By Emma Akpan, Director of Policy, NCWU; cross-posted from RH Reality Check
While I was in church on Sunday, I thought about the hard choices women face. My preacher spoke from a passage in Exodus about the saving of Moses. As the story goes, the pharaoh was planning to kill all the Hebrew boys in fear that they would eventually take over and rule over the Egyptians. To save his life, Moses’ mother and sister put him in a waterproof basket and sent him down the river in hopes that an Egyptian woman would take pity on him and adopt him. She did.
When I heard this passage, I immediately thought of mothers across North Carolina who are fearful that they will not have the ability to raise their children safely, with adequate education and health care.
On Tuesday, August 26, we will have the opportunity to highlight the hard choices women have to make daily during Women’s Equality Day, which honors the enfranchisement of women in 1920and is now recognized around the country to address the diverse and important concerns of women. In North Carolina, the day coincides with the North Carolina Moral Week of Action, which is being held August 22 to 28 to expose the harmful legislation being imposed by North Carolina house leaders on all state residents. North Carolina organizers thought it was important to incorporate Women’s Equality Day in the Moral Week of Action since many of the policies at issue, including the state’s recent voter identification law, adversely affect women.
My faith encourages me to ensure the health of my community. Like the women in the story of Moses, women in my community fight hard to make their voices heard and protect their children. Many women look to their faith communities to help support their families, and these faith communities across North Carolina work hard to support struggling families. They help with bills, child care, and spiritual and emotional support.
But sometimes, this isn’t enough. Funding and resources at churches and other communities of faith are limited. Most churches don’t even have the budget to provide after-school care, tutoring, or other assistance for women and their babies.
We need to live in a society that does not have barriers to health, economic security, and safety so women won’t have to fear for the health of their bodies and the bodies of their children. Women should not have to be afraid that they cannot feed themselves and their families.
That’s why women of faith have been taking the lead in the Moral Mondays movement. We are tired of families living in financial fear and living without adequate health care. We believe it is the duty of the state to make sure our communities have access to good education, health care, and public safety.
Tara Romano of North Carolina Women United also recognizes the importance of women’s voices in the Moral Mondays movement. She was on the initial calls planning the Moral Week of Action, along with other women organizers who in early July had already begun to plan a Women’s Equality Day. That’s when leaders of the NAACP asked Romano to take the lead in coordinating the Raleigh event for Women’s Equality Day.
“Almost all the organizers were women, and most of the speakers were women,” Romano said. “This is a good opportunity in the NAACP to see that we are a big part of this movement.”
Since a diverse group of women were able to set the agenda, we have an opportunity to talk about reproductive justice in a more inclusive way. I’ve written how this was not always the case in North Carolina.
For me, reproductive justice encompasses much more than making sure women have access to contraceptives and safe abortion, but also making sure women have the financial security to raise children in a safe and healthy environment.
In the past year in North Carolina, the North Carolina General Assembly refused to expand Medicaid, a policy that would help many women be healthy enough to care for their children. Yes, pregnant women automatically get prenatal care under Medicaid, but a woman needs health care well before she decides to get pregnant. A woman’s health before she is pregnant can determine the health of her pregnancy and child, and good health reduces infant mortality. So yes, all women, mothers or not, need health care.
The assembly also cut subsidies for after-school care for their children. After-school programs are expensive, costing families up to $500 a month. With the subsidies, some families were paying as little as $9 a week for after-school care, care that included homework help and enriching academic activities that help their children succeed. Now families will have to scramble after school to find safe, affordable, and adequate care for their children.
We also live in a state that just passed a law allowing concealed guns in public spaces. This law is dangerous for women: Five women in the United States die each day from gun violence, oftenat the hands of their partners. What’s more, given the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, and the killing of Mike Brown, mothers are worried that their child may in the wrong place at the wrong time. And the loosening of gun restrictions nationwide makes our public spaces even more dangerous. All mothers should be able to raise their children in a community that is safe from gun violence.
The list goes on. For instance, our state legislators rid us of the Earned Income Tax Credit(EITC), which had helped many women in low-wage jobs stretch their paychecks a little more to pay bills. Shelia Arias, a mother of two children from Durham, will speak on the importance of the EITC for working families at Tuesday’s event. “It’s a way to help hard working people make ends meet and handle unexpected life emergencies,” Arias said, speaking from personal experience.
We also live in a state that has restricted access to voting under its new voter identification law,which disproportionately affects women, especially women of color and low-income women without the necessary identification. In some cases, these women will have to use their limited funds to purchase a new ID. In addition, the law has closed many voting sites and cut early voting short. Early voting sites gave women who work inflexible hours the flexibility to vote. Now, women may be discouraged from showing up to the polls at all.
Women’s Equality Day gives us another opportunity to let North Carolina legislators and voters know why women should show up to the polls in record numbers on Election Day. We’re sponsoring voter registration drives and “get out the vote” efforts across the state to make sure that women, representing over half of the electorate, have what they need to make their voices heard.
In general, the day is a reminder that women in North Carolina need access to services that will help their families. We cannot continue to live in communities where women are constantly worried about how they will meet their most basic needs, like feeding their children.