Forward Together at 25: The Power of Reproductive Justice

Monday, September 15, 2014

The following post is part of our 25th anniversary blog series, and is written by Eveline Shen, Executive Director of Forward Together. 

When I first came to Forward Together, then Asians and Pacific Islanders for Reproductive Health, I stepped into our 600 square foot office in Oakland's Chinatown brimming with excitement. I came to help develop a comprehensive framework to understand and address problems impacting the reproductive lives of Asian women and girls. I also came because I knew that I could bring my whole self—Asian, queer, progressive.

Most organizations back then did not look through an intersectional lens; we were among the handful in the country looking at how gender, race, sexuality, and class controlled the lives of women of color. Our communities wanted more than just the right to abortion—we wanted the well-being of women and girls and through their own empowerment to make healthy decisions about our bodies, sexuality and reproduction. We sought reproductive justice in all areas of our lives.

Through this prism, we linked up with other struggles for social justice, like when our youth joined the environmental justice fight to shut down a medical waste incinerator in East Oakland to inform their mothers, aunts and sisters how these toxins impacted their reproductive health.

As more and more saw the power of reproductive justice, we felt the need to distinguish it from reproductive rights and health, which we did through a collaborative process with leading reproductive justice activists. Today, when you google “reproductive justice,” you’ll find on Wikipedia the definition we created in our 2005 report, A New Vision for Advancing Our Movement for Reproductive Health, Reproductive Rights, and Reproductive Justice.

You know we’ve made progress when you can read a recent article by Dani McClain in The Nation on how the murder of Mike Brown is a reproductive justice issue. It’s a sign of how reproductive justice has grown in terms of its acceptance in the social justice community.

Over the last 15 years in my tenure at Forward Together, I have seen the chasm of inequality grow for millions of low-income women of color, youth, LGBT folks, and their families who face greater challenges to accessing reproductive health care, living wages, and safe communities free from sexual violence and police brutality.

But in the face of these grave challenges, I am inspired by the growing number of organizations and national initiatives uniting across sectors and issues to build power and make change together.

At Forward Together, we have found that transformation happens when we can see beyond our own silos and unite under a shared vision for our families. Through our Strong Families Initiative, we have seen the power of LGBT, youth, reproductive, environmental, and racial justice groups coming together to move proactive policies on the local, state and national levels. By empowering families that have been pushed to the margins to come together and organize together, we are changing the terrain of how decision makers think, feel and act in support of families.

This fall, our Strong Families network is leading civic engagement work like you have never seen before. By supporting our allies on the ground, we are helping them bring historically marginalized communities—low-income, people of color, and rural—to come out and vote for a progressive platform that impacts multiple issues affecting our families. From ensuring the right of immigrants to have driver’s licenses to increasing access for reproductive health to removing barriers to voting, we’re helping our communities see how these policies don't solely impact us individually but our entire families. And once the election is over, our community partners aren’t left with just clipboards and pens but leadership and infrastructure so they continue to build power in the long run.

Who knows what that will mean for how social justice is meted out in years to come, but we’re in the game now. And as the country shifts demographically, our communities will be better poised to advocate for a progressive platform so that all our families can thrive.

Eveline Shen is the Executive Director of Forward Together. Since Eveline's leadership began in 1999, Forward Together has become widely recognized for its innovative role in the Reproductive Justice Movement—working with grassroots communities; providing thought leadership; developing effective tools and resources for evaluation, training, and documentation; and organizing for long-term systemic change. Eveline serves on the board of the Movement Strategy Center and is a member of the Bay Area Social Justice Funders Network advisory committee. She has also served as Principal Investigator for two National Institutes of Health grants that explore the intersection between environmental justice and reproductive justice. Women's eNews named Eveline one of their 21 Leaders for the 21st Century. She was a 2009 Gerbode Fellow and holds a Masters in Public Health from UC Berkeley in Community Health Education.

No comments:

Post a Comment