Women have played a crucial role in driving social change throughout history. Becoming an activist is a powerful way for women to make their voices heard, challenge injustice, and bring about positive transformations in their communities and beyond.
But just as it was important for Black women to form their clubs during the fight for women’s suffrage, Black moms must fight for their maternal health.
The relationship between Truth and Stanton opened the eyes of Black women during the fight for women’s suffrage — we needed to create our own space. In the 19th century, Elizabeth Cady Stanton fought for women’s rights but notoriously contradicted herself when asked if Black women should be able to vote. Black abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth still befriended and supported Stanton in hopes she, too, would push our agenda. Eventually, Truth distanced herself from Stanton and the increasingly racist language of the women’s groups.
What are reproductive rights?
There are conceptual and historical differences between reproductive justice and reproductive rights. According to the Petrie-Flom Center at Harvard Law School, reproductive rights are primarily centered on achieving women’s individualistic reproductive freedom through the legal system. Historically, It has focused on the pro-choice and pro-life debate, sex education, and family planning.
Many believe that there are socio-political and economic inequalities that are disproportionately faced by BIPOC women — hurdles that will be present regardless of whether or not the right to reproductive care is codified through the law. Enter reproductive justice.
What is reproductive justice?
Reproductive justice expands on reproductive rights, acknowledging how socioeconomic status, gender, and race shape reproductive healthcare experiences and health policy. The reproductive rights framework is more individualistic and legal, while reproductive justice is expansive, intersectional, and holistic.
For example, Black moms are facing a maternal mortality crisis. Data shows that Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women.
Skills Women Need to Fight for Reproductive Justice
To be effective, activists must be well-informed about the issues they advocate for. This doesn’t necessarily mean they have to have formal education. However, they do only trust credible sources. They educate themselves and others, staying updated on current events, policies, and research related to their cause.
This knowledge equips them to engage in informed discussions about reproductive justice and develop compelling arguments. In the background of it all, education and understanding the passion issue are critical. Education also necessitates studying and disseminating knowledge and information through presentations, social media platforms, and affiliation with certain groups and organizations.
Influential reproductive justice activists are deeply passionate about the causes they champion. But effective activism involves engaging in civil and respectful discussions with individuals with different opinions. That’s why practicing active listening, empathy, and understanding is essential. Seek common ground and build bridges to create meaningful dialogue and foster productive change.
They demonstrate unwavering commitment, even in the face of challenges or setbacks. Their dedication inspires others and fuels meaningful change. That’s why it’s important to remember that not every volunteer experience will be the best. Some events or activities will make you feel like you made a huge difference, while others will be a bust. That doesn’t have anything to do with you. Activism can be a long-term commitment. Stay resilient in the face of challenges and setbacks, and celebrate wins.
Most people come to volunteering to want to be handed a job and told what to do, but someone has to do the organizing. Being a reproductive justice activist means taking the bull by the horns and leading the way. You’ll still need to take direction from the people who work for the organization, but if you are willing to be out front, your efforts will be greatly appreciated, and you’ll make a difference.
Influential activists understand the power of collaboration. They build connections with other activists, organizations, and community leaders, fostering a sense of unity and shared purpose. They amplify their voices and pool resources for maximum impact by working together.
Ways Black Moms Can Get Involved In Reproductive Justice
First, some women must redefine the word activist. When people hear that word, they think, “Ok, now I need to organize a march, and when will I have time for that?” They feel overwhelmed when they visualize someone with a bullhorn in front of a government building.
You want to ensure that the volunteer work you sign up for fits your personality. Being a Black mom activist can be as simple as impacting the people around you. That could be the country, state, or town – but it could also be your family and neighborhood. Women can become activists by expressing themselves artistically through music, painting or sketching, poetry, and confronting society with provocative and compelling themes.
Below, let’s explore how Black women can fight for reproductive justice at local, state, regional, and national levels.
Engaging at the grassroots level is an excellent starting point. Support various initiatives to empower women, such as women’s fundraisers, charities, initiatives, and social enterprises. Make generous donations to women’s charities, fund women’s education, and support grassroots movements. Use your voice through public speaking, writing, or social media to advocate for change and mobilize others to support reproductive justice.
Women can participate in local community organizations, attend public meetings, and join advocacy groups focused on issues they are passionate about. Volunteering, organizing events, and raising awareness within their immediate community are impactful ways to create change. Organize or participate in community events, rallies, or demonstrations to raise awareness about specific issues. Collaborate with other activists, nonprofits, or community leaders to work on local initiatives.
