Aiden Ferris, 21, Phoenicia NY, is the crew coordinator for Earth Guardians/global engagements director.
Aiden supports young people across the world to build their Earth Guardians crew, so they can build a group of young climate activists in their own communities.
How did you get involved in the work you do?
I grew up in a small community, and in my high school I was really the only one who was interested in building a more sustainable world. I felt pretty alone, and pretty overwhelmed by what needed to be done. I think there are lots of young people out there who feel that. So, when I found Earth Guardians, a community of young people who take action and support each other in the climate and environmental justice movement, I felt like this is where I was meant to be. And now in my role with Earth Guardians, I can support and empower young people globally so we can collaborate and not feel so isolated.
What was/is your experience of conversations around sexual health, reproductive rights, and family planning? Was it taboo to talk about growing up?
It wasn’t taboo in my family. My mom was pretty spot on. I decided I wanted to have sex when I was 15 and my mom supported me in getting on birth control. I also experienced support from my girlfriends. We were all becoming sexual active around then and we talked about birth control, and there wasn’t any shaming each other.
However, I do have a memory about when a girl in my high school had an unintended pregnancy, everyone called her a “slut,” and this was eye-opening for me because I remember thinking how mean that was and how she probably just didn’t have the access to information or tools to prevent pregnancy like the rest of us did.
Even though I had access, I do wish I had more information on birth control and what would work for me. I was on the pill and as a high school student that was hard to do. I can’t forget about it — it affected my body and my cycle and really threw everything off, so I received more information about other options.
How do you see climate resilience and environmental issues connecting to family planning, reproductive rights, and/or sexual health?
I think when you give women and girls the right to choose when they have children or how often they have children, we challenge the social norms that take away a woman’s autonomy, and that can lead to a more just and sustainable society.
I think how we treat women can relate to how we treat the Earth. We call the Earth our Mother, so if we don’t respect women’s rights — especially maternal health which family planning improves — how can we truly respect Earth? To me, there’s an issue of control when it comes to the environment and reproductive rights. As a society, we think we can control the natural systems on Earth, we can change the climate and pollute water systems with no consequences, and we also think we can control a woman’s decisions about her body and family planning. So for me, reproductive justice and environment connect in that way: as long as we put one at risk, so is the other.
I also think about my own situation and how I wouldn’t be able to give my work all the energy and time I do. If I were to have kids right now, I don’t think I would be able to focus on Earth Guardians or activism as much. Last December, I went to Paris for COP21 as an Earth Guardian delegate. I don’t think I could do that or attend the multi-day trainings if I had a child right now, or I’d be much more limited on what I could do. For me having children isn’t an option until I’m older. I want to focus on my work and transforming the systems we live in, so that when I do have a family, we’re living in a healthier world.
If we can build a society where women can come into leadership roles, I think we would see a faster shift to a more sustainable world and more climate resilience, because women are peacemakers and nurturing. Family planning and improved reproductive rights are the tools to empower women.
Why is it important that young people take a stand on these issues? What’s the power young voices bring to the reproductive rights movement?
Young people are not confined to the box society puts us in. Adults are jaded, and young people tend to be more optimistic. We’re excited about finding new perspectives and solutions.
One thing we all have in common is that we’ve all been kids and every society has kids. This is something that connects us across the board. So when kids speak up and say “this isn’t not working” and especially when they come to the table educated about an issue, people really listen.
When kids inform themselves, that’s really powerful. Because adults can sometimes belittle us and say “oh, you don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re just a kid,” but then if we can come back and say, “actually, I do,” that’s a game-changer.
Why do you think it’s important that conversations around environment and sustainability address these issues more? If we forget to connect environmental issues to reproductive rights, what’s at stake?
We’re putting half the population at stake. If we don’t honor our women as independent people, if we don’t empower women to get an education if they want or choose the future they want, we’re not truly reaching our full potential and not truly being intersectional.
I think at this point in time, we’re trying to recreate our whole society basically and if we don’t look at women’s rights and the things that support and protect women, we won’t get very far in creating the change we need to see happen to have a just and sustainable world.
In your opinion, what are some ways we could begin to break the taboos around sex talk and family planning?
I haven’t been so active the sexual health or reproductive rights movement, and in my environmental or climate justice work I haven’t seen these connections being made, so I think that’s an indicator of an opportunity where these conversations could happen more.
The climate movement is always looking for grassroots solutions, and this seems like one the movement has skipped over. I think in my capacity at Earth Guardians and RYSE, I can begin talking more about reproductive rights and access to family planning as a solution.
What do you think the United States’ role should be in promoting access to voluntary family planning around the globe?
I think that the U.S. needs to promote access to family planning across the world. We should also be leading the way in how access to family planning can positively affect our communities. Lead by example. In addition, I think we need to do intensive community outreach and build relationships with communities to learn what their exact needs are.
Your generation is facing unprecedented environmental threats. Have you thought about being a parent in the future? And if so, how do you (and your peers) feel about bringing new life into this world given the environmental threats we face?
I’ve always wanted to be a mother. I’ve always been a motherly person, basically ever since I was able to babysit. I think it’d be such an honor to be a mother, and it’s also terrifying to me.
I do ask myself, how can I bring a child into this world knowing all the things I know? I don’t want to leave my children with such a damaged home, where most of the fresh water, land and air is polluted, so this is really conflicting and hard for me. But either way, I am definitely grateful that I’ve had access to family planning so I can make that choice to start a family when I am ready. I think having access to family planning and having a mom that was paying attention like she did changed my life, because who knows what could have happened if I didn’t have that support or those tools to protect myself.