PUBLIC HEALTH EDUCATION

School of Health and Human Sciences

Black woman smiling; article notice for reproductive justice.

Elondra Harr, 2nd Year MPH Candidate

The reproductive health of womxn and other birthing people (hereafter womxn) is often compromised due to social inequalities found in the United States. Social inequalities such as those that exist due to discrimination based on gender, race, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status, are often exacerbated within healthcare systems (Julian et. al, 2020). These inequalities are illustrated by disparities in maternal mortality rates. In 2019, the CDC found that the maternal mortality rate was 20.1 per 100,000 live births, however, the non-Hispanic Black maternal mortality rate was significantly higher at 44.0 deaths per 100,000 live births than non-Hispanic white (17.9), and Hispanic (12.6) women (CDC, 2019). These disparities are further compounded by a lack of social support, lack of access to health services, mental health issues, and physical complications such as pregnancy and labor complications, and infertility (Healthy People, 2020). Racial and ethnic inequalities in reproductive health are squarely a matter of reproductive justice!

Reproductive Justice  

Reproductive justice  is the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities (SisterSong, 2022). Reproductive justice also emphasizes amplifying the voices and lived experiences of people who are impacted by institutions that can cause harm to promote individual healing and social change. As such, reproductive justice stories help us recognize the people affected by these issues to expose injustice. Giving women the opportunity to share their reproductive health stories and build community can be a healing and liberating experience.

Storytelling as a Reproductive Justice Healing Practice

Storytelling is used to connect people, igniting strong emotions and empathy for those that have been harmed. Storytelling related to reproductive justice is both healing for the storyteller and the listener. The feeling of being heard can spark feelings of catharsis and healing for those sharing their stories. And we recall stories more vividly than statistics, and this causes us to think more deeply about the world around us. As such, stories are an important tool for system changes, such as supporting healthcare systems to rethink the way they operate to improve their womxn’s well-being (The Health Foundation, 2016).

Storytelling aligns with the reproductive justice call for centering womxn’s embodied experience to secure individual and community reproductive rights and freedoms. Storytelling can influence change by changing perspectives of communities, healthcare providers, and policymakers to raise awareness of reproductive health issues. It helps us think more in depth about the policies and laws that are currently in place that may cause harm. Illuminating inequalities in reproductive health care through storytelling can be a healing experience that promotes larger social change through increased knowledge and shifts in attitudes regarding reproductive health and rights, improved community resilience, and improved healthcare systems.

Promoting Change through Storytelling

Reproductive justice is a community-informed movement, led by those most impacted by anti-

reproductive legislation and policy (Norwood et. al, 2022). Thus, it is essential that womxn share their stories of feeling unheard by their reproductive health care providers and feeling frustrated with healthcare systems they must navigate (The Health Foundation, 2016). Cultivating empathy and healing through storytelling can lead to community empowerment and systemic change. These personal stories shared by the community can highlight the cracks in the system. In other words, reproductive healthcare stories led by individuals and communities highlight areas of improvement in institutions, and serve as evidence that policymakers must work to address inequalities. Subsequent reproductive-related healthcare laws, policies, and programs can be informed by the experiences and needs of the community.

Reproductive justice involves changing the way we think about and acknowledge the lived experiences of womxn (Mishler, 2021). It requires a conscious shift to empathize with others to fully recognize and address inequalities in reproductive health. Storytelling is a powerful tool that places womxn and their lived experiences at the forefront to foster individual healing and liberation. This can be particularly helpful for addressing social inequalities. Creating spaces where communities, healthcare providers, and institutions can collaborate to foster healing and address inequalities will take society a step forward towards true reproductive justice and freedom.

Learn More about Reproductive Justice

We invite you to join the UNCG Department of Public Health Education, along with our partners, RJSquared, Speakin’ of Grace, and Village Doula Sis, for our virtual Voices 4 Reproductive Conference on April 1st, 2022 where we will dive into local and national issues related to reproductive justice.

Register Here

In collaboration with the Alpha Nu Chapter of Eta Sigma Gamma at UNCG, we also invite you to participate in our opening event: a film viewing and discussion  of “Ama”, a documentary that features the stories of reproductive injustice faced by Native American women in the U.S. This event will be held March 23rd, 2022 at 5:30pm.

Register Here

References:

  1. The power of storytelling. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2022, from https://www.health.org.uk/newsletter-feature/power-of-storytelling
  2. Mishler, K. (2021). “It’s Most Peculiar That This Particular Story Doesn’t Get Told”: A Reproductive-Justice Analysis of Storytelling in the Repeal Campaign in Ireland, 2012–18. Éire-Ireland 56(3), 80-103. doi:10.1353/eir.2021.0016
  3. Reproductive Justice — Sister Song. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2022, from https://www.sistersong.net/reproductive-justice/
  4. Julian, Z., Robles, D., Whetstone, S., Perritt, J. B., Jackson, A. V., Hardeman, R. R., & Scott, K. A. (2020). Community-informed models of perinatal and reproductive health services provision: A justice-centered paradigm toward equity among Black birthing communities. Seminars in Perinatology, 44(5), 151267. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.SEMPERI.2020.151267
  5. Norwood, C., Jacquez, F., Carr, T., Murawsky, S., Beck, K., & Tuttle, A. (2022). Reproductive Justice, Public Black Feminism in Practice: A Reflection on Community-Based Participatory Research in Cincinnati. Societies, 12(1), 17. MDPI AG. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/soc12010017 
  6. Pregnancy Mortality Surveillance System. (2020, February 04). Retrieved February 28, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/maternal-mortality/pregnancy-mortality-surveillance-system.htm 
  7. Reproductive and Sexual Health | Healthy People 2020. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2022, from https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/leading-health-indicators/2020-lhi-topics/Reproductive-and-Sexual-Health

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