Screenshot of Jallicia Jolly and Melvine Ouyo from their joint presentation at Capitol Hill Days 2022

2022 Digital Capitol Hill Days

Written by Grace Long, Advocacy and Outreach Fellow | Published: March 31, 2022

Population Connection and Population Connection Action Fund hosted Capitol Hill Days, our annual advocacy conference, from March 16– 21. It was an incredible six days!

At a time when reproductive rights are increasingly under attack, our guest speakers gave us the hope and the fire to continue fighting. Over the course of the event, attendees learned how to:

  • Influence global and domestic reproductive health policies
  • Navigate the complex relationship between population growth and the climate crisis
  • Transform their personal stories into an effective advocacy tool
  • Educate their local communities about the need for reproductive rights, both in the United States and abroad

Rep. Barbara Lee provided the welcome remarks on Thursday, delivering a rousing speech on the importance of funding international family planning and permanently repealing the Global Gag Rule. She reminded us that reproductive health care is an undeniable human right that needs to be protected at all costs. Her address preceded a discussion on reproductive policies with Planned Parenthood Federation of America Director of Global Advocacy Caitlin Horrigan and law professor and Population Connection and Population Connection Action Fund board member Dara Purvis. The two addressed the most pressing challenges to the global reproductive health movement, as well as laying out the most effective advocacy and legal strategies moving forward.

Rep. Barbara Lee Keynote, Roundtable Discussion: Global and Domestic Reproductive Health Policy

This year we saw some incredible presentations from advocates around the world. During the “On the Ground” panel, Dr. Jallicia Jolly, a professor of American Studies and Black Studies at Amherst College, illustrated the successes of organizations bridging reproductive health and HIV care in Jamaica and Uganda. These organizations go beyond the biomedical aspect of HIV and address the social realities of a diagnosis, giving HIV positive women the space to share their experiences with one another as well as providing them with medical care. Dr. Jolly’s presentation showed the incredible potential of using hybrid medical and social programs to promote gender equality. Her fellow panelist, Founder and Executive Director of Hope for Kenya Slum Adolescents Initiative and Population Connection board member, Melvine Ouyo, detailed how the Global Gag Rule has seen an increase in assaults on women’s and LGBTQ+ rights in Kenya, as well as disrupted sexual and reproductive health networks and partnerships. Melvine highlighted the critical need for increased funding and the passage of the Global HER Act in order for Kenyans to have access to life-saving medical services.

On the Ground: Family Planning and Reproductive Health Programs Around the World

M+R Vice President Tania Stewart trained activists in the art of storytelling during Saturday’s session. Attendees learned how narratives can bridge cultural and social divides, and were given the opportunity to workshop their own stories with other participants. Many of those same people participated in the lobbying sessions on Monday and reported that they were able to make more of an impact because of Tania’s advice!

Storytelling Workshop: How to Share Your Story for Effective Organizing

On Sunday, we were joined by Sara Lara and Dr. Joan Castro for presentations on climate change, population, and reproductive health. Sara Lara discussed how Women for Conservation empowers Colombian women to gain control over their bodies, create sustainable livelihoods, and preserve the natural beauty of their rainforests. Her organization provides holistic solutions that benefit people and biodiversity, from contraceptive implants to forest ranger career training. Sara emphasized that addressing the economic, ecological, and health care needs of a community is the best way to engage local residents and gives them the power to take an active role in combating climate change. Dr. Joan Castro also spoke on the importance of using an integrated population, health, and environment approach to combating climate change and used her work as the Executive Vice President at PATH Foundation Philippines to demonstrate how incredibly effective these programs are at strengthening local communities. This was one of our most animated sessions, with participants blowing up the Zoom chat with questions and compliments!

Climate, Population, and Reproductive Health Discussion

Even though Covid prevented us from meeting in person, the energy from each speaker’s talk was electric! Participants took that momentum into their lobbying meetings, where they passionately advocated for the Global HER Act and increased U.S. contributions to international family planning using the skills and knowledge they acquired.

Many said afterward that their CHD training had more than prepared them and that they were able to have more productive meetings because of it. One participant reported that her conversation had filled her with a newfound sense of purpose, as the staffer had enthusiastically discussed the need for international family planning. Several other activists were able to calmly and confidently push back against a resistant office, explaining that the Global HER Act would save thousands of lives and positively impact millions more.

The event was a huge success, and we owe it all to our incredible speakers and attendees. Thank you for taking the time to educate yourselves and take a stand for reproductive rights and international family planning. In the words of Dara Purvis, “Every time you contribute your voice, it makes an impact. It’s important for people to hear that we’re mad about this kind of stuff, so thank you for adding your voice to the chorus.”