We have to put control back in the hands of women and girls. Abortion is an important tool for women seeking to shape their own destinies. Change someone's life. Help her take care of her family, go to college, maintain her emotional health, keep her head above water, achieve the future she wants for herself. We may have lost on health care reform, but victories still happen every time one person helps another. Make it happen.
In three and a half years, I’ve talked to a couple hundred women and girls who’ve called the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund. I’ve had days where I was on the phone every single hour with a woman trying to get onto MassHealth but who had to borrow her boyfriend’s mother’s phone and didn’t want her to know what was going on. I’ve spent three-day periods talking to a hospital social worker about cultural competency and language accessibility. I’ve had to pretend to be selling magazine subscriptions, or had to hang up when a husband or boyfriend picks up the line.
I’ve told countless women to take a deep breath, to put the phone down if they need to. I’ve cried with lots of them, and I’ve kicked the wall over the unfairness of it all after hanging up.
I’ve told them that they are good people doing their best, that they are worthy, that they are deserving, and that they are the experts in their own lives.
These are the stories that were left out of health care reform. These are the women trying to take care of themselves and their families. And while the rest of the nation marches on, they’re still struggling to make it. Every year, over 170,000 women need abortions that they can’t afford. That’s the legacy of the Hyde Amendment — and the new legacy of the health care reform act.
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We’re all pulling together because there are too many women being left behind:
A few years ago, I partnered with Nina, a young immigrant woman living outside Boston. Shortly after arriving in the U.S. with her father, Nina attended a high school party. There were boys at the party, so she didn’t tell her dad where she was going. Late in the evening, surrounded by people she still hardly knew and with whom she barely shared a common language, Nina was raped by a classmate. She kept this a secret from her father, because certainly he would tell her that this was her fault. After all, she had disobeyed, she had spent time with boys.
And then Nina learned that she was pregnant.
Nina was 17 — too young, under Massachusetts law, to get an abortion without a parent’s permission or the consent of a judge.
The judge thing baffled Nina, and she couldn’t imagine having to stand in front of a strange man in a robe, a gavel in his hand as he listened to this very private, very shameful story, deciding if Nina was too immature to decide not to be a parent. So Nina waited. She would be 18 soon enough.
On the day of her 18th birthday, Nina went to a social worker to seek help in getting an abortion. Her social worker called the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund. I took that call.
Because Nina had waited to turn 18, she was very close to the legal limit for abortion in Massachusetts and her procedure was going to be very expensive. We gave Nina everything that the EMA Fund had to give for the month, and then pooled the resources of six other abortion funds around the country. In 18 hours, we raised the $3000 that Nina needed.
A prison of laws and violence and politics and colonialism had put Nina where she was. Helping her get her abortion couldn’t solve all these things — but the EMA Fund invested in Nina’s vision for herself and her future. We believed that Nina’s life was worth the money and the time we spent.
We believe that all people who call abortion funds are worth the $50, the $3,000, the 15 hours it takes to get them what they need. We train our activists to be compassionate partners in a difficult, draining process.
We think that all people are worth everything that we can give. And we know that tomorrow, it could be our friends, sisters, mothers, daughters, lovers, neighbors, or us calling abortion funds for help.
Talking to your kids about sex can be an awkward or intimidating prospect—but new research confirms that it’s very important to do so anyway. Kids whose parents braved these conversations are more likely to practice safer sex, which means they are less likely to face an unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection (STI).
The meta-analysis, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, examined 52 studies, spanning 30 years and covering over 25,000 adolescents. It found a “significant positive association between parent-adolescent sexual communication and safer sex behavior among youth. This effect was robust across use of condoms and contraceptives, cross-sectional and longitudinal studies, and younger and older samples.”
In plain language, that means that kids who talked with their parents about sex were more likely to use condoms and other contraceptive methods when they became sexually active.
There are a few caveats. The results were stronger for girls than for boys, and stronger when the parent involved in the conversation was the mother rather than the father. The authors point out, however, that these results may say more about the biases in how we behave rather than the actual limitations of parental communication. The research suggests that moms are more likely than dads to have the conversation (and more studies look at mother-child communication than father-child), and the way we address girls and boys about sex may be different based on societal concerns.
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The takeaway from this study is pretty simple, however: Talking to your kids about sex will protect them. Moms and dads should be talking to sons and daughters.
But if this sounds at all intimidating, here are some tips to get you going from my experience as a sexual educator and a mom.
It’s Usually Not About Sexual Behavior
The biggest barrier to parent-child communication may be a misunderstanding of what these conversations are going to entail. The idea of talking to your own child about intimate bedroom details is likely off-putting. But no one is suggesting you give a rundown of the Kama Sutra to your middle schooler. In fact, the truth is these conversations are rarely about sexual behavior.
