The Case for Supporting Young Women
I consider myself incredibly blessed in the area of education. A naturally curious mind and parents invested in my education propelled me to where I am now. My parents migrated from the Dominican Republic in the 1980s for better opportunities in life and for their future children. It was not easy for them in New York, not knowing how to speak English, being immersed in a new culture and a long way from everything familiar. They emphasized the importance of getting an education so that I wouldn't have to struggle the way they did. They sacrificed a lot for my siblings and I to be able to go to Catholic elementary school, which at the time was the best education I could receive. Along the way, they met people who provided financial help to be able to afford private education.
Looking back at my childhood, I was sheltered from a lot of the harsh reality of the South Bronx under the watchful eye of my mother and her family. I remember being involved with The Rosedale Center growing up as a young girl. The Rosedale Center is a program center of the South Bronx Educational Foundation, Inc. that promotes the academic and personal achievement of young women and girls in the Bronx. I was tutored, learned how to do arts and crafts, write resumes and preparing to be a professional woman in the work force. In high school, I became involved with Youth Ministries for Peace & Justice (YMPJ), a social justice-oriented after school program and youth activism work hub. It was here that my passion for activism and my understanding of the political nature of my life sprung forth. Aside from having places to be nurtured such as The Rosedale Center and YMPJ, it was the staff, who were primarily women, who had the most impact on me.
My accomplishments are heavily influenced by the help I received in my education and the supplementary activities. Going back to my community has been heartbreaking. There are many barriers for young women to receive the type of help I got. First, private education is expensive. The South Bronx is the poorest congressional district in the United States, and thus the girls living in this place are at a financial disadvantage. The public school system in communities like the South Bronx are less than adequate in being culturally sensitive and empowering. There is also a lack of organizations for young girls to be able to connect to healthy adult women role models. Spaces like The Rosedale Center and YMPJ are few and far in between, and constantly struggle to keep their doors open. They are also in competition with the distractions of society, family and negativity that plagues their neighborhood. Another barrier that I experienced in the midst of my success was the Catholic piece of it. I had to learn about my body and sex through experience, many of which were not healthy or safe. There was a silence in my education around the topic. The indoctrination of Puritan patriarchal values both in a private and public education setting block access to comprehensive sexual education that is vital for the health of young and adult women.
Though the reality is bleak in my home community, my vision is to help create more spaces such as The Rosedale Center and YMPJ so that young women have the opportunity to supplement their education and have positive role models. Truly, a great change must occur in the public and private educational setting. Regardless of religious or cultural beliefs, it is unwise and erroneous to keep young girls in the dark about their reproductive health and livelihoods. From my experience connecting with young women via sharing my story of overcoming internalize oppression, I have been able to act as a big sister to women who would otherwise have to figure out womanhood by themselves.
In terms of reproductive health and education, I would like there to be more health education clinics in a community like the South Bronx. How great would it be for there to be a hub of information and empowered women available to young girls! I envision there being workshops about menstrual cycles, self-love, sex, story sharing circles and sisterhood. There would also be a birthing center connected to this said clinic where there are compassionate midwives for the women of the community. This would then create the presence of health care professionals that specialize in women’s health; midwives can also offer the same care gynecologist give at the annual exam. What is unique about well-woman care (the gynecological service a midwife can provide) is that a woman can be listened to and has a better chance of being treated warmly and with respect. This is my dream to combat what is happening to our young girls.