Mainstream conversations about sexual and reproductive health and justice have long neglected to address nuances that uniquely affect women of color—and women of color have been saying that for a long time. As predominantly white women began publicly advocating for the right to prevent and abort pregnancies, preventative family planning became the primary concern of the reproductive justice movement in the 70s and is still just as vital and central to the conversation today (thank you, GOP). However, with such an intense focus on the largely white need for preventative planning, the specific needs of women of color—who are essentially advocating for the opposite of preventative planning, i.e. the right to actually have and raise children that are one’s own—have long been ignored in the realms of reproductive and sexual health care. Women of color also suffer from sexual abuse and sexually transmitted diseases and infections like HPV at a higher rate than white women. From sexual exploitation and exoticization to forced sterilization, to slavery and the intentional and institutionalized degradation of the black family, understanding specific forms of racism allows us to understand how women of diverse racial backgrounds factor into conversations about women’s health today. Sociopolitical and sociohistorical context provide a framework within which we can understand the nuances in reproductive health care needs depending on skin color.
To celebrate the start of Black History Month we want to spotlight a number of contemporary women of color who work in the sexual and reproductive health spheres every day, advocating for themselves and their communities.
Co-founder of Women of Color Sexual Health Network (WOCSHN), which works to provide sexual education specifically tailored to communities of color. Mariotta Gary-Smith and Trina Scott are also founding members. Both are sexual health experts based in the U.S.
A professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Associate Dean for Diversity and Minority Affairs at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, Dr. Hutcherson is a prolific sexual health columnist and contributor to publications such as Essence and Glamour.
Sex educator and founder of Aunt Betty’s Basement, a small organization created as an advocacy space for queer women of color to discuss sexual health and reproductive rights, Burnett promotes the health and pleasure of queer women. Aunt Betty’s Basement “creates a healthy space for women, womyn, transgender, and queer people of color to express themselves, understand the importance of self-work and pleasure, have access to and know their health status, and understand the pleasure of enjoying others in our emotional and sexual lives.” She also serves as an organizer for the NYC chapter of SisterSong, a women of color reproductive justice collective found here.
Abrams is a TV personality and motivational speaker who has dedicated a lot of her professional time to improving individual sex education for people of color. A main focus of hers? She champions condom usage and safe sex.
Specializing in abuse education and rehabilitation, Tylor began the Vagina Power Show on YouTube (which has since been deleted for violating YouTube’s terms of service).
Namsan is an advocate for female empowerment and sexual pleasure. Her work Sex Love Liberation: A Manifesto for the Bold at Heart emphasizes the need for women to get in touch with themselves.