This weekend, I will be attending and speaking at the New York City Reproductive Justice Media Conference , sponsored by the New York City Reproductive Justice Coalition, in collaboration with Women’s eNews. This conference will focus on re-framing the discussion on what reproductive justice means, how to create effective messaging that is tailored to your audience, and how to communicate with the media and public about reproductive justice. I will be speaking on effective messaging for young women of color (YWOC). I’m looking forward to connecting, building, and learning as much as I can this weekend from some amazing activists and journalists. This is a very important discussion to have, and with 2012 presidential election just 6 months away, everyone is trying to push their issues and campaigns to the forefront. Not only that, but many want definitive answers on where the lawmakers stands on the issues they care about.
(What is the reproductive justice framework, you may be wondering? Here’s an awesome PDF by Forward Together (formally Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice) , which highlights in detail what the reproductive justice (RJ) framework is, as well as the differences between reproductive health, reproductive rights, and reproductive justice.)
When it comes to young women of color (YWOC), there are so many coalitions, groups, organizations, TV shows, music, movies, books, programs, and other entities out there vying for their attention. Historically, the voices of YWOC have often not been meaningfully included in progressive movements. With the exception of organizations that specifically target YWOC for their campaigns and programming, YWOC’s inclusion in the developing, delivering, or receiving end of messages directed towards them and designed with their values, beliefs and needs in mind, have been few and far between. Also, just because a message resonates with YWOC doesn’t mean that it’s positive.
How can we effectively reach them when there are so many influences out there? Do we know who you’re talking to?
Why Messaging to Reach Young Women of Color (YWOC) is Important
Back in 2007, I co-presented a workshop called “Do You Know Who You’re Talking To?: Effective Messaging for Young Women of Color (YWOC)” during the 2007 Women, Action, and Media (WAM!) Conference in Massachusetts, with my good friend Candace Webb, MPH, CHES. In front of a packed room, we discussed why creating effective messaging to reach YWOC is important.
In general, one of the reasons why creating effective messaging is important is because, in order to get what you want (develop better policies, raise more funding, get more press, etc.), you need some segment of public support to move your agenda forward. Secondly, raising awareness and making sure that the public is informed are other reasons why messaging is important. One thing that Candace mentioned during our presentation is that messaging that’s thoughtful and succinct can enable organizations and communities to find a unified voice on a specific social justice campaign. Third, messaging is important for grabbing attention. Think of news reports, magazine articles, and songs out there that have instantly grabbed your attention. Notice that many of the messaging may not have been positive, but it somehow stirred something within you that prompted you to take action, whether it was turning up the volume on the TV, reading the article more thoroughly, or turning off the radio.
Despite YWOC’s involvement in social justice work and the need for more leadership opportunities, very little research has been done on effective strategies for reaching YWOC. When asked why messaging to reach YWOC is so important within progressive movements, Daisy Hernandez and Pandora L. Leong of In These Times (2004), has this to say:
“Progressive movements have a long history of internal debates, but for feminists of color the question of racism and feminism isn’t about theories. It’s about determining our place in the movement. As the daughters of both the civil rights and feminist movements, we were bred on grrlpower, identity politics, and the emotional and often financial ties to our brothers, fathers, aunties, and moms back home, back South, back in Pakistan, Mexico or other homelands. We live at the intersections of identities, the places where social movements meet, and it’s here that our feminism begins.”
In order to help cultivate the next generation of young women activists, we need to do a better job at reaching out to young people in ways that affirms them and helps them to raise their voices. Also, we need to recognize that YWOC are dealing with a lot of issues these days: racism, sexism, ageism, immigrant status, education, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, among others. How can we develop effective messaging for YWOC that’s affirming, inclusive, and timely? How can we help YWOC decipher between messaging that’s for their benefit versus messaging that’s used to stigmatize, put down, and exclude their voices?
What Are Some of the Basic Principles for Messaging?
Know who you’re talking to: Are you speaking to a group of elementary schools girls, middle schools students, or college age young women? Do they come from two-parent homes or single family homes? Are they high achieving young people or do they need more assistance in breaking things down? Will the focus of your messaging also include parents and adults caregivers, teachers, and mentors? How does your messaging effect the community? What visual images and phrases will resonate more and want your audience to learn more and/or take action? What are the priorities of the YWOC you’re talking to? Remember: What you find as a high priority may not be to the YWOC you’re talking to.
Share why it is important:Why should YWOC care? What makes your concerns worth their time? How does it affect YWOC? And speaking of sharing, make sure to utilize social media.
Keep it simple: Make your message easy to understand, to the point, and free from jargon. Be mindful of using slang words with YWOC. It may not go over well.
Encourage YWOC in developing their own conclusions: Don’t provide all the answers. Encourage dialogue and allow YWOC to come to their own conclusions on why something should matter to them. Allow YWOC to take ownership of the message. Their reasons for caring and taking action may be completing different from your own. We can all learn from each other.
Offer a solution: Focusing solely on the problem isn’t fun. Work together to come up with solutions and create better messaging that will resonate with their peers.
Not that we have the basics down, what are some strategies for reaching YWOC?
We need to include YWOC in campaigns and messaging at the very beginning – not after the fact. That never works. Including YWOC in the beginning can work to push through any resistance. We need to be both transparent with our intentions and committed to invest in attracting YWOC into our movements (be in reproductive justice or other movements). We also need to support their leadership. Here are some strategies:
Meet YWOC where they are: Recognize that YWOC are passionate abut many things: family, health, schools and among the top. Consider conducting surveys, focus groups, personal interviews, and poling to find out what are the concerns of their schools and communities.
Recognize that not all YWOC are the same: YWOC are not a monolithic group. Within communities of color, there are a variety of cultures, customs, and regional differences to consider.
Tailor your approach: Creating a message around “reproductive justice” may not be as effective as creating a message on “taking care of yourself”. Both can definitely mean the same thing, but “taking care of yourself’ provokes more of an overall feeling of health and wellness as opposed to just thinking about “rights.” It bears repeating: What you find as a high priority may not be to the YWOC you’re talking to. If HIV is a higher priority compared to abortion, start there first.
Make it personal: Focus on discussing issues on the various aspects that are happening in their lives, from spirituality to music to academics. Let YWOC know that, while they may feel as times that they may not have as much control as adults, they can control their own lives and make wise decisions for themselves, and with the encouragement of caring adults, they can flourish.
Think with the end in mind: What do you want your end result to be? What do the YWOC you’re working with want the end result to be? When your messaging is effective, it can raise awareness of the hopes and concerns of YWOC and can help link their passion to social justice.