This year, Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans in the United States, was designated as a federal holiday on June 17. The news came as In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Policy Agenda announced the release of Black Reproductive Justice Policy Agenda, an innovative, proactive policy agenda in close partnership with more than 30 Black women’s organizations and Reproductive Justice activists.
The Black Reproductive Justice Policy Agenda is a paper that contains 25 policy concerns as well as a number of recommendations to Congress on how to execute those policy issues that will have a substantial influence on Black women’s lives and policies. The document was produced by Black women for Black women with the goal of bringing about change in Black communities.
Started in 2014, In Our Own Voice is a national state partnership of eight Black women reproductive justice organizations that work on federal and state policy as well as movement building. They aim to serve Black girls, women and gender expansive people.
Juneteenth is long overdue for recognition as a federal holiday, according to CEO Marcela Howell, but it is merely a symbolic gesture, and she believes that Black women require more than a federal holiday to destroy the oppressive structures of white supremacy and patriarchy.
“Having a holiday is fine but it doesn’t change dismantling some of the oppressive systems under white supremacy that Black people face all of their lives and it doesn’t change whether or not we actually have full liberation,” said Howell
There was an irony about it since the majority of the members of congress who had been representing a party that had been trying to stop Black women from actually voting for a national holiday that is about the liberation of Black people at the same time that their party is legislation to curtail Black people’s right to vote.
“There is a level of hypocrisy there in terms of some of these members of congress voting for a bill that say we should celebrate the emancipation of Black people in this country at the same time that they are disparaging our votes and attempting to keep us from being able to cast ballots,” said Marcela Howell.
Reproductive justice is a framework developed by 12 Black women in 1994 that is based on human rights, social justice, and Black feminist theory: it aims to evaluate the various oppressions that Black women have faced over time and find a holistic strategy to solve them. Much of the policies can be enacted into legislation to create agencies that will help Black women and the Black community as a whole.
Marcela stated that she has seen doctors utilize prejudices to generalize Black people, particularly Black women like herself, based on her personal experience. She stated that her experience is not uncommon because, similar to how Black women are assessed when they come into a police station to report a crime, many Black women are judged before they speak in doctors’ offices. When Black women seek leadership roles, they are judged firsthand, and it is this false notion that people do not admit.
Medical racism has long been a problem for Black women, and attitudes that stigmatize them as having a higher pain threshold or that sexualize them in comparison to white women continue to deny them the care they need. Black girls are driven out of school at a higher rate than girls of any other race. For every dollar earned by a white man, Black women earn 63 cents. One of the challenges Marcela had when she first started her organization was making sure that Black women’s voices were heard.
“In the past, we had white women speaking for us on a lot of reproductive and sexual health issues, and we were always depicted as only victims of oppression and victims of poverty,” Marcela remarked, but the truth she highlighted was that Black women see themselves as empowered changemakers. They no longer want Congress to treat them as victims, but rather as people who understand the importance of Black empowerment and cherish their views.
“When Black women thrive, all women thrive,” Howell said, adding that she invites people to read the policy agenda available online and to join her organization, which welcomes all forms of activism.