They’re about bodies, health, relationships, and values. When children are young, you’re talking about who has what body parts, what we should call them, why we don’t show most people our penises or vulvas, and how babies are made. These conversations not only educate kids when they’re little, but can also be a good entry point into more explicit conversations as adolescents grow into teenagers. As they age, you’ll need to talk about puberty and how their bodies will change and hormones will take over their once-rational brains. Discussions about STIs, unintended pregnancies, and how to avoid them are also important, as are talks about what makes a relationship valuable and when the correct age is to start dating and have sex.
It’s Not a One-Time Thing
Parents should stop thinking about the awkward “birds and the bees” talk, which probably came too late anyhow, as the start and end to all conversations about sex. Instead, think of sex as one of the many topics that you discuss with your kids any time it happens to come up. If a friend’s mom is pregnant, you can tell your preschooler that the baby isn’t in her tummy (and she didn’t swallow it), it’s in her uterus. If your six-year-old isn’t doing a good job wiping after going to the bathroom you can point out that it’s important to keep our genitals clean, like we do any other part of our body. If you’re 10-year-old just made a new friend who has two dads talk about same-sex relationships, and if she asks how you can be born if you have two dads go ahead and discuss adoption and surrogate mothers. When your 14 year-old finds out that his crush has a crush on his teammate, you can talk about heartbreak and how the key to a good relationship is to find someone who really does like you back.
Television is also a fabulous entry for giving information. Shows made for young people constantly portray relationship drama and at least hint at sex. Use the latest plotline to give your opinion. Ask if they think the CW hotties were using condoms, or if the Teen Momsare making young parenting look too glamourous.
Commercials work too. My 9-year-old and I watch a lot of HGTV. Though the shows are fine for audiences at any age, in the last few weeks I have had to explain erections lasting more than four hours and vaginal dryness, thanks to advertisers.
They’re Not Too Young
There is no reason that my 9-year-old needs to know about erectile dysfunction or lubrication after menopause, which won’t affect her for years, but there’s also no reason for me not to answer her questions and there are age-appropriate ways to discuss almost everything.
The first time we discussed contraception, for example, she was only 4 years old. We’d left her new baby sister at home with Nana and gone to town to pick up dinner. We ran into a woman who told us she had five kids. My daughter panicked (one baby sister was clearly enough) and asked if I was going to have more. I said no. She wanted to know how I knew that. So, I reminded her of the conversation we’d had when I told her I was pregnant and about the sperm and the egg, and then simply explained that I took a medicine that meant I didn’t make any eggs. She was relieved.
I think it’s important to note that she may have known about the pill at that point, but I had yet to tell her about vaginal intercourse. When we talked about how I got pregnant, she never asked how the sperm got to the egg, so I didn’t bother telling her. There’s no need to get all the information out at once, lest you overwhelm them or think some answers may be too complicated or explicit. In fact, it can be best to answer only those questions asked, and add only if your kid asks more. As I mentioned, most of the conversations aren’t about sex itself.
Starting young is great because then you can use each conversation as a building block for the next. By the time I was explaining what the Cialis commercial was about to my daughter we had already gone over the fact that penises get hard during sex. (Of course, I still had no explanation for why a long-lasting erection is okay at three hours and 58 minutes but needs immediate medical attention at four hours, or why the people are in separate bathtubs on a mountaintop.)
Give the Information Out Slowly
The building-blocks approach is also helpful because it means you don’t have to give too much information at one time. Regardless of age, kids glaze over after just a little while. Most of the time a simple and direct answer to a question is best; if the kid wants more information, he’ll ask for it.
If you’re asked what herpes is after a Valtrex commercial airs, you don’t have to go into a long discussion of cold sores or the difference between a virus and bacteria. All you have to say is that there are some infections that can be spread when people have sex, that these are called STIs, and that’s why it’s important to protect yourself. Then wait for questions. Depending on the child’s age and curiosity level, that may be enough. If it’s not, answer the next question and the next as simply as you can.
This way you don’t overwhelm your child or give more information than he or she can handle. More importantly, though, you establish yourself as someone who is willing to answer questions, so that as they get older and the questions become more complicated and more personal, you will be the go-to resources instead of the less trustworthy Internet or friends.
They’re Not Too Old
One of the good things the JAMA study showed is that kids listen to their parents even as they get older, which means that we have the opportunity to keep talking after they’re already having sex. These conversations can be awkward but they are a great opportunity to give more information and all-important relationship advice. I recently did a condom demonstration via Facetime for a friend’s teenager because my friend and I were worried that she was not using them correctly. And when she mentioned during that discussion that her partner had suggested taking the condom off completely on the grounds that it would “feel better”—we got to talk a little about why that was a bad idea and how to tell him it wasn’t going to fly.
