Building the Foundations of Reproductive Justice in North Carolina

A few weeks ago, member NARAL Pro-Choice NC hosted a Reproductive Justice Youth Summit. Over 75 young advocates (16 – 24 years old) came together in Chapel Hill to learn about reproductive justice, community organizing, effective leadership and how many different social justice issues – such as racial equity, economic justice, environmental issues and voting rights – intersect with the reproductive rights of girls and women.

RJ Youth Summit 2014

RJ Youth Summit 2014

Many may not be familiar with the term “reproductive justice“: coming out of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, the Reproductive Justice (RJ) movement is a women of color-founded and led movement that seeks to broaden the mainstream reproductive rights discourse that currently focuses heavily on the right and access to safe, legal abortion. While abortion rights are a critical part of this movement, RJ also looks at the right to have children and the right to parent and raise children in safe, healthy environments. By including this wider focus, RJ acknowledges the varying reproductive challenges different groups of women have historically faced. While white middle- and upper-class women have had to fight for the right to access birth control and safe abortion, women of color and poor women of all races/ethnicities have struggled for the right to have and raise children, battling forced sterilizations and abortions, and coerced relinquishment of their children either to the adoption or foster care system.  We all have heard the phrase “without access, there is no choice”, usually meaning that abortion that is legal but inaccessible does not provide a real choice; the same can be said of lack of access to medical care, economic security and a safe environment to raise children, and its effect on a woman’s ability to make a genuine choice about her reproductive life.

As RJ allows more room for different groups of women to speak to their reproductive experiences, it also brings women and women-identified persons together on their shared reproductive oppressions. These oppressions are created by a society that demands women adhere to a culturally-defined vision of the “perfect women”,  and pushes all women to express their sexuality and reproductive choices in just a few narrow socially-acceptable ways. In our society, this is means the stand-alone nuclear family with the father as the undisputed head who provides financially for the family and the mother who stays at home to raise the children and provide care taking duties for the whole family. Single motherhood, not choosing motherhood, children born outside of marriage, same-sex partners, extended families – these don’t fit that model, and are punished by policies that cut funding for subsidized childcare, decrease access to birth control, ban same-sex marriage, cut Head Start and Displaced Homemakers funding, etc.  The RJ movement is an effort to connect the dots among these different issues so that we can better advocate for policies that help all women.

With so many intersecting issues, the NARAL NC RJ Youth Summit addressed much more than direct reproductive rights issues. Member Democracy NC and partner the Southern Coalition for Social Justice did a session on voting rights. Members Equality NC and the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of NC, and partners Sister Song, Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!), Advocates for Youth and Third Space Studio all dedicated time and resources to engage NC’s social justice leaders of tomorrow. See the comments written by a NARAL Pro-Choice NC former intern and summit participant below.

“Special thanks to keynote speaker @MonicaRSimpson for her opening excitement! She danced “The Wobble” to create an inclusive environment for our group of youth activists. This eased us into a conversation about The Declaration of Human Rights, Intersectionality, and Feminism. We were ready to do some inner work.

I attended panels on intersectional identities, sexuality, and radical relationships. Between 11:30 AM and 1:30 PM, we dialogued about systems that impact and oppress us. Conversely, we shared traditions that uplift and empower us. Here, diverse activists strategized for a youth reproductive justice movement in North Carolina. Members from @elpuebloinc ,  @ignitekindred and @Sistersong_WOC  moderated my panels. They questioned our ability to do work, our bodily autonomy and our experiential knowledge. We completed our inner work.

Our sessions proved that pop culture, politicians, and parents affect our reproductive realities. So, we must plan accordingly. If we network to transform our communities, we can organize our interests. At the end of the summit, I chatted with #moxieprojectunc and @AmberJPhillips . We felt confident that NC millennials are ready to embody justice, earnestly. We will encourage others to do inner work.

For this, I am proud to be an ongoing volunteer of @NARALNC . The #RJSummitNC provided my generation with tools to ‘build a vision of reproductive justice in NC.”

Sister Song, based in Atlanta, GA, is a leader in the RJ movement nationally, and we are proud to partner with them as we build the foundation for this movement in North Carolina. Their ED, Monica Simpson, spent a little extra time in North Carolina after the summit to facilitate a round table discussion on RJ and solidarity for NCWU’s members and partners. Thanks to all who attended, and those who expressed interest in helping us build this movement. We look forward to continuing down this path towards a stronger women’s movement in NC, and we hope you all will join us!

Tara Romano, NCWU, President