Sexual and reproductive justice (SRJ) matters all the time for everybody. Originally created in 1994 by a small group of black women reproductive health and rights activists, reproductive justice (RJ) has become the guiding framework for social change and human rights activism across the US and around the world. Though there are almost as many interpretations and co-optations of the term as there are people using it, I work with the idea that sexual and reproductive justice exists when all people have the social, political and economic power and resources to make healthy decisions about our gender, bodies, sexuality and families for ourselves and our communities.
Reproductive justice, at its most basic definition, was about clearly defining the rights, resources and agency of women to: have the children they want to have; not have the children they do not want to have; and to parent the children they choose to have and/or parent – with the equality, equity, protections and rights needed to pursue any of those choices. It goes way beyond reproduction, far into everyone’s ability to self-determine family, love and dignity.
I added the sexual component to my own understanding of RJ because so much of the work I do with HIV and the social determinants that drive it connects me to people who may not have uteruses, who may not be conforming to gender “norms” or who may not fit inside the conventional reproductive rights construct, but want to have the freedom to love, have sex and have families on their own terms.
SRJ matters all the time because intersectionality matters, all the time. Intersectionality is more than a term coined to “describe overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination or discrimination.” It is a framework for respecting those intersecting identities, cross-referencing them with the intersecting oppressions and creating intersecting responses and solutions. Our systems, our advocacy, our movements have not been organized in a way that can effectively support multiple responses for the multitude of identities and oppressions experienced in one body or one human, even one group, at a time.
When civil rights advocate Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw coined the term, intersectionality itself was narrower in its scope and definition than it has become through the development of intersecting movements. This is something that the far right has recognized and become even more fearful of. They can now see that the LGBTQ+, women’s rights, anti-poverty, anti-violence, disability rights, housing and environmental activists and so many other movements are finding their way to solidarity with each other – we are becoming more intersectional in our movement building and in our fight – and we have a long way to go.
But, when a white supremacist website can publicly defend the murder of Heather Heyer (#charlottesville) by calling her fat and childless – and then go on to rant about how her weight and her decision to not be a mother makes her a burdensome drain and pariah in “their country” – then we know they are afraid for the unification of our movements. They could easily have been denigrating a poor black woman, but this woman was white (privileged)! I was surprised they didn’t presume anything about her sexuality!
Intersectionality can be a winning strategy because dignity and quality of life are the essential goals. Power and agency are the essential tools. Knowing how to navigate the intersections of personal, physical, social, political, economic, environmental, cultural and sexual realities for individuals and for groups is critical to affecting change, especially social change. SRJ matters all the time because it takes into consideration the wholeness of one’s humanity. It helps us dismantle the notions of margins and mainstream. SRJ matters all the time because, by the gift of black women’s wisdom to define our own reality, it creates space for all people to do the same.
Dázon Dixon Diallo is the founder and president of SisterLove, Inc.