Don’t worry if you haven’t had any conversations yet. No matter how old your children are, you can start talking today.
You Don’t Have to Know (or Share) Everything
The last piece of encouragement I will add is that nobody expects you to know everything, get it all right, or be perfectly comfortable. If you’re asked an informational question that you don’t know the answer to, offer to look it up on the Internet and share what you learn. My kids ask me science questions all the time—things I probably once knew about the Earth’s rotation or how our eyes really see colors—and I have to admit I have no idea. So I look it up and tell them later. Just be sure to follow through.
If you flub an answer or get caught off-guard, just keep going. When my oldest finally asked how the sperm got to the egg, and I did have to explain vaginal intercourse, I giggled. A lot. But I finished my explanation and answered her questions.
As for the scariest part of talking about sex—sharing details of your own sex life—that’s a personal decision. You can share when you think they’re ready, or if you think a story from your own life will help them in theirs. Or, you can tell them that you’d rather keep those details to yourself, but you’re happy to answer their questions in a more general way.
For now, all my kids know is what they’ve been able to piece together from our talks on reproduction—Daddy and I did that twice. Someday that will change but we’re taking it slow.
You may not have heard of Sakuma Brothers, but chances are high that you are familiar with one of its major commercial customers: Driscoll’s Berries. The multinational is square in the crosshairs of a current boycott orchestrated by Sakuma Brothers employees.
UPDATE, August 19, 5:00 p.m.: Rosalinda Guillen of Community to Community Development informed Rewire that some Sakuma Brothers workers walked off the worksite again on August 18, returning to the job on August 19 after negotiating with farm management for more than two hours. Sakuma Brothers managers, Guillen says, agreed to lower the poundage quota to 16.5 pounds, reflecting sparse pickings on the fields.
You may not have heard of Sakuma Brothers, but chances are high that you are familiar with one of its major commercial customers: Driscoll’s Berries. The multinational is one of the biggest heavy-hitters in the industry, and it’s square in the crosshairs of a boycott orchestrated by Sakuma Brothers employees. The state supreme court ruling was a victory for the workers, who formed a self-identified union in 2013, but they say Sakuma Brothers still won’t meet their demands. So they’re using a host of tools at their disposal to try to persuade their employer to meet them at the table—including court actions, the boycott, and strikes, the most recent of which began Monday.
The workers’ union, Familias Unidas por la Justicia, which currently includes just Sakuma Brothers laborers but could expand to other farms as well, is being supported by groups like Community to Community Development, a nonprofit organization in Bellingham, Washington that works in solidarity with marginalized people to increase awareness of their campaigns and empower them to lead social justice movements. However, Familias Unidas is still fighting for an opportunity to bargain with Sakuma Brothers, as Edgar Franks of Community to Community Development told Rewire. Sakuma Brothers management refuses to recognize Familias Unidas as a union, he says, and subsequently won’t agree to sit down and establish a collective bargaining agreement.
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In 2013, workers began asking consumers to boycott Sakuma Brothers. But given that the average shopper may not know where their produce really comes from when it’s packaged under a generic corporate label, the workers are also calling for members of the public to stop purchasing Driscoll’s products in general, in the hopes that the corporation will stand with the workers and pressure the farm into negotiating with its employees.
Workers have walked off the job repeatedly in response to what they call Sakuma Brothers’ ongoing refusal to negotiate a union contract. But they’ve also done so in an attempt to raise awareness of other problems they say they face on the job. One such issue is poundage quotas: mandates on the number of berries they must pick per hour. Although Sakuma Brothers says it guarantees a minimum hourly wage of $10, workers claim they make under that amount if they’re unable to meet quota. In addition to being difficult to attain—Franks gives the example of 35 pounds of blueberries an hour—the workers say that Sakuma Brothers has randomly changed quotas, making it difficult to tell how much they’ll be making daily. They say, too, that the company isn’t flexible when fields are sparse, with few berries to harvest.
The quotas allow Sakuma Brothers to pay on a per-pound basis, rather than an hourly one. The company claims workers can make up to $40 an hour on their pay system, which a representative reiterated in a statement to Rewire post-publication, saying that the average hourly wage this picking season has been over $17. Franks says this possible hourly maximum of $40 is highly unlikely—if not effectively impossible—to reach, given how quickly people can realistically pick. Instead, workers say they can end up earning much less depending on their skill level,the poundage quota set on any given day, and the condition of the field. Under exemptions to labor laws that allow farms to pay on a piecework basis instead of an hourly one, such compensation is totally legal for farmworkers.
