Throughout February, we will be posting about the connections between anti-Black racism, police violence and sexual health. We will be highlighting where the sexual and reproductive health and rights movement falls short when it comes to injustice and rooting out the systems of racism, colonialism and white supremacy that have and continue to shape SRHR. We celebrate and are listening to the Black women, trans, and non-binary folks who have been and continue to lead in the fight for reproductive justice and freedom. It is not only about the month of February--we must recognize the contributions of Black people in the past, in the now, and in the future. This requires us to amplify Black leaders every month, every day, because the fight is ongoing.
What is reproductive justice?
Reproductive justice is the ability of all people to live and raise our children in safe and sustainable communities--we owe this understanding to Black luminaries, from the 12 Black women who coined the term in 1994 to Loretta Ross to Kimberley Crenshaw, Robyn Maynard, and Tamika Mallory, to only name a few. All people have the right to live free from violence, discrimination, and coercion. Sexual and reproductive rights intersect with and mutually support the right to live free of racism and discrimination.
As we work to create a world where everyone can realize their right to sexual and reproductive health, we must look inward and do our own work to dismantle white supremacy within our organization and in our sector. We are committed to addressing and challenging multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and to working with groups, communities, and movements that are oppressed or have been historically discriminated against.
The first birth control pill was developed using trials on Puerto Rican women without their knowledge. Forced sterilization of Indigenous people and disAbled people was common practice in Canada and this continues today. Some of the key founders of the sexual and reproductive health movement were explicitly racist and advocated for the use of population control to eradicate Black, Indigenous and People of Colour. This has lasting impacts of trauma, which affects who feels safe accessing health care, who sees themselves reflected in the SRHR movement, and so much more.
Pregnancy-related deaths and maternal mortality rates are significantly higher for Black mothers. Forced sterilization continues to be enacted on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) individuals. Black patients are chronically undertreated for pain. Children in racialized and Indigenous families continue to be disproportionately apprehended by child welfare agencies. Laws criminalizing the non-disclosure of HIV status are most often used to criminalize Black and other racialized communities.The promotion of long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) like IUDs often overly target Black folks. The sexual health movement itself is still largely white-dominated, which raises questions like: Who gets to see themselves reflected in this work? and Who gets to feel safe going to the doctor?
A reproductive justice approach to sexual health means ensuring that people have what they need to thrive in their communities. Living with the chronic stress and trauma of racism and witnessing and experiencing violence has impacts from the community level to the nervous system level. Law enforcement are often present within health care settings, and health care providers often have a requirement to report to different provincial or federal authorities. Police often respond alongside paramedics to emergency calls and mental health crises, which creates unsafe situations for Black individuals, families and communities. Police presence in health care leads to the unjust use of force and deaths of many Black, Indigenous and People Of Colour (BIPOC), making it less likely that BIPOC folks will trust healthcare providers and seek out care when it’s needed.
Have you ever heard the comment, “Can’t we keep this about the real issues”? Taking sexual health seriously means taking systemic oppression seriously. Anti-Black, and other forms of racism, colonialism, classism, ableism, transphobia and homophobia all shape our access to the things we need to be healthy (like education, food, water, sovereignty, etc.). Experiences of racism and misogyny within health care impact the likelihood of delaying sexual health care until it’s an emergency. And the dumping of toxic waste in the food and water systems around Indigenous, racialized and low-income communities result in toxins found in breast milk. These aren’t distractions from SRHR issues, they are SRHR issues.
Human rights and sexual rights are an important framework. At the same time, sexual rights aren’t afforded to everyone equally. BIPOC women, trans and gender-non binary folks are the ones who have their sexual rights violated most frequently. Human rights exist in a world rife with injustice and so we have to work daily to make sure that everyone’s human rights are respected, protected, and fulfilled.
Follow organizations and individuals working specifically at the intersections of anti-racism and SRHR. We also encourage you to support their work by donating to them:
Submission to the OHCHR on Police Violence and Racism in Canada
Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights is a national organization committed to advancing and upholding sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in Canada and globally.