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Reflections on Reproductive Justice and Leadership Development

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Natalie Kopke, Program Associate

Naomi (RHAP’s Operations Associate) and I were invited to attend the New Leadership Network Initiative (NLNI), a project of CLPP, a reproductive justice-focused organization working to educate, train, and support new and old activists in pushing for reproductive rights, freedom, and justice for all. This year, NLNI was held as a pre-conference to SisterSong’s 20th Anniversary conference, Let’s Talk About Sex!

The term “Reproductive Justice” debuted at SisterSong’s first national conference in 2013 and was coined by Black women at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt in 1994. The reproductive justice framework expanded the conversation around reproductive rights by applying a human rights perspective to the work. Reproductive justice aims to secure a person’s right to: 1) have or not to have a child under the conditions they wish to do so and 2) parent in a safe and healthy environment without fear of individual or systemic violence. NLNI and SisterSong centered the importance of taking a reproductive justice approach to our collective work, pushing its attendees to “RESIST. RECLAIM. REDEFINE.” their own position and work in the movement.

NLNI and SisterSong were held in New Orleans. Known for its music, eclectic cuisine, and rich history, NOLA proved to be an excellent destination for these meetings. The first presentation at NLNI, “Activism on the ground: New Orleans”, was given by the Reproductive Justice Action Collective (ReJAC), Women with a Vision, and BreakOUT! The presentation discussed work being done to expand access to reproductive health in NOLA, including Plan B NOLA, an initiative by ReJAC and Women with a Vision that provides free and by donation emergency contraception locally through city-wide collaborations. The second session, facilitated by New Voices for Reproductive Justice and KIMBRITIVE, provided attendees with the space and tools necessary to connect, discuss, collaborate, and strategize on reproductive justice issues that matter to them. The final presentation, “Fired up and burnt out: Keeping it together in uncertain times,” was led by the Icarus Project. The Icarus Project presented on the importance of self-care, especially for social justice activists during this era.

Although our trip was cut short due to Hurricane Harvey, Naomi and I were able to attend four out of the six workshop sessions offered at SisterSong. During the first session, we attended “Moving beyond hiring people of color: Centering anti-oppression in white-dominated spaces” where we discussed the experiences of people of color working in white-dominated reproductive justice spaces, reflected on these experiences, and developed a manifesto on what truly anti-oppressive organizational leadership in these spaces would look like. For the second session, we attended “Inspiring proactive strategies: A listening session with researchers and advocates working to address disparities in abortion access and care” where panelists from Ibis Reproductive Health, the Center for Reproductive RightsAll* Above All, and National Abortion Federation discussed different evidence-based strategies their respective organizations had taken to address ‘post-fact’ era attacks on abortion rights. The third session we attended, “The political economy of reproductive violence: Interrogating U.S. social policy and the violence of disposability” explored how changing economic systems have produced violent reproductive policies that have regulated, criminalized, and policed bodies of color throughout history and presently. The final session we went to, “Calling in physicians: Developing strategies to educate physicians and all for mutual efforts” was led by representatives from the RJ MedEd Project in collaboration with Loretta Ross, one of the pioneers of the reproductive justice movement. At this session, RJ MedEd presented their RJ-focused curriculum for physicians, developed with the intent of training them to better address medical injustices.

As a reproductive health organization, we are fortunate to be invited to this space to learn more ways to incorporate aspects of the reproductive justice structure into our everyday work. 

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