Reproductive Justice & Violence: Innovative models

Innovative Models, Innovative Models — By on January 3, 2011 11:30 pm


Sisters Empowering Sisters, a Chicago young women’s group, has developed a series of useful tools for other young women about sexual health and also about pregnancy options.  One of those tools is a youth-created zine titled A Youth Guide to Safer Sex.

Here they have described their work: “During the summer of 2009, Sisters Empowering Sisters conducted an Artistic Participatory Action Research Project on how our body image affects our sexual health, and how our sexual health affects our body image. We focused on the way popular media depicts the sexuality of girls of color, disabled girls, working class girls and youth in general.  This led us to create a peer training in the fall of 09.

We identified a lack of youth-led, comprehensive sexual health conversations in our schools and communities. We wanted to provide a space for accessible, inclusive sex ed that would connect to the reality of young people’s lives.

After developing our questions in a series of peer circles, we traveled to schools, after school programs, conferences and youth groups and reached over 500 youth. We also led trainings for adults working on sexual health with youth, both in Chicago and New York.”


“When we ask our girls to name the top five issues girls face, consistently at the top of the list is teen pregnancy. Considering the fact that nearly 4 in 10 girls in the U.S. will become pregnant at least once before age 20 and that many of those girls will be girls of color, Global Girls looked at how we could decrease the numbers.”

Global Girls created a performance piece and a companion peer education program to change the perception of teen pregnancy in the community. “Project 21-20, Not before 24″ is ten-year initiative to educate and inspire youth in the organization’s partner schools to delay parenthood until at least age 24.  They report: “We have performed the show in over 10 different locations and recruited 15 peer educators. Those Chatt (Change Happens all The Time) Ambassadors are being trained to host activities, lead discussions and facilitate “teach ins” for youth and parents on talking about sex, sexual health, future-oriented lifestyles and the concept of family.”

In 2007, Global Girls was commissioned by the Chicago AIDS Foundation to create a show on teens and HIV. They called it From Gross to Hope, an honest look at how teen girls talk about sex-the myths, misconceptions and hope. The organization has  performed the show before audiences of youth and adults, health care professionals and HIV activists in cities throughout Illinois. The program is intended as a conversation starter, so that youth and their parents will begin to have conversations.


Beyondmedia Education has created HIV: Hey, It’s Viral!, a groundbreaking sex-positive 20-minute video addressing HIV/AIDS prevention and activism from youth perspectives. The video shows young people what HIV is, how it is transmitted, and how it can be prevented – all spun with a fun soundtrack and entertaining animations to illustrate the science of HIV/AIDS. Focusing on risk reduction, safer sex practices and the importance of testing, the movie stresses the idea that anyone can get HIV, and everyone can help prevent it.

HIV: Hey, It’s Viral! Preview Trailer from Beyondmedia Education on Vimeo.

The idea for HIV: Hey, It’s Viral! emerged in 2007 when Beyondmedia Education, About Face Youth Theatre, and the Broadway Youth Center came together and created the HIV: History in Voices project. Twenty-five young people participated in a 10-day multimedia workshop where they learned about the history of the AIDS crisis, HIV/ AIDS activism, and sexual health information about HIV and STDs. The workshop resulted in a short sex ed video and a performance piece about the impact of HIV on their lives.

One of the most important facts revealed during the workshop was that young people who attended public school were not getting basic information about sexual health or HIV. They weren’t receiving the education that could help them make safer choices about sex. The three organizations decided to tackle this issue by creating a program that would bring this kind of education to Chicago public schools. Condom Sense: A Real Life Education is offered to Chicago schools and contains the HIV: Hey, It’s Viral! video, an educator’s curriculum, a youth activism guide, and a short performance by youth about issues concerning HIV and sex education. In the 2009-10 school year, 10 under-resourced Chicago public high schools received the entire Condom Sense program free of cost.


The HEART Women & Girls Project is committed to empowering women and girls in interfaith and community settings by building self-esteem and leadership through culturally-relevant health and wellness programming.  HEART achieves this mission by promoting strategies which teach women and girls to connect a healthy heart, mind, body, and soul and achieve an overall sense of well-being. Here’s how the organizational founders describe their vision and work:

“Our vision is to facilitate a healthy conversation about the important issues and health needs that impact women & girls in faith-based and community settings, and also to inspire the community to improve understanding and raise awareness. Ultimately, we aspire to create a community of “leaders of wellness,” young girls and women who can transform their communities by living a healthy example and modeling positive self-esteem and self-image.”

“The hallmark of HEART programs is the commitment to women and girls’ empowerment. Many of the programs are participant-driven and participant-developed, so that the participants have a relationship with what they’re learning about. We address issues important to women and girls’ well-being – from healthy eating to fitness, to sensitive topics such as sexual health and mental well being.”

“We believe that the issues that impact women and girls are generally universal across ethnicity and religious background; how these issues are perceived and the challenges to addressing these issues are different across ethnicities and religious communities.”


