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Activists across the country are making sure that their voices, and their stories, are being heard. We refuse to stay silent. A perfect example of strength, courage and determination is Samaria Johnson. She’s an organizer at the Alabama Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Justice, which was created out of our Southern Regional Latinas Organizing for Leadership and Advocacy Training. Her dedication to reproductive justice and the empowerment of Alabamians has made her the activist of the month.

Read her story here:

I’ve always gotten a bit of a thrill for bad girls. Whatever their faults, they stepped out of bounds and made their own decisions. The drive to support women and challenge misogynistic, patriarchal institutions and attitudes was jumpstarted early in my life, inspired by the bad girls of history and legend. In daily Bible study at my Christian elementary schools I questioned the assumptions that Eve’s forbidden fruit consumption was fundamentally morally wrong, and in college considered the social structures that condemned Helen for not conforming to traditional feminine roles and behaviors. These women and others took initiative – to encourage their own education and intelligence, to freely express their sexuality without guilt or hesitation, to control where they ended up in life and how.

Amanda Reyes and Samaria Johnson

Amanda Reyes and Samaria Johnson


I was raised and surrounded by generous, strong, complicated women at home, my mom and grandmothers and aunts. Most of my cousins are women. All of my closest friends are women. I grew up in a world of women, reading about them and looking up to them and learning from them. I have spent my entire life loving and being loved by women. There was never any question about my life’s purpose, once I realized it. My own strength has come from generations of women nurturing and fighting for each other. It continues to grow by relentlessly doing the same.

Over the past year I’ve become especially active in the pro-woman community. As a student at the University of Alabama, where I study history and am on track to graduate in Spring 2015, I joined the newly-formed Alabama Alliance for Sexual and Reproductive Justice. I’ve organized

Samaria Johnson

Samaria Johnson

volunteering, collected signatures for sex education laws, attended potlucks to network with fellow student progressives, hosted documentary screenings. I serve as an escort at the local Tuscaloosa clinic and, standing outside the clinic in front of anti-choice protestors, have incredible leverage to explore and confront anti-woman attitudes. Being on the ground is incredibly important to me. It’s easy to get trapped in an ivory tower, and forget the nitty-gritty of actual people and the very real reasons why I’ve chosen the work that I do. At last March’s National Advocacy Weekend, I was able to connect with people whose experiences with society’s ubiquitous misogyny, heterosexism, and racism absolutely horrified me. At the same time, their stories reinforced my personal convictions. That horror was necessary in reminding me of why I work.

This summer I’m interning at the Feminist Majority Foundation in Arlington, Virginia. I’m working on a few different projects, including creating a sexual assault toolkit for universities and colleges. I’ve taken on as president of AASRJ at the University. For the next year, my fellow officers have adopted “sex positivity” as our theme. With that in mind we’ll be spotlighting black and queer intersections in sexual and reproductive justice, focus on religious outreach, and educating other students about safe expressions of sexuality and relationships. These kinds of opportunities are what dreams are made of. Thanks to the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, FMF, and a number of other organizations and fellow activists, as well as the ladies in my life, I’ve been fortunate enough to have them and the strength of conviction to take advantage of them!

Samaria Johnson

Samaria Johnson

By: Eduardo Martinez

Lucha, a social justice student activist group, hosted a screening of Entre Nos on Columbia University’s campus in New York on a Thursday evening. luchaWe had a group of about fifteen students comprising a variety of ethnic, racial, and gender identities watch the film and then discuss the issues it raised. We began the discussion by sharing a scene that stood out from the film and why; one common theme across the different choices was the solidarity expressed with Mariana. Members of the audience reflected on how this solidarity was crucial in her experience of homelessness, unemployment, and of having an abortion, even when abandoned by her partner and struggling with her religion. The film demonstrated how solidarity between people in working class communities of color is developed and sustained as a necessity.

