Reproductive justice is something that I can't believe I went so long without and it's something that I believe everyone should have a thorough understanding of it.
My history of reproductive justice started at the age of 13. Well at least I wish it had started at 13. Because taking an "abstinence only" sexual education class isn't really what I would consider a form of justice. It was more of an injustice to only be given such a narrow and misleading form of things pertaining to sex.
And by that I mean I was only taught about what happens when two heterosexual people have unprotected sex without waiting for sex the first time after they become husband and wife.
"What if this happens?" did not come up.
"What if I feel like I'm ready?" was not an option.
"What if I'm not a heterosexual person?" was never said.
There was no real understanding of what sexual intercourse was. There was no real understanding of what can happen as a result of sexual intercourse. There was just a lot of horrifying slideshow pictures of vague patches of skin, eyes, and lips that were covered or deteriorating from sexually transmitted diseases.
So I began my journey with very little education and a lot of fear.
I'm talking to the kind of fear where the boys and girls were afraid to touch one another on the playground, in the hallways, and at chapel kind of fear.
I'm talking about the level of education where a girl was terrified of having to use a tampon because she somehow thought they were condoms.
I was taught the same thing again my freshman year in high school at the age of 14 and again at the age of 17 my senior year of high school. Even in my senior year we were taught so little about our bodies a girl next to me asked the teacher where a man's Fallopian tubes were.
Things changed a lot when I went to college. It wasn't until I went to school in Washington, D.C. and went to a Sex 101 party at the age of 21. Because that's exactly what it was. It was a party that just so happened to open my eyes and give me a glance of the education that I should have gotten those other three times I was supposed to get it.
From there it only got better because I knew that there was a lot that I didn't know a lot of stuff out there.
I got the best education about reproductive justice and everything it encompasses from SPARK Reproductive Justice in Atlanta.
(Reproductive Justice is the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, social, and economic well-being of women and girls, based on the full achievement and protection of women’s human rights.)
With SPARK I was able to get an understanding on not just how to be safe with your body and the bodies of others when participating in sexual activities, but also about how many things besides sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy fall under the umbrella of reproductive justice.
Things such as parents and juveniles in prison and how that leads to working on judicial reform, women's rights and the school to prison pipeline. I learned about the history of birth control and menstrual cycles and what that means for people around the globe and at home and how diverse those experiences are with each of them.
I learned there was more than two genders. I learned that there was a way to have sexual intercourse and not get STDS or become pregnant.
Most importantly I learned there were ways that you could get STDS without participating in the sexual activities that I was told about in 8th grade.
It made me realize just how at risk and just how dangerous living in that state of ignorance could be.
Promoting abstinence alone is putting lives at risk and that infuriates me. This is more than having sex before marriage. This is about families and lives being kept in the dark and being denied an understanding about their bodies and their lives. My school skipped over human reproduction because it was considered inappropriate. Instead of learning about human reproduction and the human body entirely, I spent my class days coloring in plant cell reproduction pictures.
People are calling for the end of Planned Parenthood. It took me a decade to get a real education on all things sexual and involving the human reproductive system. To many people, Planned Parenthood is their experience or their opportunity to get a better understanding of the reproductive system, their system.
It's more than sex and abortions.
It's their opportunity to see that there's more to sex than what they've been told in Sunday School. It's more than jokes and incognito tabs with not safe for work content. It's getting tested for more than pregnancy, HIV, or sexually transmitted diseases. It's finding out diets for expecting mothers. It's getting screened for cancer and catching it earlier rather than later. It's about finding resources for classes that can help them budget their groceries or plan for a next child or even get their current kids outdoors and exercising.
Reproductive justice means standing up for groups like Planned Parenthood.
Reproductive justice means justice for humanity because everyone benefits from a community where reproductive justice is promoted.
In states where they've closed clinics or cut funding for facilities such as Planned Parenthood, the people have suffered a lot.
Some states like Tennessee, where abstinence is the primary means of sexual education, they have higher number of STD cases in high schools when compared to states that have an actual sex ed course.
There are states where teachers don't have to discuss or even bring up HIV/AIDS, be scientifically correct, or even include contraceptives when talking about sex.
We've got to stop this dangerous culture where we set ourselves and our children up to fail when it comes to understanding human bodies.
Erase the stigmas. Erase the fears. Erase the ignorance.
Invest in the education of our people. Invest in the health of our people.
That's what I'm working on. That's what I'm working towards. Across the board actions for reproductive justice to spread it so that more people in this world get the justice for their lives that they deserve.
“Reproductive Justice for All” by Charlotte Cooper is licensed under CC BY 2.0