NC Women – Changing the Narrative

press conferenceThanks to everyone who came out to our Women’s Advocacy Day this past week! It was great to see you all there, seasoned advocacy day supporters and first-time citizen lobbyists alike. We hope you gained some new skills, information and networks you can continue to use as the session marches forward, and we all commit to bringing our voices to the NCGA.

Because, as we saw this week, our struggle is far from over. Our voices matter, and we can make a difference. We saw that when the NCGA leadership decided to take the discriminatory Religious Freedom Restoration Act off of the table for this legislative session. And we saw that again when the House sponsors of the restrictive and damaging HB465 took out the provisions prohibiting UNC and ECU medical schools from performing or teaching abortion procedures.  Unfortunately, with the passage of the modified HB465 to lengthen the waiting period for an abortion from 24 to 72 hours – a bill passage that didn’t even take 72 hours itself and silenced plenty of opposing voices in the process – we see that some voices in our movement (businesses, academic centers) still count more than others with this current state leadership.

Don’t let that stop you from continuing to raise your voice. As President Tara Romano said in her Women’s Advocacy Day speech (below), it’s time to change the narrative that creates these policies. Who better to do that than all of us? And what better time than now?

(President Tara Romano’s remarks at Women’s Advocacy Day, April 21, 2015)

Good morning. My name is Tara Romano, and I’m the president of North Carolina Women United. I’m proud to be a part of a coalition that represents so many fantastic organizations and women across the state, who know that North Carolina women deserve better than the reactionary, regressive and sometimes spiteful legislation we’ve seen recently. Legislation that seems better suited to bringing us back to times past rather than moving us forward in 2015.

Women are the foundation on which our society is built. We are workers, caretakers, breadwinners, educators and engaged citizens. Women are living multi-faceted lives in North Carolina, and we need policies that acknowledge and reflect this diversity. That is why we are here today, on Women’s Advocacy Day, to bring our voices to these policy discussions. For too long, policy decisions have been based on the beliefs and the pre-conceived notions of the people in power, which has never been representative of our society, and which has always sought to write its own narrative of how it believes society should be structured. It’s a narrative that fits very few people’s actual lives.

During numerous discussions I have on “political” or social justice issues, I often remind people that “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts”. We are here today to bring the reality of women’s lives to lawmakers who are creating policy that has the potential to affect all of us, whether they understand – or acknowledge – our needs or not. We are here today to say:

the reality is that more and more women work hard to support their families, and many of us are a significant contributor –if not the sole contributor – to our family’s economic security. We need living wages, affordable education opportunities, access to paid family and sick leave, workplace protections, and affordable, quality child care.

the reality is that many of us likely know someone who has had an abortion; and most certainly know someone who uses birth control.  Access to the full range of reproductive and sexual health care without judgment is an acknowledgement that women have the right to own their own bodies.

The reality is that we probably know someone who has experienced – or have experienced ourselves – sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape or sexual or domestic abuse. Silencing us on this issue, or minimizing the violence, will not bring an end to the violence.

The reality is that not always taking part in our political process doesn’t mean we aren’t interested; but making it more difficult to cast your vote – via potentially longer lines and increased bureaucracy – does have a tangible effect on how we can participate in our democracy.

The reality is that many women are facing additional barriers based on their race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender expression, age, immigration status and disability; creating policies for women that ignore those intersections will never move women forward.

We are here today because we need to change the narrative – and you all know the narratives I am talking about. These are the narratives inside people’s heads, and these are the narratives policy will be based on. Women living in North Carolina have been disregarded, disrespected, patronized and demonized – for the way we work, for the way we parent, for the way we love, for the decisions we make and for demanding equality.

We are here today because we know women will make different choices that are best for them, and we are here to say we trust women to make those choices.

Alice Walker said the most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any. But we are here today to claim our power, the power of women lifting up together. And I thank all of you for being here today.