One important point that came out of the discussion of this theme emerged from a comment by one individual that the support Mariana received in her decision to have an abortion and to make money by collecting cans showed that differences in gender, ethnicity, and class do not matter as long as we have solidarity. However, other members of the audience jumped in to explain how shared struggles between different individuals and communities lead to bonds of solidarity while still acknowledging the importance of different identities. Mariana was in these particular circumstances partially because of her social position as a woman, as a recent immigrant, etc. and we need not erase these identities to support one another. It was very exciting to see this level of awareness and analysis emerge from a discussion on our campus where many students fail to understand these kinds of discussions as a result of their privileged social position.luchabanner2

It seemed that our entire audience already held progressive views with regards to reproductive justice, so our discussion of Mariana’s abortion turned towards the institutional and economic factors affecting her experience and alternative outcomes. As a recent immigrant without employment, Mariana had neither the security nor the income to have an abortion under the supervision of a healthcare professional. However, she would have faced further economic, social, and economic hardship had she not received the help from her neighbor, as some women do not have access to reproductive health information or resources. Our audience members also pointed out that the particular life outcomes for Gabriel and Andrea are not necessarily common and are not necessary to speak of “success.”

We discussed many other ideas raised by the film, but I think the examples here demonstrate how our audience was very receptive to the possible message(s) of the film. We were very encouraged by everyone’s excitement to discuss these topics and work through how we should and often do support one another in our different communities. We hope that this screening will serve as a catalyst for similar discussions in the future so that we can gain a better understanding of how to support one another, especially through difficult experiences like those depicted in Entre Nos.

By: Desiree CaroImage

May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month.  Groups could use this opportunity to educate our youth about sexual health by providing information about and promoting safer sex.  Instead, the Candie’s Foundation has decided to release an ad campaign that shames teen mothers and devalues motherhood.  These ads, which stigmatize mothers of all ages, are endorsed by various celebrities who seem to be clueless about the message they are sending to mothers across the globe.

One of the more appalling ads states: “You’re supposed to be changing the world…not changing diapers.”  Since when did changing the world and changing diapers become mutually exclusive?  Plenty of women of all ages have changed the world and changed diapers. Just take a look at some of the amazing young mothers that work with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH), such as Leydi and Gloria, who are powerful women and young mothers. The young mothers highlighted here will provide you with plenty of examples of young women standing up for their rights as young moms and working to make a collective change.

It’s important to think critically about the purpose of these ads.  Are these ads really going to keep anyone, especially teenagers, from having sex? Likewise, are they teaching anyone how to have safer sex?  It’s quite clear that these ads humiliate and stigmatize teen parents without offering the ideas, information, or resources needed to actually prevent teen pregnancies. 

Shaming our youth into a state of fear and hate for teen parents is not an effective way to prevent unplanned teen pregnancies.  Instead, we should focus on providing access to information and resources; we should ensure that all teenagers have access to comprehensive sex education programs.  Radical idea, I know. Groups such as the Candie’s Foundation and the New York City government are so quick to use shaming tactics to attack young parents, and yet, emergency contraception and comprehensive sex education are still inaccessible for so many teenagers.   We need to look at unplanned teen pregnancy as a societal issue.  To prevent unplanned teen pregnancies, we need to address the broader educational, economic, and health disparities that contribute to these outcomes.

               So, what can we do to prevent ads like this from popping up again while still addressing the issue of teen pregnancy in this country?  First, sign this petition that requests a meeting with the founder of the Candie’s Foundation to discuss the harmful impact of their campaign and offer suggestions to improve their approach by increasing comprehensive sexual education, putting a halt on shaming tactics, and using messaging that supports and empowers all young people to make the best decisions for them.  Then, educate yourself about these issues. The internet is full of great resources such as Sex Etc., Planned Parenthood, and Advocates for Youth that can help answer any sex-related questions. Lastly, join NLIRH’s counter-campaign and help us show the Candie’s Foundation that their ads are not the right way to prevent teen pregnancies.  Use the hashtag #NoTeenShame on Twitter and Facebook to let the Candie’s Foundation hear what you have to say.  Let’s break the cycle of shaming young parents and start supporting them.

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Originally posted on Feministing- http://feministing.com/2013/05/16/will-the-teen-mom-shaming-ever-stop/

By VERÓNICA BAYETTI FLORES | Published: MAY 16, 2013

May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, which basically means it’s the season for teen mom shaming. And damn if the Candie’s Foundation doesn’t deliver! On May 1 they revealed their new celebrity-endorsed PSAs, which include lots of messages that provide the super useful combo of shame and no actual helpful information whatsoever. I want to throw up all over these:
 
Hilary Duff with a caption saying: "You think being in school sucks? You know what sucks a whole lot more? A baby - almost every 2 hours for feeding time. And breastfeeding isn't always easy, so if you choose to use formula, you're looking at about $1,500 a year. Guess school doesn't suck that bad huh?"
 
