My Message to Young People at the White House’s First United State of Women Summit
This week, I had the great honor of traveling to Washington D.C. for the first-ever United State of Women Summit, speaking alongside Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Our speech focused on the role of Planned Parenthood in women’s lives these past 100 years, as well as my personal experiences as a Planned Parenthood patient, youth organizer, and student activist. If you’re reading this, you should also read the inspiring remarks from Cecile. These are the words I shared.
Cecile: Grecia, what made you become an activist for reproductive health and rights?
Grecia: I came to this work after witnessing the negative consequences of abstinence-only sex ed in high school. The private institution I attended was Christian and highly conservative. A student was expelled her senior year for being pregnant, and it created an environment of shame.
I also couldn’t come out as a queer woman for fear that I would get expelled, so unfortunately I found myself in abusive relationships.
My mother is a beautiful, Mexican, working-class, undocumented immigrant who taught me about my reproductive system and how to take care of it. As someone who lost her loved ones to illnesses that were treatable, if not preventable, she understood the value of a healthy body. She instilled this radical idea into me about bodily autonomy being essential in order to live your best life. With that knowledge, I knew I needed to do something to shift the perspectives of my peers.
Then I found Planned Parenthood. They validated my identity, were genuinely concerned about my well-being, gave me the care I needed even while uninsured, and equipped me with the tools and resources to promote comprehensive sexuality education in my community. They truly care no matter what.
Cecile: What more should we be doing to change the conversation about sexual and reproductive health?
Grecia: I’d like to see us approach sexual and reproductive health through even more grassroots education, particularly peer-to-peer comprehensive sex ed. That’s had a huge impact on my college campus and in the local community. Honest, intentional conversations with each other about our bodies. This is a crucial step to take to end the stigma surrounding sexuality as a whole.
We need to rewrite narratives of shame into ones of power. In understanding our bodies, we can achieve more than personal empowerment, but turn it into actual political power to move this generation of young people forward. And it’s a lifelong process. Our reproductive systems are just one of many working in the body, so why are we so quick to make it controversial?
Furthermore, we must recognize the multiple barriers people, especially people of color, face when accessing reproductive care. Education goes even further when coupled with advocacy for our patient base. Take, for example, a woman who wants reproductive care but doesn’t have transportation to get to the clinic, has no health insurance, is a young mother in need of childcare during the appointment, and works a minimum wage job. It’s our responsibility to make sure we address each of those barriers in order for it to become a real choice. And as a patient of Planned Parenthood, I recognize that breaking barriers to access health care isn’t just about empowerment, it’s about saving lives.
Cecile: For all the progress we’ve made — there’s a long way to go. The last 100 years have changed everything for women — and this generation is changing everything all over again.
The summit was full of incredible, like-minded women (especially young women), coming together to exchange ideas, find community, and build power; I was thrilled to be one of them! There’s nothing more fulfilling than seeing thousands of young folks becoming inspired and moving to action. If you’re ready to get involved and join the fight for reproductive rights, visit PPaction.org.