The last couple of weeks have brought us two amazing instances of young women speaking out about pregnant and parenting youth. In one case, Gaby Rodriguez, a high school student from Washington state, faked a pregnancy as a social experiment and critique of the stigma surrounding pregnant young women:
Only a handful of people — her mother, boyfriend and principal among them — knew Gaby was pretending to be pregnant for her senior project, a culminating assignment required for graduation….But Gaby didn’t give up the charade until Wednesday morning, when she revealed her secret during an emotional, all-school assembly.
The topic of her presentation: “Stereotypes, rumors and statistics.”
“Teenagers tend to live in the shadows of these elements,” she says.
This brave young woman is right on it, pointing out and calling out the ways that pregnant young women are stigmatized, and challenging that stigma. It’s clear that what pregnant and parenting young people need is support, not stigma. Which brings us to the second instance of young women of color speaking out on this issue: the young women of the Catherine Ferguson Academy.
The Catherine Ferguson Academy (CFA) is a public school in Detroit for pregnant and parenting young women, providing on-site childcare, prenatal care, and other support to their students. Faced with budget shortfalls, Detroit is planning to close down several schools, and CFA is slated for closing after this summer – but CFA’s students took matters into their own hands, and staged a sit-in to protest the closings.
“When people at my regular high school realized that I was pregnant, I was told my chances of being a success in life were over,” said Ashley Matthews, a junior at CFA. “At Catherine Ferguson, they told me they wouldn’t allow me to be anything BUT a success. I love CFA, and I am prepared to fight to keep it open, not only for myself, but for all the girls who will come behind me.”
In a city with low graduation rates, CFA boasts a 90% graduation rate, and a 100% of graduates go on to college. These numbers go to show that when young parents are supported they can and do succeed. The young women of CFA now know this, and were willing to resist with civil disobedience – the sit-in participants were arrested, some of them in front of their small children – to show their district just how important the school is to them.
These young women are all heroes, and are making the point over and over again: support, not stigma, is what young women need – whether trying to access reproductive health services or raise a child.