The TWISTA Program (Trans Women Informing Sista Trans-women on AIDS) of the Broadway Youth Center is a unique HIV/AIDS intervention for young transgender women of color. The TWISTA intervention is a peer-based program that utilizes culturally competent materials to increase self-worth and pride among transwomen of color; it delivers important HIV/AIDS information about safer sex practices and safer transitioning through empowerment and strength-based approaches. The curriculum was developed by adapting a CDC EBI (Effective Behavioral Intervention) called SISTA (Sistas Informing Sistas on Topics of AIDS), that was originally designed to address the HIV risk factors that adult heterosexual African-American non-trans women were facing in the early 1990s.

Here is what TWISTA staff say about the program:

“As a peer-based program, it is essential that program facilitators are transwomen of color and reflect the communities they are serving. Currently, the two program facilitators are also prior graduates of the TWISTA program. It is essential that TWISTA facilitators are peer-based transwomen of color for several reasons: they have inherent, first-hand knowledge of issues and struggles impacting trans communities, they are able to provide culturally relevant HIV information and possess knowledge of trans-specific HIV risk factors; and participants are ultimately better able to relate and connect with facilitators because of shared life experiences.  Peer-based program facilitation and implementation also aid in the improvement of overall cohesion and trust among group participants.  In addition, peer-based program implementation can provide unique opportunities both for facilitators to serve as mentors and positive role models for younger transwomen of color in the program, and to intentionally invest in the development of youth program participants.”

“Few supportive and affirming spaces exist for transwomen of color to discuss life experiences and personal issues they may struggle with. A lack of safe and supportive spaces for trans youth can foster a sense of isolation, which can also consequently negatively impact mental health and individual feelings of self-worth. A decreased sense of self-worth can function as an increase in HIV risk factors for young transwomen of color; it can translate into an indifference about or decisions against choosing for example to utilize safer sex practices in sexual behaviors. Creating affirming and empowering spaces for young transwomen of color are important factors in improving overall health (physical, mental, spiritual, etc.) and well-being. It allows an opportunity for transwomen of color to learn and receive support from each other, to share resilience strategies and life-saving survival tips, and to build community and nurture a sense of belonging among trans youth of color.

“Young transwomen of color experience numerous forms of violence in their everyday lives. They are often harassed, assaulted and discriminated against by strangers as well as friends and family, they are targeted and abused by police and law enforcement officials, and they are all too often the victims of some of the most brutal, heinous acts of violence and murder.  Transwomen of color can also commit acts of violence against other transwomen, and can project internalized transphobia and self-hatred against members of their own community.  TWISTA unfortunately cannot prevent incidents of transphobic societal and institutional violence perpetrated against young transwomen of color. The material presented from the program curriculum does offer safety planning strategies, survival tips, and numerous strategies to both cope with and fight back against various forms of societal and institutional violence.  TWISTA also actively discusses the prevalence and harm of internalized transphobia and self-hatred, along with addressing incidents of inter-community violence. The overall goals of the TWISTA program include, among other things, emphasizing the importance of solidarity among trans communities, creating a sense of pride and self-confidence in trans identities, and building an empowering, healthy experience of community belonging that is rooted in respect and collective strength, and not in competition or aggression.”


The Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health (ICAH) recognizes that young women and communities of color are disproportionately affected by the lack of age appropriate, medically accurate, and comprehensive sexual health education. That’s why young people statewide have been leading the fight to change local sexual health education policy and practices. ICAH led efforts to mobilize Chicago Public School students to advocate and draft a new policy passed by the Board of Education in April 2006. The policy change was a landmark victory not only in the state but nationwide. Chicago is the third largest school district in the country and the first district of its size to mandate comprehensive sexual health education for its students and training for its teachers.

ICAH is currently engaged in a campaign to ask Chicago Public Schools adopt the Pregnant and Parenting Youth Bill of Rights, a document created by our Young Parent Alliance. You can read more about the campaign here.  ICAH is also part of the core working group of the Illinois Campaign for Reproductive Health and Access, a founding member of the Chicago Female Condom Campaign, and part of Expanding the Movement for Empowerment and Reproductive Justice.

The Campaign for Reproductive Health and Access is a statewide coalition advocating for full reproductive autonomy regarding an individual’s ability to use birth control, carry a pregnancy to term, or terminate a pregnancy. The campaign promotes sexual health education in Illinois public schools and the coverage of basic reproductive health services by government-funded health care programs. The coalition was working to pass the Reproductive Health and Access Act in the Illinois General Assembly during the 2010 legislative session.

The Chicago Female Condom Campaign is a coalition of HIV/AIDS, reproductive justice, women’s health, and gay men’s health organizations dedicated to increasing awareness, access, and utilization of female condoms. The campaign works to reduce sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies by advocating for increased public health purchasing and distribution of female condoms, training service providers, educating community members, and executing a social marketing campaign.

A national movement-building initiative of Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, EMERJ builds strategic alliances and increases the power, leadership, and capacity of grassroots organizations and communities working for reproductive justice.  Interested people can read all about ICAH’s coalition work here, including a few environmental campaigns that the organization has joined to address the effects of toxic chemicals and pollution on reproductive health and fertility.