Raising Women’s Voices (RWV) has a special mission to engage women who are not often invited into health policy discussions, including women of color; low-income women; immigrant women; young women; women with disabilities; and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, and intersex (LGBTQI) community.
Our 25 Regional Coordinators (RCs) help represent these constituencies’ interests. Here is a brief update from our RCs about their activities.
Addressing COVID-19 in the South & Southwest
The pandemic has continued to shift and pivot our RCs’ work. Many of them stepped up to provide emergency relief to struggling women, LGBTQI people, and their families. For some, this involved creating COVID-19 emergency funds to meet the immediate needs of women and LGBTQI people who had lost their jobs and/or health insurance and were struggling to pay rent and feed their families.
“Our organization was able to pivot quickly and get ourselves working virtually,” explained Marsha Jones, Executive Director of The Afiya Center in Dallas, TX. “We have assisted more than 70 families, got folk out of jail, found people apartments. We provided mommas with assistance with at-home births. We provided folks with doulas and they didn’t have to pay.”
SisterReach in Memphis, TN, provided similar direct community relief. “We were able to create a COVID-19 emergency fund, and to date we have served over 2,000 families,” said Executive Director Cherisse Scott. “We have invested more than $200,000 in Memphis, making sure that folks can eat, and that folks got housing and utility services. I’m excited about what we have been able to achieve — the dynamic brilliance of Black women!”
Erin Smith became Executive Director of Kentucky Health Justice Network this year, quickly grappling with the impact of both COVID-19 and the Louisville police murder of Breonna Taylor. “We are working for not just reproductive justice, but also overall justice that we need to see here in our city and state,” Smith said. The organization distributed an “emergency contraceptive care package, since many of the clinics in the state had shut down, as well as creating a fund to help Black and Brown trans people with keeping the lights on, buying groceries, and obtaining gender-affirming products.”
In Arizona, Trans Queer Pueblo (TQP), our RC based in Phoenix, “had a whole agenda set up for 2020, but then, boom, COVID hit,” explained Arón Castillo. “So, In March, we created the radical well-being fund. We were able to raise $50,000 and redistribute it to our community to help pay rent, groceries, and bills.” Castillo explained that, “The fund is based on a model of solidarity. Everyone who receives this money from our radical wellbeing fund is also asked to join our mutual aid committee. We meet weekly and decide how the funds are spent. This creates a sense of community. It helps us feel that we are not alone and we are going to get through this together.”
TQP, which serves undocumented trans and queer migrants, will continue to provide services for its clients at Clínica Liberación, the free health clinic the RC established in 2017. The clinic will have 1 in-clinic day and 2 virtual days to service their patients. TQP has also partnered with SimonMed to provide referrals for ultrasounds, mammograms, and bone scans.
Advocacy Continues to Advance Women’s Health
As we continue to mobilize in a virtual world, our RCs have started legislative advocacy activities in their respective states. Feminist Women’s Health Center in Atlanta, GA, hosted its annual legislative advocacy workshop via Zoom. Participants learned about the current state of reproductive justice in Georgia, abortion restrictions and other laws that negatively impact their communities, the lawmaking process, and how to successfully advocate for proactive laws that support women’s health and reproductive rights.
Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable (MS BWR) hosted its first virtual advocacy day in January, 2020, with the theme of: “The Power of the Pocketbook.” MS BWR encouraged the organization’s constituents to champion with them on key issues impacting the most vulnerable in Mississippi, as well as on MS BWR’s ongoing goal to advance economic security for Black women and girls. You can still watch the live playback of the panel at MS BWR’s Facebook page.
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Kalena Murphy is a former Senior State Advocacy Manager for the NWHN’s Raising Women’s Voices initiative. Always focused on expanding health access for marginalized groups, Kalena previously served as chair of the Enroll West Michigan coalition, where she was personally recognized by the Obama Administration for Affordable Care Act outreach.