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Life How white women can be allies to the reproductive justice movement

Mar. 18, 2020
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When you think about the concept of human reproduction, what terms come to mind? Maybe things like sex, pregnancy, baby, and parenthood. If you dive a little deeper, maybe it’s phrases like sex education, contraception, menstruation, prenatal care, labor, infant care, and childhood.

So why is it that when we talk about rights related to human reproduction, access to abortion is the only topic of discussion? Don’t get me wrong, abortion access is an extremely important reproductive right—but what about everything else? Not surprisingly, POC, trans women, and queer women have been asking that question—and providing answers—for decades.

The answer is reproductive justice, and it was coined in the early ‘90s by women fighting for the rights of all women. Throughout history, women have been fighting for equal rights and protections under the law, such as the right to vote, the right to own property, the right to equal pay, and the right to an education—to name a few. Now, for each and every one of these battles, the women who were leading the charge were the women who had the resources, access, and societal standing to do so—in short women of privilege, which has always been synonymous with white women. 

Had these women been aware of their own privilege, you might not be reading this article. But as it was, when reproductive rights became a mainstream political issue, the right to an abortion was front and center, because that was the right which was denied to middle-class white women. In response to the lack of inclusion in the reproductive-rights movement, POC, trans women, queer women, and women belonging to other marginalized groups founded what’s now called the Reproductive Justice Movement.

So what exactly is reproductive justice? SisterSong, the organization which coined the term, defines reproductive justice as “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.” In other words, this term combines reproductive rights and social justice to create a more holistic concept that includes all the reproductive freedoms women are inherently granted as human beings, as stated by the UN Declaration of Human Rights. The right to choose isn’t just about whether a woman gets an abortion or not—it’s about whether she wants children at all, the spacing between children, the right to delivery and infant care, and the right to parent those children safely.

Reproductive justice is what we should all be fighting and striving for. That being said, we white women need to remember that reproductive justice is a movement founded by and for WOC, trans women, and queer women—meaning we cannot be leaders of this fight. And we certainly cannot co-opt the movement as our own. We can be supporters, advocates, allies, and helpers. That’s our lane; let’s stay in it. Here are some of the ways we can do just that:

1. Educate yourself.

As an old art teacher of mine used to say, don’t be frugal with your Google. If you want to learn about something, go learn about it. It isn’t the responsibility of WOC, trans women, or queer women to educate you on this topic. Head on over to your closest device and type in the words “reproductive justice.” Boom, 44 million hits in .75 seconds. Avoid Wikipedia, blogs, and personal anecdotes. Focus on .org sites, academic journals, and articles with legitimate sources. From there, get into the nitty gritty and actually learn about the topic. 

2. Shift the conversation.

Don’t follow in the footsteps of our racist foremothers and continue to only prioritize issues that pertain to us. Start shifting conversations in the classroom and the workplace, at the dinner table, amongst friends, within your community, on social media—anywhere and everywhere you can. Of course, this means shifting literal conversations about abortion access to ones about reproductive justice. But it also means shifting the cultural conversation at large. Reach out to your representatives about the issue. Contact local or national organizations involved in reproductive rights and ask what they’re doing to promote reproductive justice. If you’re in school, talk to the administration or your professors about holding a workshop or lecture. Post on social media. Just start shifting.

3. Show up, not off.

A major issue within the activist sphere is the desire to stand out—the leader of change, the spark that starts the fire of justice. Activism isn’t about fame, getting followers, or going down in the history books, though; it’s about making a change. It’s about righting injustices. It’s about lifting up marginalized groups. So share news and posts about rallies, attend workshops, sign petitions, advocate for legislation, and volunteer—just don’t center yourself or your actions. It’s time to let go of that ego and help for the sake of helping. 

4. Give to reproductive justice organizations.

If you can’t physically show up, maybe you can financially. At the end of the day, funds are needed to promote, educate, mobilize, create, compensate, legislate, and keep these organizations up and running. That’s where we come in. Middle-class white women are the reason that reproductive justice had to be created in the first place when we failed to be inclusive, intersectional, and aware of our privilege. The least we can do is donate to the organizations that are practicing the feminism we should have been practicing all along. Here are a few to start you off:

  • SisterSong
  • SisterReach
  • New Voices for Reproductive Justice
  • National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF)

5. Shut up and listen.

Listen to Indigenous women, black women, trans women, Asian-American women, queer women, women with disabilities, women in low-income communities, mothers and pregnant women and women who don’t look like you. What are they saying? What do they need? What injustices are they facing? What help are they seeking? The reason abortion access is top priority for most women now is because the women of the past assumed it was the only reproductive right not realized. They assumed this issue was the most important for all women. 

No more taking our rights for granted. No more fighting only for ourselves. It’s time to get to work.