What is Reproductive Justice?
Reproductive justice is defined as the total spiritual, mental, physical, social, economic, and political wellbeing of females. According to SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, this is achieved when girls and women have “the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities.“
This concept addresses the intersecting factors—like race and class—that play a role in how women of color, women with disabilities, low-income individuals, and the LGBTQ+ community are disproportionately impacted.
Despite the fact that the ability to reproduce affects almost everyone, reproductive justice remains largely unaddressed. Reproductive justice encompasses multiple facets of oppression, which can impact the quality of people’s lives and their ability to truly control it.
People of color have unique experiences with sexual rights, reproductive health, and bodily integrity. That’s why, as service providers, it’s our duty to not only fight against these systems but to empower and educate our clients about their sexual and reproductive health.
Tackling Systemic Oppression in Therapy
My therapy practice, AnnodRight, is centered around the framework presented in Black Feminist Thought—written by Patricia Hill Collins, a prominent social theorist and acedemic. It’s critical that we, as clinicians, recognize and speak about systems of oppression in our counseling sessions.
Since I work primarily with black women, this often comes up when clients share their stories and experiences. We also talk about patriarchy, racial injustice, mass incarceration, and other forms of oppression. We discuss how all of these issues show up in their life and impact their mental and sexual health.
4 Ways to Approach Reproductive Justice
To ensure clients feel comfortable enough to be their most authentic selves and have confidence in our ability to help them, we need to address, support, and incorporate reproductive justice into our therapeutic practices. Here are four steps you can take to build long-lasting relationships with clients who are experiencing these types of issues.
1. Recognize that we’re all part of this system.
To be a reproductive-justice advocate as a clinician, you must first recognize that many of us are unknowingly complicit in systemic oppression. It’s not uncommon to think that you have nothing to do with the oppression your clients face.
However, this is often not the case. We all have areas of privilege and it’s our responsibility to identify them. As your clients discuss their experiences with oppression, open yourself to the idea that your privilege may have played an active or passive role in the very system they’re struggling with. If you can accept and acknowledge your privilege, you’ll be able to strengthen your therapeutic alliance with clients.
2. Take the time to read.
As a therapist working with people of color in the United States, it’s critical to know about racial and social justice, so you can better address the myriad of nuances that make up reproductive justice—and mental health, overall.
Take the time to read up on systemic oppression and reproductive justice. Consider how systems of oppression can impact the mental health and wellbeing of your clients. By putting in the effort to learn, you can gain introspective growth and begin to incorporate the knowledge and perspectives into your practice and daily life.
3. Expand your research.
Research does not stop with books. You’ll have to turn to those around you to get an in-depth look into racial justice that’s not just theoretical. Look to trusted colleagues, experts, and educators of reproductive justice for their expertise. Allow these consultants to provide a discerning-yet-neutral perspective to make sure your practice is equipped to handle issues related to reproductive justice.
Your work will never be done. You must constantly look at the world, systems of oppression, and how it’s led to an inflammation of issues and trauma within your clients—while remembering that these things are interconnected with their bodily autonomy.
You have to be intentional about doing intersectional work. You need to know yourself, your biases, and sit in your discomfort. Integrate your knowledge through your actions, and make sure that what you’re doing or plan to do is centered around these frameworks.
As clinicians, our job is to support the wholeness of who our client is. And part of that wholeness requires us to understand who they are, what they’ve gone through, and how it impacts various aspects of their life—including their sexual and reproductive health. As such, you can’t leave certain aspects of their life off the table just because it makes you uncomfortable or because you may not feel properly equipped.
What you choose to learn, address, and say about your clients’ experiences can determine whether a visit with you leads to a trusting relationship they can rely on.
More Resources for Clinicians
For more information about how to discuss sex and sexuality with clients, check out my continuing education course (1 hour CE, $19), Sex Talk: Clinician Edition. This course is designed to help you set the stage for an open, direct, and productive conversation with your clients.
This course will help you to:
- Identify at least three reasons to include the topic of sex and sexuality in conversations with clients
- Identify at least two barriers that may be keeping you from speaking about sex and sexuality with their clients
- Implement at least one technique for integrating sex and sexuality into discussions with clients
About the Author
Donna Oriowo is a licensed clinical social worker in Maryland, Washington DC, and Virginia. She holds a master’s degree in education and social work, a PhD in human sexuality, and is a certified sex therapist. She provides therapy, supervision, and training with a focus on issues around sex and sexuality.
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