Working for Reproductive and Economic Justice from the Ground Up
By Kyla Bender-Baird
On September 22nd, I took the long train ride up from Brooklyn to Barnard College to hear the latest research and strategies on building reproductive and economic justice from the Barnard Center for Research on Women (BCRW) and the New York Women’s Foundation (NYWF). The conference, Critical Intersections, was the culmination of a year-long partnership between these two amazing organizations and Catalyst Fund grantees. The Catalyst Fund supports women of color lead reproductive justice organizations in New York City. As BCRW Director Janet Jakobsen said in her introductory remarks, “feminism is a place where we can find real solutions for the problems of today.” It is the search for these solutions that get me out of bed every day.
The conference was structured so that grantee partners were given a platform to talk about the work they do on the ground building reproductive and economic justice. In the morning, I attended a workshop on peer-to-peer organizing models. This workshop focused on mostly youth-lead community and peer-based outreach. Youth voices are too often missing from debates, which is a shame. Youth are our future. The time to invest in them and listen to them is NOW. The programs shared by The Red Hook Initiative, Voces Latinas, Young Women of Color HIV/AIDS Coalition, and the Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice were truly inspiring. By meeting people where they are at, these organizations are able to make a huge impact on the communities they serve. And by engaging people already in the communities, they are able to disrupt power dynamics of traditional service provision models while increasing their effectiveness.
Some of the main thrusts behind this partnership between BCRW and the NYWF were to challenge the “hierarchy of knowledge” that privileges academic journal writing over lived experiences and to embrace the complexities of people’s lives. In reality, people do not experience reproductive health and access to economic opportunities separately. These issues constantly intersect and interact. Therefore, our work to promote reproductive justice and economic justice must not happen in silos. We cannot compartmentalize justice as reality is simply too complex. As Ana Oliveira, President and CEO of NYWF, pointed out “every day we dwell with where are powerful and where we are powerless.” These are shifting realities. In order to do effective research, advocacy, and policymaking we must embrace the complexities and overlaps.
To learn more about this exciting partnership on economic and reproductive justice (which also resulted in a report and documentary), click here.