Next Gen Justice
Young women tackle reproductive equity
It's almost impossible to hear over the friendly din of young people and families settling into folding chairs in the high-ceilinged room. But a hush falls over the crowd as the overhead lights dim in the AirDance ArtSpace in the South Valley. The voice of a young woman is piped overhead, accompanying a series of grainy old photographs projected onto a screen at one end of the room.
“My name is Diana Garcia,” she says. She narrates an early segment of her mother's story: Pregnant at 14, and facing the ire of disapproving family members, Garcia's mother gave her baby up for adoption. By age 18, Garcia's mother was pregnant again. Her second infant died shortly after she gave birth.
The film aims to instill a message about her own generation, 15-year-old Garcia says. “The decisions about if, when and how they raise their children should be their choice."
Near the back of the room, a baby's yowls are gently shushed into silence.
Know Your Rights
Three days later, Garcia and her co-director, 15-year-old Georgia West, convulse in a contagious fit of giggles on a couch in the Alibi offices. Christian Redbird, a 20-year-old who screened a film of her own, joins in. There's no joke. They just can't help it.
It's obvious the three have known each other for a while. They've each spent at least two years as organizers with Young Women United and were chosen by the Media Literacy Project to write, direct, edit and produce digital short films. The screening in late October capped a program called Girl Tech, the result of a yearlong partnership between the two nonprofits.
Girl Tech doesn't just provide technical filmmaking skills and experience to young women of color. The training also includes workshops on how to deconstruct media messages and think critically about reproductive health issues.
Hands clasped over their mouths in laughter, Garcia, West and Redbird look like stereotypical kids. But when their ruckus dies down and they begin discussing Redbird's film, they all seem wiser than their years.
Redbird explains that her film is about the challenges young Burqueños face trying to access reproductive health care. The project grew out of a survey she helped spearhead with researchers from the University of New Mexico's Robert Wood Johnson Center for Health Policy. Redbird and other youth organizers conducted in-depth, peer-based sex education classes for 120 people. She taught them how to get medical care through school health centers and state public health offices. Then she helped them document their experiences in those settings.
The survey brought to light many gaps in the way services are delivered to young people citywide. It taught her about the dire need for more young people to become reproductive health advocates, Redbird says. She documented instance after instance of public health officials and school nurses behaving insensitively about the needs and fears of their patients, who were trying to get advice or confidential medical attention.
“You shouldn’t be treated this way,” is the message Redbird says she wants to get out to her peers. “And even if it does happen, it’s not supposed to.”
Redbird says she'll be active in the next stage of the project, which will include “know your rights” information for teens trying to get reproductive health care. She's also working on designing comprehensive sex-ed curriculum aimed toward the needs of LGBTQ youth and other marginalized communities that Young Women United serves.
“Young women of color are literally in the lowest point of society,” says Garcia. “No one has any interest in hearing us. And I don’t understand why people would make something like a law that would affect people when you have no idea who they are and what they have been through.”
An Election About Women
The “if, when and how” decisions that Garcia referred to in her film have been at the center of this year's partisan fervor.
The Democratic Party has said that Republican policy proposals constitute a “war on women.” And Republicans have tried to deflect attention away from the sharp voter divisions over reproductive health issues like access to contraception and abortion rights.
On Oct. 28, presidential candidate Mitt Romney's senior campaign strategist, Eric Fehrnstrom, argued that reproductive issues amounted to nothing more than “shiny objects” to pull people's attention away from Obama's economic record. “This is not a social issue election,” he said.
But not everyone sees a divide between economic and so-called social issues such as reproductive health.
Raising kids is an increasingly expensive proposition—especially for couples who weren't planning for a pregnancy. The average parent in the U.S. today spends $300,000 per child—and that's before they attend college. The CDC estimates that half of all pregnancies nationwide are unintended, which means a lot of parents, most of them women, are forced out of school or the workforce. As a result, less than 2 percent of teen moms have a college degree by the time they reach age 30.
Young Women United and the Media Literacy Project have a holistic vision of how to support young women like Garcia, Redbird and West. And it’s plain to see how economics and reproductive rights tie together, says YWU Executive Director Denicia Cadena. "Our young women had organized for a long time to make sex ed comprehensive, and to make sexuality education required in New Mexico schools," says Cadena. "It’s often the same people advocating to keep contraception out of schools that are trying to restrict access to abortion." Meanwhile, Cadena adds, families struggling to raise children that they didn't plan for often don't have the support and resources they need to stay healthy and productive.
“Reproductive justice isn’t just about birth control and isn’t just about rights of abortion,” says West. “It’s about everything. If you want to raise a family, you should have the right to, whether it’s later in life or early in life. And you should have the right to get contraception if you're 14 or 24.”
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