Young Women United: Empowering Women to Make Thoughtful Decisions about Their Own Bodies and Lives

Date: October 28th, 2016

Gina Desiderio

Healthy Teen Network is pleased to award Young Women United our very first Youth 360° Innovation Award.

Young Women United (YWU) has been selected because of their fearlessness in calling out the social injustices young families face and reframing the conversation around young parenthood and sexual and reproductive health. As part of YWU’s work to ensure all people can make informed reproductive health decisions without coercion or control YWU recently published the report, Dismantling Teen Pregnancy Prevention. This kind of innovative Youth 360° holistic health promotion values all young people and helps garner support to support young families thrive. YWU’s hard work and commitment to all young people is deserving of our appreciation and admiration, and we are honored for YWU to accept this award.

YWU leads community organizing and policy initiatives by and for self-identified women and people of color in New Mexico. YWU works so that all people have access to the education, information, and resources needed to make real decisions about their own bodies and lives. Current campaigns include:

  • Improving access women and people of color have to reproductive health care
  • Building Education Equity for Young Parents while reducing shame and stigma for pregnant and parenting young people
  • Leading gender specific criminal justice reform while de-criminalizing substance using pregnant women and families
  • Improving women of color’s access to a wide range of birth options while promoting birth and parenting justice
  • De-stigmatizing mental health alongside LGBTQ youth of color

YWU moves their work by organizing and building policy efforts at the intersections of people’s identities and lived experiences, to advance a range of reproductive justice issues.

YWU’s core belief is that young women of color and their families have the expertise, lived experience, analysis, and strength to make change by and for their communities. Their leadership development is centered around uplifting young women of color who can represent their issues most effectively.

We interviewed YWU Executive Director Tannia Esparza to learn more about YWU’s outstanding work on behalf of the people of New Mexico:

In 2013, YWU passed the first education and leave policy for pregnant/parenting students—the first of its kind in this country—allowing young parents excused absences for the documented birth of a child including: doctor’s appointments, childcare issues, etc. Working under Title X, YWU found they could influence ways school systems supported young parents, so that expecting and parenting students did not have to choose between being good students or good parents.

In another example, YWU has been working on “Ban the Box” legislation, to eliminate questions about felony convictions in employment applications in the public sector. YWU understands that families navigating cycles of incarceration need access to employment to support their families.

Removing these questions from applications—while background checks can still be run—helps ensure the first look at potential employees can be about people’s skill set, rather than their convictions. This policy initiative could have real impacts on the lives of real families who are working hard to find meaningful employment to provide for their loved ones.

YWU’s work to improve access to a full range of birthing options, centering midwifery models of care has focused on critical policy change to support midwifery practice. In 2015, YWU worked alongside the NM Midwives Association to pass legislation to create a pathway to licensure for free standing birth centers. This bill now allows birth centers to access critical reimbursements for their services, making them more sustainable and viable in working class and rural communities. YWU’s work in birth justice reclaims and celebrates New Mexico’s long history of midwifery built on the traditions of Indigenous, Native, and Chicanx communities.

YWU makes intentional decisions to identify their campaign issue areas alongside people most impacted by the issues. Their Circle of Strength, a leadership development program for self-identified young women of color, ages 13-19, has seen some of its most incredible work achieved, precisely because young people are given the space to lead issues that most matter to them and their families.

Healthy Teen Network and our members will celebrate the efforts of YWU by presenting this award on Tuesday, November 15, during the Awards Luncheon at our annual national conference Roles, Relationships, and Relevance in the Changing Landscape of Adolescent Health in Las Vegas.


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About the Author

Gina Desiderio, Healthy Teen Network Director of Communications, has over 10 years of capacity-building and project management experience, supporting professionals to provide programs and services to empower youth to thrive.

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