by Rebecca Trotzky Sirr
The first United States Social Forum in Atlanta, Georgia in June 2007 brought over ten thousand community organizers and leaders together to build a vision for a world based in real justice and democracy. Young people and children played a strong and visible role. Girl-Mom and our allied sister organizations including SisterSong worked for reproductive justice. Beyond pro-choice, reproductive justice is the defined as 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."
From across the United States, we engaged in furthering the movement for health and liberation in our communities. Girl-Mom facilitated a workshop to bring to life a discussion on issues we discuss on our website—how young parents can succeed and thrive while creating the world we want to see. The United States Social Forum was an amazing opportunity to network and expand the role of Girl-Mom into the movement for social justice. There will be more opportunities for Girl-Mom to collaborate, and a briefing book is available here: http://www.sistersong.net/documents/RJBriefingBook.pdf
I recommend that Girl-Mom become an official part of the SisterSong network and make an effort to send Girl-Mom moderators to local, regional, national, and international Social Forums in the future.
Participating in the conversation were young moms who came to the forum through their high school in Chicago, and their little babes; radical teachers from the Bay Area; health care workers; leaders in national nonprofits on reproductive health care; and artists and activists.
We talked about how to support each other as human beings in challenging situations. "When I was pregnant I felt very isolated from my community," one woman explained, "I now try to be a mentor for other pregnant women." She further elaborated how she shares her story and personal history openly and publicly, so that other women can learn from her. We shared success stories of our communities supporting young parents, ranging from creating childcare collectives, family supportive affordable housing, and informational booklets about how to access social services resources.
Teachers and educators struggled to figure out how to support reproductive health of their students. One teacher said she made sure to have Plan B available to her students, and talked openly so that her student knew she was a safe ally. However, she questioned her own internal dilemmas, as a woman of color mentor and educator, "How can I support a young persons choice to continue a pregnancy when I look around and see my Latina and African American sisters really getting stuck after choosing to parent? I really want to rally behind young women and tell them truthfully that they can do anything they want, but unfortunately that's not the reality in my community right now." We face a challenge of living in a world that is less than supportive of young mothers, while trying to build a more ideal world.
Health workers and doulas spoke about wanting to support the birthing choices of young mothers. Many volunteers in clinics said they came because they want to be better allies for young women making reproductive choices, and would like to hear more advice and feedback from our community.
Some mothers felt that the choice to parent was so difficult, and unsupported, that it made them hard to be good allies to young women choosing to parent, "I had an abortion when I was 15, and chose to continue a pregnancy as a single parent now that I am older. When my kid was two, I decided to get my tubes tied because it is just so hard to be a single mom in this world." The grey line between personal and community activism was discussed. We affirmed that our communities need to do a better job creating support systems for parenting. Motherhood should not be isolating, and sometimes it is activism to wash the dishes and be kind and gentle to your screaming toddler. We expressed a desire that no one be forced into lifelong reproductive decisions.
A leader in reproductive health policy joined the discussion to ask for input in how she could frame the importance of access to abortion and reproductive health care in terms of global population work of her organization. She pointed out that her organization often did not understand the complexities of the issues. While wanting to support pregnancy prevention education, her organization failed to support people who were already parenting. "There is an important understanding of timing," one mother activist explained. "You can't push pregnancy prevention when a woman is already pregnant, by doing so you reinforce her shame." Another woman added, "Sexual health education, access to contraception, how to have healthy relationships are critical parts of the conversations our communities should have. However, once a woman decides to continue a pregnancy, her choice and her family should be supported and included in our movements." Organizations focused on population policies should frame their policies to empower young women, not shame them or place the burden of the world on their shoulders.
If y'all have any questions about the Forum, pm me or email me at
Rebecca Trotzky Sirr (mom to 3rd grader Zev)