Last month I had lunch with a woman named Eveline Shen. Eveline is the executive director of Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice (ACRJ), an organization that has done important work on articulating a multi-issue approach for the reproductive health, rights and justice movement.
Reproductive justice is a framework that has emerged over the last five years that looks at the range of issues surrounding reproductive freedom and expands the conversation from one that has been focused on choice and the right to an abortion, to including family supporting jobs and supporting women to have and parent healthy babies.
Eveline told me that ACRJ is making shifts in the way they talk about their work. She and the staff find that they spend a lot of time explaining the concept of reproductive justice, and that people have a hard time grasping it. Rather than explaining the framework, they would rather be moving the work forward by building coalitions, identifying policy advocacy opportunities, and engaging people.
Reproductive justice as defined by ACRJ in their paper, A New Vision: Advancing Our Movement for Reproductive Health, Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Justice, is “the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, economic, and social well-being of women and girls, and will be achieved when women and girls have the economic, social and political power and resources to make healthy decisions about our bodies, sexuality and reproduction for ourselves, our families and our communities in all areas of our lives.”
While ACRJ’s definition is comprehensive, it’s also a mouthful. And what does it really mean? Eveline told me that ACRJ spends much of their time explaining this definition, but she said, “When I talk about healthy and strong families, people immediately relate to what I am saying.”
We went through a similar process at the Women’s Foundation of California a few years ago. We found ourselves trying to explain our work in reproductive justice, environmental health and justice, economic justice and youth leadership. In speaking to people about our work, I had the experience of people’s eyes glazing over by the third time the word justice came out of my mouth. Either people didn’t know what I was talking about or they were simply not interested. One donor asked me what I meant by justice. She thought it had to do with the judicial system. Her comment was a good reminder that the language we use is critical, especially as we think about ways to engage and involve more people in our efforts.