By Kalena Murphy
Each year, Raising Women’s Voices (RWV) regional coordinators (RCs) gather for an Annual Convening, which offers time to come together and find solidarity, energy, inspiration, and new directions for our work at the state and local levels, as we continue fighting at the Federal level. It’s a time for all of us to unite and strategize for change. The convening provided Federal updates, panels, breakout exercises, and relationship-building opportunities.
To begin the convening, members of the RWV National Coordinating team — Stephanie Croney from Black Women’s Health Imperative and the NWHN’s Cindy Pearson — moderated a panel on “Models of Health Equity Work that Advance Racial Justice.” It explored how health equity can be holistically viewed and intentionally focus on strategies and partnerships centering the most marginalized communities.
Panelist Kwajelyn Jackson, Community Education & Advocacy Director at Feminist Women’s Health Center (RWV’s Georgia RC), highlighted Black Mamas Matter Alliance’s work on Black maternal health disparities (www.blackmamasmatter.org). She described the importance of recognizing the racialized, gendered, environmental, and economic experiences influencing maternal health outcomes. Black Mamas Matter Alliance brings a Reproductive Justice lens to all of the factors influencing the health of mothers as well as infants.
Myra Gissel Duran, Policy Manager at California Latinas for Reproductive Justice, a California RC, spoke about the recent campaign to repeal family welfare caps and how strategic partnerships with economic justice advocates advance better policies and center the voices of women of color and low-income women (www.californialatinas.org).
Hannah Rosenau, Program Director at Oregon Foundation for Reproductive Health (RWV’s Oregon RC) provided information on Oregon’s new Reproductive Health Equity Act (RHEA), which extends coverage to undocumented immigrants and includes anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ folks (www.orfrh.or).
Panel members stressed the importance of situating RWV’s work within larger, intersectional strategies that recognizes all axes of oppression that restrict health equity. The panel ended on a high note, a discussion about the need to lead with real, lived experiences of people on the ground.
On the second day, we heard from RCs working at the state level to fight the harms of ACA repeal, Medicaid cuts, and other threats from Congress and the Trump Administration.
Maria Ignacia Miranda Santis, Community Organizer at Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), RWV’s Colorado RC, described COLOR’s successful advocacy for a state-level policy allowing women to get a year’s supply of prescripion contraception (http://www.colorlatina.org/), which included COLOR’s Latinx Advocacy Day. The policy was a major win for Latinx communities, who face language barriers, high poverty rates, and other systemic challenges that exacerbate barriers to reproductive care.
Leni Preston, President of Consumer Health First, RWV’s Maryland-based RC, spoke about its successful work to advance a policy to preserve state family planning funding if the Federal government revokes Title X funding (http://www.consumerhealthfirst.org/). The legislation ensures patients can continue to access care from providers like Planned Parenthood, regardless of what happens in DC.
RCs in several states are fighting back against harmful Medicaid 1115 waivers that would negatively impact women and families. Sara Finger, Founder and Executive Director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health (WAWH), RWV’s Wisconsin RC, discussed Wisconsin’s proposed Medicaid waiver, which would impose monthly premiums, time-limit eligibility, and require drug screening for potential beneficiaries (http://www.supportwomenshealth.org/). Sara described WAWH’s efforts to advocate against the waiver, which included submitting comments to the state and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. (The decision was pending at press time.)
London Lamar, Policy Associate at SisterReach, RWV’s RC in Tennessee, described SisterReach’s work to mobilize Black women and lay the groundwork for policy change (https://sisterreach.org/). London described SisterReach’s Black Folks Day on the Hill and the intersectional policy agenda that drives its advocacy strategy.
After the panel, other RCs shared some of their proactive state-level work. For example, several RCs are working to advance better regulations of crisis pregnancy centers to protect women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy from misinformation and harm.
As the convening came to an end, we gathered to wrap-up and discuss next steps. Each RC provided positive feedback and key takeaways to implement in their work at home. Many RCs mentioned going back and holding community conversations and focusing on educating policymakers and community on issues and policies. Marsha Jones, Executive Director at The Afiya Center (located in Texas), described feeling re-energized and ready to apply what she’s learned to the Center’s current work. Those working in other conservative states discussed emphasizing local policy changes to achieve smaller wins.
Being able to connect with the RCs at the convening and hear about the amazing work they’re doing within their organizations and in the field was a rewarding experience. We look forward to working with this community to advance women’s health and access to services.
Kalena Murphy is the NWHN’s Regional Field Manager for RWV