Did you know being a mother totally sucks??? What’s interesting to me about that one is that it’s actually not specific to young people at all – infants have to eat every couple hours regardless of how old their mother is. Does the Candie’s foundation think that motherhood just sucks in general?
 
And OMG, this one:
 
candies psa hayden

A lot of these ads include the stuff about the cost of raising a child, which once again, is not particular to the age of the mother. What gets to me about these are the class implications of this kind of approach – i.e. if you don’t have this kind of money, then you have no place being a mother. Sure, young folks likely have less independent sources of income, but we can’t decontextualize this from the class status of their families, and thus their access to financial support. Economic arguments like this one serve to reinforce racist, eugenicist notions that poor folks are unfit to parent.

But the maybe worst one, the one that gets the most under my skin, is this one:
 
 
 
Picture of Carly Rae Jepsen w caption: "You're supposed to be changing the world...not changing diapers."

This one makes me wanna flip tables and take off my earrings because I am ready to step. There is so much wrong here, but let’s start with the idea that mothers can’t change the world. WHAT! Yep, too busy changing diapers, you can’t possibly use that little brain of yours for anything else amiright? The sheer absurdity (and, oh yeah, sexism) of that notion is really beyond comprehension. Was nobody involved in this ad campaign a mother? But we know this ad is targeted at youth, and perhaps the idea is that YOUNG mothers can’t possibly create change. Of course, this is no less ridiculous – young mamas are resisting shameful messageshitting up their  representatives in DC to demand the support they need to raise their families, fighting for paid sick time and the right to stay in school. Young mamas are making it happen y’all! They’re changing diapers and cooking dinner and organizing the protest, they’re securing childcare and figuring out how to make ends meet, and that survival is resistance in the face of bullshit like this ad campaign.

How about some real solutions? How about increasing access to contraception and abortion for young women who don’t want to become parents but can’t afford these options? How about acknowledging that these even exist and are safe and effective? How about working toward a world in which young parents have the support they and their children need to thrive? We need less shaming and more expansion of health care access, less useless PSAs and more support for young parents to stay and do well in school. This isn’t a new concept – communities of color have been calling this out for years. It’s obvious that these initiatives serve only to add stigma and do nothing to address the material conditions that actually affect young families and the poor outcomes that they can face: access to things like education, affordable health care, childcare, housing.

No one has any business telling people when or how it is appropriate to start their families. Reproductive justice at its core is about bodily autonomy, supporting people’s reproductive decision-making, and making sure that folks can raise the kids that they have with dignity. We cannot meaningfully stand for these values and shame young moms at the same time.

There’s this bill in Nevada entitled, AB 230. It would require that all school districts offer a comprehensive, age-appropriate and medically accurate sexuality education curriculum. Parents may opt their children out of this coursework without penalty.

State Senator Ruben Kihuen from Las Vegas said that in Latino homes, “it’s taboo to talk to your kids about sex. You just don’t.” But then something crazy happened! Sherman Frederick, Las Vegas Review Journal Contributor wrote:

“As easy as Nevada girls are, you see, Nevada’s Hispanic girls are really, really easy. That comes from the mouth of Sen. Ruben Kihuen, D-Las Vegas. According to him, that’s because Hispanic parents never talk to their children about sex.”

WHAT?! Is that what the Senator REALLY said?

AB 230 would make comprehensive sex education available to students. Now, don’t freak out. Comprehensive sex education classes don’t teach kids HOW to have sex. It just means the classes are age appropriate and medically correct. Ideally, conversations about sex, our bodies and sexuality are already happening at home. Since a very young age we should be talking about good and bad touching, have a basic understanding about body parts and what to do if we don’t feel safe.

The article written by Sherman Frederick suggests that only Latinas are having sex, becoming pregnant and that it isn’t society’s problem but their parents and their culture. Are you angry yet? This is a micro aggression that sheds light on a larger problem and comes at a perfect time. May is National Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Month. Teenage pregnancy is a systemic issue, that affects all races, because yes, all races have sex. This in no way is to dehumanize teen moms. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some of the most badass moms ever.

