Eveline Shen is the Executive Director of Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice. ACRJ leads the Strong Families Initiative, which is changing the way we think, feel and act in support of families, gender and race. Eveline serves on the board of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project and Movement Strategy Center, as well as the advisory board of the Groundswell Fund. Eveline was named by Women’s eNews as one of the 21 leaders for the 21st Century. She is a 2009 Gerbode Fellow and holds a Masters in Public Health from UC Berkeley in Community Health Education.
Eveline Shen started working at ACRJ (Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice) as an intern when she was still in grad school; she was there to develop a summer program for low-income, middle school-aged Asian girls. Having grown up as a first-generation Chinese girl in Colorado, she was ready to give these young women what she hadn’t gotten.
She said, “I welcomed the opportunity to create a curriculum for these young women to explore the ways the media, their communities, and the healthcare/educational system affected their bodies, their sexuality and reproductive health.”
What Eveline ended up creating was the kind of program she wished she’d had as a girl. When we spoke, she said that she’d used sports and music and the open landscape of Colorado to connect with her body, that that became a way to deal with the racism of growing up Chinese. That connection for her was a source of strength.
“I included sections on community organizing, power and oppression, media literacy, body image, heterosexism and homophobia, safe sex and contraception, and gender identity. We also integrated daily activities, which encouraged them to gain a deeper connection to their bodies so that they were more in touch with their needs as well as their physical and emotional strengths.”
By the end of that summer she was able to “see [those] young women grow and develop in response to an experience that addressed their whole selves rather than just aspects of their identity.”
The foundation of the work Eveline did that summer eventually developed into one of ACRJ’s programs, SAFIRE (Sisters in Action for Issues of Reproductive Empowerment), which works with young Asian-American women and, just recently, young men for sexuality education work.
These days Eveline is ACRJ’s Executive Director and addressing the whole self is a large part of what she does towards achieving reproductive rights for women of color. Over the years with ACRJ she’s helped bring down anti-abortion billboards in Oakland, “yielded safer conditions for 300,000 California nail salon workers and their customers, and [helped bring about] the closure of a polluting medical waste incinerator and the engagement of high school girls in greenhouse gas reduction.”
ACRJ uses the definition of reproductive justice created in 1994 by a group of African-American women during an informal caucus at a national pro-choice conference in Chicago. They believe that reproductive justice is connected to many different aspects of social justice. This perspective allows them to work out the root causes of reproductive injustice as opposed to simply working with immediate issues.
In a profile of Eveline written for Women eNews, she stated, “A person has reproductive justice when they can drink water and not be worried about reproductive health…A person has reproductive justice when he or she can adopt, regardless of his or her sexual orientation. A person has reproductive justice when they can walk safely at night, free from physical or sexual violence, and when they are able to receive appropriate health care (if) they are transgender.”
For women of color and low-income women, parsing things out with the hope of creating a solution becomes an impossible way of solving the issues surrounding reproductive justice. We cannot undo our culture or our color, which is often tied to our economic status, and we cannot undo our gender, which impacts both how we are treated socially and what jobs we receive. So, as Eveline writes in a 2006 article in Mother Jones, “We need a movement with a vision of addressing women comprehensively so that we do not single out pieces of a woman’s body but see our bodies as whole. Similarly, we cannot focus solely on one aspect of a woman’s life, whether at work, at school, at home, or on the streets. We need to understand how reproductive oppression may exist in all arenas of her life and recognize that she may have to walk through all of these arenas in a single day.”
Before coming to ACRJ, Eveline’s social justice work was focused on issues of racial and economic justice. She took up an interest in reproductive justice because, “[she] felt that issues of gender and sexuality were not being addressed adequately and [she] wanted to figure out how to integrate them more fully in [her] social justice work.”
In order to support the work they do, ACRJ staff practice Forward Stance, a practice developed by Norma Wong Roshi and ACRJ which Eveline calls, “a practice that cultivates fierce individuals, effective organizations, and powerful movements for social change.”
It’s a mind-body practice that encourages attention to how we are standing, sitting, being in our bodies. Forward Stance is essentially a way of facing our lives full on at every moment by being present for it. As support for the work we do out it in the world, it can act as a mirror that shows us how much we are willing to stand for what we believe in, a mirror that shows to what extent we’re willing to stand in our own power.
When I asked Eveline why ACRJ had decided to take up Forward Stance as a transformative practice, she says, “Social change is inherently about movement. We are literally mobilizing people to get to city hall, we are working to get our policy makers to change the way they make decisions, or we using our voices to be heard in the halls of the capital. We developed this practice because we noticed that too often we are in our heads. We are thinking, and strategizing, and conceptualizing our frameworks for social change. If we implement our social change work – without engaging and using our bodies – we are only tapping into a piece of our core strength and personal power.
“Forward Stance uses a series of physical practices that incorporates mind-body learning, physical stance and development of the breath from which coordination, awareness, alignment, and collective movement can be achieved. Its core elements—stance, energy, rhythm and awareness—are all necessary elements for collective and strategic action. Forward Stance practices provide a daily way to embody the change we hope to see within ourselves, our organizations and our society as a whole. Forward Stance can be done on the individual level through breath and energy development, at the organizational level through strategic visioning and organizational culture, and at the movement level through alliance building and cooperative action.”
It also allows the work of ACRJ to come full circle, from what’s tangible and physical to how the body is influenced by what we think and how we be.
Lastly, we corresponded about the obstacles toward fighting for reproductive justice today in a country where even contraception is being attacked. I asked, “In terms of reproductive justice, it seems like we’re slipping back into the past. What are some of things you’re doing at ACRJ to keep us moving forward?”
Eveline responded by saying,”From national efforts to limit constitutional protections and citizenship of immigrant parents, to the shackling of incarcerated mothers as they give birth, to the aggressive efforts to limit abortion access to minors and adult women across the country, and to the millions of federal funding directed towards abstinence only education – we are seeing the various ways our communities are being attacked on multiple fronts.
“We at ACRJ believe that bold action is necessary to stop our opposition and move a proactive agenda forward. In order to stem the tide of attacks, we need to 1) build a diverse and strong base within communities of color and low-income communities that can hold our policy makers, institutions, and decision makers accountable; 2) build power by coming together in a united front that connects reproductive justice issues to other social justice agendas and 3) transform our culture to prioritize the needs of our communities. ACRJ is leading an initiative that is designed to address those three core areas.
“The Strong Families Initiative is a 10-year effort that is changing the way we think, feel and act in support of families. By transforming culture and policy change, we will create conditions so that all families (which include your family of origin and/or your chosen family) can thrive.”
When I asked Eveline about Strong Families’ relationship to reproductive justice, she said that through the program each family member, even those who are often marginalized, have a chance to thrive, allowing all people to have self-determination around their own bodies.
She went on to say, “We are reclaiming the definition of family, and advocating for changes that support families who are pushed to the margins, such as LGBTQ families, immigrant families, poor families, families headed by women of color. By bringing organizations who are working on behalf of families that don’t fit the traditional nuclear family definition, we are able to move a progressive policy and culture shift agenda that will benefit all families.
“We are very excited about this effort and invite your readers to join us!”
Read Eveline’s article in Mother Jones
Read about Eveline on Women’s Foundation of California