Organization promotes women's rights
Attending meet and greet with political candidates Wednesday, Oct. 17
Voter Registration on the South Oval on Friday
source: Danielle Williams
A new student organization called Gender Equality and Reproductive Rights has been formed to promote political involvement and spread knowledge about the issues of reproductive justice and gender equality.
GEARR was formed in response to 10 bills that appeared in the Oklahoma legislature last year that were aimed to limit women’s reproductive rights, organization president Danielle Williams said. The most controversial bill, SB 1433 known as the Personhood Act, became a centerpiece for activism and political involvement, she said.
Authored by Oklahoma Senator Brian Crain, the bill intended to define life as something that begins at the moment of conception. Opponents of the bill argued that it made no exceptions in instances of rape or incest and had the potential to limit access to contraceptives.
“Nothing that extreme had ever happened before, and many young women realized for the first time that this directly affects them,” said Williams.
The organization now is making a point to take an active role in the political process by lobbying for a piece of legislation that has provisions to provide workplace accommodations for pregnant workers, Williams said.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, introduced by Senator Jean Shaheen of New Hampshire and Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, is the first piece of legislation for which the organization is lobbying, she said.
“The reason reproductive justice is so important is because it gives us equality,” Williams said.
The students’ lobbying usually entails one-on-one conversations with state representatives, and students usually act in response to a bill they oppose or support, said Brittany Mays, anthropology senior and member of a similar organization called Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice.
“We will provide anyone who is interested with a list of talking points to get a unified message,” added Williams.
Another concern for the organization is equality in the workplace, Williams said. Women make 30 cents fewer on the dollar and are not protected to have a job when they return from maternity leave, she said.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) do protect women in the workplace, but Williams said the laws also have their limits. The FMLA only applies to companies with fifty or more employees, meaning women who are employed at smaller companies do not have the same benefits as those who are employed at larger companies.
“Being able to control when we have children and how we have children is a big factor in women’s equality in society,” Williams said.
Students should not be afraid to voice their opinions, she said.
Williams said she recognizes that the language surrounding reproductive justice is problematic because of the heavily-politicized nature of these issues, but that shouldn’t stop students from voicing their opinions.
“It gets confusing, and people stop short of understanding,” she said. “People shouldn’t be embarrassed to speak frankly about their bodies.”