Latinas do not report having sex more than white women, but are at higher risk for pregnancy because they have significantly lower rates of contraceptive use. This disparity in contraceptive use is based not on simple preference, but is closely connected to social and economic inequity. What’s the real problem? We conducted research and found some statistic that may answer this question.

No one makes the decision to become a mom at a very young age. A mixture of being undocumented or not, having little to no comprehensive sex education, not having access to contraceptives, emergency contraceptives and abortions lead to unplanned pregnancies. If there is anything that the New York Young Mom’s group has taught me is that they DID make a decision, and that was to not terminate their pregnancy; however, many have little to no choices. This decision, whether you agree with it or not, should be respected and supported. Having or not having sex doesn’t make us “easy” or “prudes”, it means we are fierce women who decide what to do with our bodies. Geez, can we get some respect?

mom__s_hands_baby__s_foots_by_theprodiqyThere is a trend in all these teenage pregnancy discussions. Often times ads, articles or discussions about teenage pregnancy target the person rather than than the issue. Teen moms are usually portrayed in racists ads that use women of color or their children against them. They’re blamed for living in poverty, for their partner leaving, for not finishing high school. ARE YOU SERIOUS? All these things existed way before they became moms. Teen parents didn’t create poverty. Parents can divorce/separate from each other at any point in their relationship. Students drop out for many reasons, instead of targeting one group of people, why not provide more resources and support for students to stay and finish high school? Yes, teenage parents CAN finish high school and college with the right support system.

How does unplanned pregnancy, sex and comprehensive sex education classes work together?

My Grandmother would melt down the barbie doll’s body before giving her over to my mom to play. She didn’t want my mom to see the lumps her breasts made under her clothes or the curve of her butt. There was no discussion about sex or body parts at all.

I had a friend awhile ago, we were both 13. She didn’t know what “having sex” and “virginity” meant. Her mother taught her that “losing your virginity” is when someone “touches your belly button”. I’m not joking. This is a true story. I only knew of the misinformation when we were watching TV and someone on the show mentioned the word virginity. She looked at me confused and asked what did touching someone’s belly button have to do with the show we were watching.

I was inappropriately touched when I was in school. I knew that what was happening wasn’t correct because these were my “private areas” and without guilt or shame I told my teacher and my mom. All hell broke loose of course. What if I hadn’t known that what was happening wasn’t correct? What if I hadn’t known that I could trust my teacher, my mom, and ask for help?

yellowMy seven year old sister recently started taking swimming lessons every Tuesday. Every Monday night my mom lists all the things she needs to remember before changing into her bathing suit the next day. “Make sure you’re alone in the bathroom stale”, “no one should be dressing you”, “If anyone follows you inside what do you do? Who do you tell?”, “If you do not feel okay, do you promise to tell me?”. She also reminds her about the ordinary things, “did you pack your goggles?”, “Don’t forget your towel”. It’s a routine now, and my sister always responds with the same “I know mom I knowwww” while she rolls her eyes and packs her things.

These are examples of how sex, sexuality and our bodies are constant topics of importance. We can’t ignore it or pretend that by not addressing it it’ll go away. They come in various situations. We need to teach our children that sexuality and sex is normal and natural. Lets be honest, regardless of race, many parents do not talk to their children about sex, sexuality, their bodies etc. We live in a world where everything is sexualized and we can’t just turn sex off. We have to address it. It’s crucial to have sex conversations from an early age. This will open the dialogue flow, not shut it down. How do we expect our kids to tell US when something is troubling THEM, but we’re unable to talk to them?

So now maybe you’re asking yourself, “what do we do?”

bottleWhile these conversations sometimes aren’t happening at home, they should be happening in school. Sex and our bodies shouldn’t be taboo. We’re naturally curious about sex and about each other even. If we create a safe environment at home and in schools for children to discuss these things, and know themselves, they’ll be able to make well thought out and informed decisions in the future. Decisions that involve – but are not limited to – touching someone who hasn’t given you permission to, saying “no”, having or not having sex. Having comprehensive sex education classes won’t push kids to have sex or in anyway encourage it. Students will be well educated and armed with all the necessary tools to make informed decisions. And why is that a bad thing? Don’t we want our children to grow up to be independent individuals who can think for themselves and have control over their bodies, and most importantly, their futures? We aim to raise warriors who will be changing the world, whether they decide to start a family or not.

