction is recognised as a health issue, but talking about women's sexual wellbeing or the menopause is still taboo. And it’s just as much of an issue in the United States as it is in Nepal or east Africa.

L: How does The Case For Her address that?

C: We’ve been gathering and presenting evidence to show that giving women access to education or even their own sexuality can be used as a tool to achieve greater health objectives.

L: What do you mean by “greater health objectives”?

C: The United Nations have a list of Sustainable Development Goals they’re aiming to achieve by 2030, and we believe addressing menstrual health and the pleasure gap is key to achieving four of them: health, education, gender equality and sanitation. Sure, there’s the basic issue of not having access to sanitary products – even here in Sweden, we’re taxed 25% on them – but it’s also about education and empowering girls to understand their own bodies. It should be on every country’s agenda, and our goal is to make that happen.

L: It sounds like a colossal task.

C: The Case For Her doesn’t feel like work in the traditional, nine-to-five sense anyway. When you’re really passionate about something, there’s no distinction between your personal and professional. Sure, there’s a lot of work to do, but it’s incredibly rewarding.

Lucy: Speaking of, how are you finding working from home?

C: It’s been strange but generally positive. I’m currently working between my kitchen table and home office, and staying connected with the team through Zoom. It’s been good for us to be grounded, actually; we’re focusing on our current portfolio as opposed to finding new projects and expanding our work. But I’m also making sure to take care of myself, as we should all be doing to reduce the burden on healthcare systems.

February 2020. Interview by Lucy Milligan. Portrait courtesy of Cristina Ljungberg. Further information about The Case For Her's work may be sought from Would you like to be the next featured reader? Then sign-up sister and tell us about yourself!