In my last post, I mentioned I’d been attending a series of workshops on reproductive health and advocacy co-hosted by one of Women Thrive Worldwide’s partner organizations, CHANGE (Center for Health and Gender Equity). Reproductive health isn’t one of Women Thrive’s areas of focus, but we’re all about making sure governments listen to women around the world and address their needs – which is exactly what these workshops are for.
So far this summer, CHANGE, along with SIECUS, Choice USA, and Advocates for Youth have presented informative workshops for D.C. interns on various topics related to reproductive and sexual health: reproductive justice, sexuality education in the U.S., and international reproductive health. The idea behind these workshops is to educate young people about these issues and then mobilize them to act using their newfound knowledge – which is just what we did last Tuesday for Advocacy Day!
On Advocacy Day, we were trained in advocacy skills and refreshed on important information from the workshops. Then we got to go to Capitol Hill and act as lobbyists for a day, talking to congressional staffers about the issues we’d been learning about and what the U.S. government should do about them. We advocated for two pieces of legislation, which appropriately enough deal with the two focus areas of the Show Me Campaign: education in the U.S. and international development.
The first act was the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act (S. 1782, H.R. 3324), which aims to provide information and skills young people need to make informed, responsible, and healthy decisions about their sexual health. The act sets standards for inclusive comprehensive sexuality education, prohibits programs that do not meet the bare minimum standard, and funds comprehensive sexuality education for adolescents, college students, and teacher trainings.
The second act was the Global Democracy Promotion Act (S. 1585, H.R. 2639), which overturns the Global Gag Rule. To reinstate it, it must go through the congressional process instead of being reinstated by executive order. The Global Gag Rule prevents organizations receiving U.S. foreign assistance from using their own, non-U.S. funds from providing information or services related to abortion. Currently, the Global Gag Rule is repealed or instated by executive order (presently repealed under the Obama administration). It flip-flops based on who the President is, making it extremely difficult for organizations receiving U.S. foreign assistance to provide adequate and appropriate health services.
To me, both of these acts are just common sense – the hard part, of course, is convincing Congress of the same.
I wound up as the sole representative for D.C. (we were split either by home state or where we go to school) and was grouped with participants from Tennessee. Over the course of the day, we met with congressional staffers. The day got off to an amazing start during our meeting with a staffer from D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton’s office. Since she’s a co-sponsor of both acts, everything was unsurprisingly smooth as we gave our thanks for her outspoken support of reproductive rights. Then the coolest thing happened – we actually got to meet her! She was only able to pop in for a second, but it was enough to greet her and briefly discuss the 20-week abortion ban in D.C. that’s currently being marked up. Way. Too. Cool.
Over the rest of the day, we met with congressional staffers from Tennessee. We were pleasantly surprised with how receptive they were. Because they were Republicans who hadn’t co-sponsored the acts, I think all of us had braced ourselves for opposition. Instead, we found ourselves having a productive dialogue with each of them. (And I got to learn a thing or two about Tennessee!)
I feel really grateful to have participated in Advocacy Day because of how much I learned from the experience. To be honest, I was totally nervous about the whole experience beforehand – but once we got into our first meeting, I realized that we were really just having conversations with people who were willing to listen and I became a lot more confident in my advocacy abilities. It was really empowering to have our voices heard! Also, I haven’t done too much work involving politics and government in the past, but Advocacy Day was exhilarating – I’m definitely considering doing more of it. Not sure if I see “Christina Crisostomo: Lobbyist” on my business card in the future…but it’s another potential open door!
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