The Nevada bill AB230 is taking the right steps into addressing a much bigger issue. Before writing or talking about teenage pregnancy we must educate ourselves and ask, what’s the real problem?

Hace más de una semana, tuvimos nuestro Día Nacional de Acción para la reforma de inmigración y salud. Nuestro grupo en Texas tubo un evento y esta es la experiencia de una de las líderes.


Red de Abogacía de Latinas de Texas
“Apoyando la eliminación de la prohibición de los 5 años y que las opciones de servicios de salud para los aspirantes a ciudadanos sean mejoradas”

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2 de Mayo del 2013 – Día Nacional de Acción – Gracias al departamento de Relaciones Políticas de la Red de Abogacía de Latinas de Texas pudimos contactar a las dos Directoras Regionales del Sureste de Texas de los Senadores Ted Cruz y John Cornyn. Hablamos con Ana García (Southwest Texas Regional Director & Community Outreach Advisor – Senator John Cornyn) y Casandra Garcia (Southwest Texas Regional Director – Senator Ted Cruz).

Fue una maravillosa experiencia puesto que estas dos directoras estuvieron muy impactadas al recibir cerca de 300 cartas de peticiones en donde se les pide el apoyo para la eliminación de la prohibición de los 5 años. Tambien pedimos que las opciones de servicios de salud para los aspirantes a ciudadanos sean mejoradas.
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9 líderes conversamos con cada una de las directoras regionales por separado. El Senador Cruz aún no tiene oficina aquí en el Valle de Texas de Rio Grande entonces hablamos con Casandra Garcia en un restaurante. Una de nuestras líderes que vino a las visitas compartió con las directoras parte de su experiencia de ser deportada con su esposo a México. Por esto le secuestraron a su esposo y finalmente falleció. Las directoras quedaron muy impresionadas con su historia y prometieron apoyar la reforma migratoria y la salud de nuestras comunidades.

Fue un evento muy lindo y seguirmos luchando por la salud, dignidad y justicia de nuestra communidad!

Vives en Texas y quieres unirte a nosotros? Llama a la Coordinadora de la RAL de Texas Lucy C. Félix al (956) 579-1371 ó al correo electrónico: lucy@latinainstitute.org.

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By: Margie Del Castillo

This was my first experience at NLIRH’s National Advocacy Weekend (NAW), but not my first time gathering with fellow NLIRH activists.  My introduction to the Latina Institute happened in the Summer of 2012, when I attended the Southeastern LOLA regional training in Charlotte, NC.  There, I was introduced to the concept of being an activist within and for a specific community, and not only on a single issue.

SoLOLA 006

It was also there that I met Nancy Diaz and Rocio Rodarte, my fellow co-founders of DC, Maryland, Virginia-Latinas Organizing for Leadership and Advocacy (DMV-LOLA).  And once again, the three of us gathered for NAW, excited to represent DMV-LOLA and get to know our counterparts from all across the country.  As a group, we felt that the weekend afforded us so many new opportunities.  We learned about different organizing tactics using social media, like how to reach our community through Twitter and tips on producing videos with our smartphones.  We got updated on the current state of immigration reform from experts from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund and the National Immigration Law Center, to name a few.  We were inspired by NLIRH Board Member Laura Esquivel’s stories about her childhood and all the success she has earned throughout her life.  We really enjoyed the Camino Media Academy and even got to see ourselves being interviewed on camera.

One of our most memorable moments was meeting fellow poderosa Lucy Felix, the Texas LAN coordinator.  Lucy conducted a presentation on community organizing and, more specifically, how to build a base within your community.  Since I’ve been involved with NLIRH, I have heard many great stories about Lucy, so it was awesome to finally have the chance to meet her in person.  We, as DMV-LOLA, were also excited to talk to her and see what tips she could give us on building our base here in the DMV area.

We learned a lot from her over the weekend and the best part was, she was eager to continue our discussions after NAW was over.  For DMV-LOLA, this means a lot, as we can count on Lucy, and the Texas LAN in general, for support and coalition building. We can share our organizing skills and continue to learn from each other as time goes by, and from the other wonderful poderosas and organizations that we met that weekend.  That is, truly, poder.

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