Sexual and Reproductive Justice: the New Term Advancing Health Equity

Ensuring women are healthy is at the heart of a new campaign in New York City.
(Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images)
Nov 10, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Shari Sharpe is an editorial intern at TakePart.

With workplace initiatives geared toward breaking the glass ceiling and activists battling everyday sexism, the fight for gender equality is ongoing. Now a new public awareness campaign in New York City is putting the sexual and reproductive rights of women at the heart of the struggle.

Launched last week through a short video by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the initiative seeks to educate residents about a new term: sexual and reproductive justice. The video offers a definition: “When all people have the power and resources to make decisions about their bodies, sexuality, and reproduction.”

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“Sexual and reproductive justice really looks at women’s lives over the full continuum,” Deborah Kaplan, the assistant commissioner of the New York City Health Department’s Bureau of Maternal, Infant and Reproductive Health, told TakePart. “It’s not just about healthy babies. It’s about healthy women. It’s about women who often have been the nurturers, the carers, the ones carrying the heavy burden of caring for everyone and holding families together.”

This includes “the right to be able to raise our children in a safe and healthy environment,” Kaplan said, “and what that means is safe neighborhoods, access to healthy foods, shelter, lack of violence, and support for parents—such as the example of paid family leave.” Much of the pressure for women who work and raise children “falls back on the individual woman or her partner,” Kaplan said. At a time when the annual cost of child care in 33 states is greater than in-state college tuition, parents nationwide are stressed and struggling.

The video was created in partnership with the Sexual and Reproductive Justice Community Engagement Group, a coalition of roughly 60 activists, nonprofit organizations, and community leaders. The health department teamed up with “people we never worked with before—who felt concerned that their issues weren’t being brought up, that there wasn’t a safe space to talk about transgender issues, about oppression, and racism, and the effect this could have on sexual reproductive health,” Kaplan said. The video features a series of relatable vignettes that explain sexual and reproductive justice to viewers.

“If you’re dealing with issues related to your reproductive health and you’re not seeing your community or your stories reflected in that conversation, you’re all alone,” Alison Park says in the video.

(Image: YouTube)

“I would have loved if there was sex education in my schools. It would have been great to see two women in love, especially two black women in love, but there was no visibility for people that looked like me,” another woman, Ericka Hart, says in the video.

Along with raising awareness, Kaplan said the health department hopes to reduce reproductive and sexual health disparities and inspire people to get involved in the Community Engagement Group. Both the video and the group have been met with positive feedback, Kaplan said. “What we’ve heard from people seeing this video is, this is about real people talking about personal experiences, whether it was sexual assault [or] having a cesarean,” she said.

“Does that mean that everyone in New York City is comfortable having this conversation? Absolutely not,” Kaplan said. “But people are often surprised that a health department is talking about racism and talking about, you know, these difficult issues.” Kaplan attributes the department’s willingness to tackle the topics to the leadership of its commissioner, Mary Bassett, who “has challenged us to talk about not just racism, to talk about white supremacy, to talk about unfairness and inequity,” Kaplan said. “We see the fight for sexual and reproductive justice inextricably tied to the overall fight for health equity and social justice.”