In response, workers are asking for a set hourly rate so they know how much they’re earning before they arrive at the job, rather than being confronted with such unreliable piecework-based pay. They also want health benefits, reflecting the fact that even after the Affordable Care Act, many people cannot afford health coverage and can’t pay for medical treatment out of pocket. A statement from Sakuma Brothers issued after publication claimed that the company provides health insurance, child care, and housing for workers.
A walkout by some workers on July 23—the third this summer—in response to what they referred to as these “unattainable production standards” highlighted the fact that the employees are deadly serious about addressing pay and working conditions.
Workers at Sakuma Brothers say they don’t just face difficult poundage quotas. They’ve also reported abuse from supervisors, including the white youth who weight-check their berries and make judgment calls when weights need to be rounded up or down. As covered in the Stranger, farmworkers at Sakuma Brothers with years of experience have recalled being subjected to racial slurs and stereotyping by farm employees who earn more than them and are relative newbies in the agricultural sector.
As is often the case with agricultural labor, injustice in the fields can be a particular issue for women. Generally speaking, women must also contend with sexism in the fields and the burden of needing to care for their families in addition to working long days at farms. Lack of access to health care, a key issue for undocumented immigrants without labor protections, is a particular problem for women and children, who have a lot to lose when they can’t see doctors for routine visits.
Franks noted that things are changing. For one thing, the union’s legal wins are stacking up: In addition to the settlement and the win in the Washington Supreme Court, Familias Unidas also targeted Sakuma Brothers with a suit regarding alleged abuse of H-2A visas, those used to allow companies to import agricultural labor from other nations. The workers claimed that Sakuma Brothers was using replacement labor that violated federal law on how such visas should be used; the berry firm did not file a 2014 application for H-2A visas. Furthermore, workers successfully won an injunction last year when Sakuma Brothers attempted to bar striking workers from returning to work and using company housing.
The boycott of Sakuma Brothers’ products and of their customers—namely, Driscoll’s Berries—is also picking up steam. Familias Unidas, along with groups working in solidarity, are running pickets large and small on a weekly basis at the Sakuma Brothers Farms location as well as West Coast grocery stores, wholesalers like Costco, and events hosted by Sakuma Brothers. As a result of the growing number of pickets, Franks says,more consumers and produce buyers at stores like Whole Foods are starting to express awareness of the problem.
Sakuma Brothers did not return requests for comment before publication. After publication, a company representative said in a statement, “This has been one the best years the harvest workers on our farm have ever had in terms of wages. The farm also recently had an Elevate Social Responsibility Audit and passed with high marks. Sakuma Brothers Farms is concerned with doing the right thing for its valued, highly respected workers and their families.”
He continued, “Sakuma Brothers Farms is one of the most progressive farms in the country. Sakuma cares for its workers and values them as a vital part of its business.”
In a statement to Rewire, Driscoll’s representatives claimed the company “proactively audit[s] our growers,” stating that independent auditors had found nothing out of order at Sakuma Farms during an inspection last fall—notably, however, the summer is the peak of berry season. Many workers had moved on to California to take advantage of seasonal jobs by the time auditors arrived, which would have given them an incomplete picture of the conditions on the farm.
The company also pointed to a meeting in the spring of 2015 facilitated by the Fair World Project, an organization working in solidarity with the farmworkers to draw public attention to the boycott and worker demands. During the meeting, Driscoll’s representatives met with Sakuma Brothers workers to discuss their concerns—but while the company says it’s committed to freedom of association, “we cannot insist on a union contract at any farm or play a direct role in any labor negotiations.”
Kerstin Lindgren of the Fair World Project told Rewire that brand involvement like name-checking Driscoll’s—as well as Nestlé properties like Yoplait and Häagen-Dazs, which also source from Sakuma Brothers—is a powerful tool in agitation for better working conditions, as “Sakuma Brothers” isn’t a household name, but the multinational firms that buy from the company certainly are. The organization delivered apetition in March demanding that Driscoll’s suspend purchases of Sakuma berries until the labor dispute is resolved, with approximately 10,000 signatures, which led to the meeting with Driscoll’s executives. Through a coordinated consumer campaign, the organization also orchestrated nearly 7,000 emails directly to Danny Weeden, the CEO of Sakuma Farms. Though the company has started a public relations-orchestrated website, Sakuma Facts, in response to labor organizing efforts, its representatives haven’t appeared to respond to specific calls for comment from the media.
Still, Familias Unidas’ allies feel that the laborers’ requests are not unreasonable.
“I think what the workers are calling for is nothing really revolutionary or out of line, nothing that can’t be done,” the soft-spoken Franks remarked.
UPDATE: This piece has been updated to include remarks from Sakuma Brothers representatives.