Recap: Black Women’s Health Imperative Congressional Brief

By Edwith Theogene
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I recently had the pleasure of attending the Black Women’s Health Imperative Congressional Brief on African-American Attitudes on Abortion, Contraception and Teen Sexual Health. They explored findings of a national survey of African-American adults provided by the Belden Russonello Strategists. The study explored the attitudes among a random sample of 1,006 African-American adults spanning over different genders, ages, and socioeconomic classes.

bell hooks, American author, feminist, and social activist, says:

No other group in America has so had their identity socialized out of existence as have black women… When black people are talked about the focus tends to be on black men; and when women are talked about the focus tends to be on white women.

Much of public policy and decision making, especially for minority groups, are based on assumptions of who we are instead of the actual lived realities.

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Bekezela Mguni, a young radical activist from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania with over ten years of experience in community organizing, Brittany Brathwaite, the chair of Advocates for Youth’s Young Women of Color Leadership Council, and Eleanor Hinton Hoytt, president and CEO of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, spoke on a panel at the brief; the discussion was facilitated by Heidi Williamson, the Senior Policy Analyst for the Women’s Health and Rights program at the Center for American Progress. The panel discussed the findings of the national survey and provided a dialogue in which the audience could both digest the findings and analyze how they could change the conversation surrounding reproductive rights. It painted the picture of the lived realities of African-American women, inspiring us to think about who actually makes decisions for them and how the policies limit our decisions and define our identities.

The study broke many cultural stereotypes and grand assumptions. On the topic of abortions, the study found that most African-Americans believe abortion should be legal in at least some circumstances, and a whopping 80% agree that regardless of their own opinions, abortion should remain legal and safe. Most African-Americans view contraception and STD screening / treatment as part of women’s basic health care, along with cervical and breast cancer screenings and prenatal care. The study also found that African-Americans, by and large, support comprehensive sex education.

It’s easy to see politicians and lawmakers, as well as community-based advocates, need to shift away from the assumption that African-Americans hold conservative opinions regarding sexual health. This study reflects that African-Americans support sex education and safe, healthy, legal access to family planning – but on a community level, the policies and politics surrounding these topics do not reflect those findings. During the panel discussion, Hoytt asked: “What is the reality of being a black female? Of being young? Of being college educated? What is the reality of being a young black college educated female?” I am a young black female who happens to be college educated, and when I think of public policy and the decision making process in regards to my reproductive rights and sexual health, I definitely do not feel represented.

Feminism, to me, is not only about being empowered as a woman but also about identity, and having the free will to identify myself as I see fit – regardless of my gender, race or ethnic background. As an organizer, this study and panel discussion inspired me to take more of a stance in public policy and to take greater strides to be a part of the discussion surrounding my own health and reproductive rights. I don’t like being told what I believe. During the discussion, it was questioned whether we, as a society, should trust African-American women to make decisions in regards to their own sexual health and family planning. My question is: why do I need your permission?

By Edwith Theogene

Edwith is an intersectional social justice activist and advocate passionate about issues that impact women and communities of color. She is a Washington D.C. based South Florida Native who loves people, quotes, coffee, and pop culture, especially 90’s tv shows.

3 comments

  1. As women, people of color, we have to reject the idea that there is something inherently wrong with the way we are. We must reject that we need to be allowed to make decisions about our own lives. We should be able to live in a way that resembles being free. We need to fight to make our voices heard in decisions that impact our lives. Edwith displays a real challenge to this idea that we have to submit to the will of others here,

    “During the discussion, it was questioned whether we, as a society, should trust African-American women to make decisions in regards to their own sexual health and family planning. My question is: why do I need your permission?”

    GREAT WORK, I truly enjoyed reading this blog post. Please keep writing. I got inspired to follow up with this: http://saczekitout.blogspot.com/2013/07/why-do-i-need-your-permission.html

    The name of my post in inspired from your writing. You are the best <3!

  2. That bh quote is so true. I wonder where Hispanic, Asian, and women of other ethnicities feel they fall into place on the spectrum of that conversation as well.

    Also, I must ask how did the question come about in the first place? Everyone should be the first and last consult on heir personal health.

  3. I think what is very positive about our generation is that we are truly putting forth an effort to bring every kind of woman into the discussion of what does it mean to be a feminist today. Maybe it’s a slow shift, but it’s definitely happening. What are our common goals and aspirations? What can we learn about each other’s needs, community frameworks and culture? How does this fit into an ever-changing America? Can we be each other’s allies?

    “It’s easy to see politicians and lawmakers, as well as community-based advocates, need to shift away from the assumption that African-Americans hold conservative opinions regarding sexual health.”
    I’d love to call bullshit on this “assumption” legislators love make on our behalf. They are purposefully not listening to us! I feel that policy decisions made to curb a woman’s right to chose (and have access to proper healthcare) is a method to control us, or to hold us back from working on something other than defending Roe v Wade. We are going to make it very loud and clear next election cycle when we get to vote out all of these “gynoticians.”

    I’m glad that this has inspired you to take a stronger stance on public policy (and what does your future hold beyond that?) We need more intelligent women to represent the other 51% of the population because no, we don’t need anyone’s (*cough cough* older white mens’) permission.

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