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National Women’s Reproductive Health, Rights, & Justice

April 27th, 2010 by Erinn Andrews Leave a reply »

We are excited to launch research on a number of new social causes at the national level! There are 5 causes at the national level we plan to pursue and we’ll spread out the start of each survey by a week or two. At the start of each survey launch, we’ll share a blog post about the cause we’ll be studying. The purpose of sharing this additional information is to explain why we think these are interesting or relevant areas to research, what we learned about the nuances of the cause, and the difficulties we faced in narrowing the scope of the research, so you, the reader, can understand what we considered as we refined our thinking about the research.

If you are an expert on any of these topics, you should be receiving an email from us soon and we hope you will be compelled to participate! If for some reason we have missed you and you think you have a valuable perspective to offer, please contact me at

Additionally, I’m sure I haven’t been able to capture every nuance in these sectors, so I invite your feedback and thoughts about how you might think about this work. For those readers less familiar with this topic, I hope you will learn something new and tune in again when we have the results of this research. Thank you all for your participation!

Background on Women’s Health

We started by thinking about women’s health topics because there is significant donor and foundation support for this topic. As we’ve said before, these are two key considerations when deciding what causes to research: (1) Do donors care about this topic? (2) Are there foundations that support nonprofits in that sector? Usually, foundations will have established evaluation criteria for a sector and they generally employ folks whose main purpose is to think about nonprofit effectiveness.

As you might imagine, women’s health topics can be divided in many different ways!

I discovered that some experts believe women’s health topics can be divided into four major buckets:

(1) Research (universities or research institutes that study things like dementia, menopause), (2) Health disparities (advocacy groups focused on access to knowledge, clinics, resources, and screenings), (3) Empowerment sciences (providing microloans which impact a woman’s health, education, and legal issues), and (4) Policy intervention.

Others experts divided women’s health into (1) mental, (2) physical, and (3) reproductive health, where reproductive health might include teen pregnancy prevention, research and programming, education, affordability, access, and unplanned pregnancy.

Or, women’s health could be divided into conditions or diseases specific to women, conditions experienced differently by women, gender constructs, and inequities. One could also divide it according to reproductive years, middle aged, and elder care (long term care).

Wow—I hadn’t thought there were so many sub-issues within women’s health! As I talked to more and more experts, I found that women’s health as a topic can be frustrating for those working within the sector because the focus can seem too broad. Further, the types of problems women’s health professionals are trying to solve don’t necessarily seem like women’s health problems. For example, women’s transportation may not seem like an obvious problem for a women’s health nonprofit to solve, but it is relevant when a woman does not have access to transportation to get to a clinic.

Reproductive Health, Rights, & Justice:

In an effort to narrow down the possible options within women’s health and to help focus our research, I decided that reproductive health was broad enough to allow for a large number of potential experts and nonprofits, but not so broad as to include every aspect of women’s health.

As I spoke with experts, I learned that within the last few years, “reproductive health” has come to include three sub-categories: reproductive health, reproductive rights, and reproductive justice.

  • Reproductive health might include service providers, clinical care, and possibly some advocacy and policy work. A section of this could be sexual health focused on prevention, cancer screenings, contraception, abortion, and a subset of sexual health too: LGBTQ health concerns.
  • Reproductive rights is more broad and could include research, advocacy, litigation, and policy.
  • Reproductive justice is the most recent addition to this trio and generally has to do with empowering the formerly powerless or individuals without a majority voice in this sector, such as younger women, women of color, etc.

Who cares? Problem Statements

The experts with whom I spoke identified a number of problems that nonprofits might be trying to address around women’s health and specifically reproductive health, rights, & justice. Here are a few examples that range from general to specific:

  • Politicizing women’s health issues is a symptom of not understanding the complexity of the problem.
  • Women are not in seats of power to drive the agenda as much as they should be. This power disparity has been a long term battle.
  • In order to improve women’s health conditions, nonprofits must also focus their attention on economic empowerment, violence prevention, and making policy changes.
  • We need to expand the definition of reproductive health beyond just maintaining Roe v. Wade.

How to measure impact?

Because we have not researched any causes in the medical field, we wanted to learn more about how nonprofit leaders and their peers measure nonprofit impact in this sector. In no particular order here’s what a few of the experts said they look for and ask when evaluating reproductive health, rights, & justice nonprofits (not that they must do all these things!):

  • Do they deliver high quality reproductive health services to a large number of people? How many people do they reach?
  • Do they perform advocacy work and what effect has that had on the field?
  • Is there leadership training within the organization?
  • Does the organization inform policy and opinion leaders? Do they achieve their policy goals?
  • What is the quality and strength of their relationship with decision makers?
  • Do they have a breadth and depth of supporters/members?
  • How do their peer organizations view them?
  • How much federal funding have they secured?

Scope of the Research

In summary, after all of these considerations, we narrowed the scope of the research to focusing on reproductive health, rights, & justice nonprofits operating on a national or multi-state level. Reproductive health might include service providers and clinical care (focused on prevention, cancer screenings, contraception, abortion, etc.), as well as advocacy and policy organizations. A sub-section of reproductive health could be sexual health with a particular look at LGBTQ health concerns. Reproductive rights might include research, advocacy, litigation, and policy. Reproductive justice would include empowering the formerly powerless or individuals without a majority voice in this sector, such as younger women, women of color, and so on.

To the reproductive health, rights, & justice experts out there, I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface with these observations. I invite you to contribute your thoughts as well. In your opinion, what are the main problems that reproductive health, rights, & justice nonprofits are trying to address at the national level? Why is this topic important? What additional context is necessary to understand the complexity of this issue?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.


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