*Note that this form of activism takes persistence, courage, and good communication skills, but it’s a tangible way to impact issues women care about in their community. In-person grassroots efforts always face a shortage of volunteers, mainly when making phone calls, knocking on doors, or gathering signatures for petitions in public spaces. These activities can feel daunting. However, it is precisely through these personal, one-on-one interactions that campaigns and causes can make the final 5% push needed to cut through the noise. Find a supportive friend who can join these activities with you, providing mutual encouragement and a sense of solidarity.
Women can extend their activism to the state level by collaborating with existing advocacy organizations, contacting policymakers, and attending state legislature sessions. This allows them to advocate for policies that address systemic problems, support underrepresented groups, and push for legislative change. Stay informed about state-level policies and legislation that impact your areas of interest. Join or support advocacy groups focused on state-level issues. Participate in public hearings, town halls, or committee meetings to share your perspectives.
Running for political office or supporting female candidates can contribute to reproductive justice. Lastly, mentoring and empowering other women, encouraging them to be vocal and take action, can foster a ripple effect of activism and create lasting change.
Joining regional networks and coalitions amplifies the impact of women activists. By collaborating with like-minded individuals and organizations from neighboring areas, women can tackle issues that require a collective effort. This could involve coordinating campaigns, sharing resources, and creating a unified voice to advocate for regional changes. Women can collaborate with other activists and organizations working towards similar goals. By forming alliances and coalitions, women can amplify their voices, share resources and expertise, and work collectively towards creating meaningful change.
One of the most critical impacts we can have is casting our vote and electing the people representing our values, like reproductive justice. Related, find a few people in their lives and local communities and get them to the polls. It does not need to be persuading their vote but activating their vote.
Women can become influential activists at the national level through various avenues. They can engage with national advocacy organizations, contribute to policy discussions, and campaign for candidates who align with their values. Additionally, women can leverage social media platforms to raise awareness, mobilize support, and pressure national policymakers when necessary. Joining advocacy groups and organizations that promote women’s rights and issues, such as the National Organization for Women (NOW), Feminist Majority Foundation, and Women’s March, is an option.
Ways Black moms can get involved in reproductive justice
While there has been legislation, and Congress has taken critical steps to address Black maternal health by passing:
- the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act,
- the federal Break Time for Nursing Mothers law (under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA),
- PUMP Act, and
- Protecting Moms Who Served Act, for example,
there is far more to be done.
Let’s take the Momnibus Act. In 2021, President Biden signed the first bill in the “Momnibus” package into action, putting 15 million dollars behind maternity care for women veterans. This June 2023, the Momnibus Act was reintroduced for the third time. It’s a set of 13 bills designed to reduce preventable maternal deaths in the U.S. and close the racial inequality gap in maternal health outcomes. But the reintroduction is just the first step; Black moms can get involved in reproductive justice and, as mom advocates, ensure it passes.
To make a change at the local level (and from the comfort of their home), Black mom activists can start a Discord, a Reddit thread, or a TikTok about the Momnibus Act and reproductive justice. Make your intentions and purpose clear, and a following will naturally come. Be supportive of your followers and provide hope and guidance.
To make a change at the state level, Black moms can visit www.passmomnibusnow.org for a pre-written letter to send to their representatives, demanding they co-sponsor the bill. Emails to lawmakers are the most low-lift but impactful way to sway the vote.
Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Black moms have the power to be catalysts for reproductive justice as activists. Women can create a significant impact by engaging at various levels – local, state, regional, and national. To be effective, they must bring passion, commitment, education, collaboration, and strategic advocacy to their activism. Women can inspire others, challenge the status quo, and promote positive societal transformations with these qualities.
You don’t need to be in a position of power to make a difference. Change starts with the power of one and transpires through the desires of the many. I hope you feel inspired and empowered women in your journey toward activism.
About the Author
For the past two years, Christine Michel Carter has covered the impact of the Biden-Harris Administration on maternal mental health and written articles explaining all available legislature geared to single mothers in an attempt to provide women with an easy-to-read resource.
Christine dedicates herself to representing the issue of maternal mental health in the public policy arena. She has advocated policy changes to maternal mental health and reproductive justice. She’s worked on the maternal initiatives of Vice President Kamala Harris, urged congressional action on a federal paid family leave program, and has worked with Congressional Caucus on Black Women & Girls, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
As an advisory board member of the Policy Center for Maternal Mental Health, Christine Michel Carter is committed to preventing the suffering of mothers, babies, and families associated with untreated maternal mental health disorders, especially for Black moms and moms of color. In 2023, Christine received recognition from the City of Baltimore for her commitment to community service.
She also received a Congressional Citation from the U.S. Senate for “going above and beyond in ensuring that Black Moms and Moms of Color have access to important health information for their children and families” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A mom activist and advocate for reproductive justice, Christine Michel Carter is currently assisting Representatives Underwood and Adams in the House, Senator Booker in the Senate, and members of the Black Maternal Health Caucus with reintroducing the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act for the 118th Congress.