Hampshire reproductive rights conference a success

By Christiana McDougal

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Last weekend, the twenty fourth annual Reproductive Rights Conference for Student and Community Activists was held at Hampshire College.

The event featured a variety of two-hour workshops and free HIV testing. There were also guest speakers from across the country, as well as three Nicaraguan former-revolutionary feminists who participated in discussions of sexual and reproductive rights justice.

Workshop topics included gender, economic justice, sexuality and LGBTQI rights, abortion rights, access to health care, birthing and parenting rights, climate and the environment, comprehensive sex education, contraceptive practices, peace and safety, political action and reproductive technologies. Each workshop addressed topics that functioned as a springboard for discussions about inequality and oppression as it relates to reproductive rights and sexuality.

The conference was sponsored by the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program (CLPP) and the Population and Development Program (PopDev).

CLPP, which was created in 1981 in response to the Reagan administration and the anti-abortion wave that followed, calls attention to the lack of reproductive rights nationally and internationally. They work alongside students and activists to share knowledge about reproductive rights and sexuality activism.

PopDev, who partnered with CLPP for this event, aims “to change conventional thinking and policies about population growth that threaten reproductive rights, social justice and our environment,” which is accomplished through “research, facts, expert analysis and activist and educational publications”.

PopDev also strives to debunk myths about the role of population growth in environmental degradation and unequal access to food and agriculture. Instead, they emphasize the socioeconomic and political inequalities that create oppression in the first place.

If attendees did not pre-register, they were asked to fill out a quick survey  and donate if they were able.

All attendees were given a folder with information about the conference, including educational material that dealt with issues of reproductive health, strategies for social justice, and, “Tips on how to be an activist and/or ally in the movement to end gender oppression”.

Within the “Resisting the Right” workshop, a spokeswoman for Washington D.C.’s Advocates for Youth, spoke about the conservative right and the detrimental effects of abstinence-only policies in schools. She referred to the abstinence-only movement as being on, “the spectrum of crazy,” discussing conservative “scare tactics,” such as the myth that “condoms break 30 percent of the time” and “HIV is spread through sweat and tears.” The “no sex until marriage” rhetoric that is taught in school also demoralizes the LGBTQI community, who still cannot marry under federal law, she explained.

Hampshire College was a solid choice as a location for these workshops, allowing people from all over the Pioneer Valley to gain awareness of the injustices that are committed against people due to their sexuality, gender, race or beliefs.

Overall, the conference succeeded in raising awareness of reproductive rights and the discrimination many people face, as well as helping to build a strong community around this issue within the Pioneer Valley. As long as there is interest and support, the annual conference and the movement for reproductive justice will continue to grow.

Christiana McDougal can be reached at [email protected].