Capitol Hill Days 2015 Made Family Planning a Priority

By Christina Ospina, Field Assistant

Photo by Bill Petros
Photo by Bill Petros

What a tremendous year for Capitol Hill Days! From April 10-13, 200 activists (our biggest group to date) gathered in Washington, DC to advocate for universal access to voluntary contraception.

The weekend was filled with passionate Capitol Hill Days “alumni” and new participants representing 31 states and several different countries. And, despite having diverse backgrounds, they all came to support women’s reproductive freedom through increased investments in international family planning.

Capitol Hill Days 2015 kicked off on Friday evening with the first annual “Empower Her, Empower Humanity” award ceremony, which honored Senator Barbara Boxer for her years of work advocating for women’s reproductive rights. Senator Boxer’s foreign policy adviser, Ariana Reks, said that the senator is motivated by activists like those at Capitol Hill Days.

On Saturday experts from every aspect of the family planning field gave inspirational talks. Speakers from Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America and the National Women’s Law Center exposed the impacts of the Helms Amendment and Global Gag Rule and spoke about the domestic battle to protect reproductive rights.

“I know more about this issue than I had previously, and I have become more passionate as a result,” one participant commented.

Keynote speaker Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, founder and CEO of Conservation through Public Health, shared her experience in protecting mountain gorillas in East Africa and spoke about the connection between family planning and sustainable development.

“Gorillas are better at family planning than humans…they have a baby once every four years,” the trailblazing vet joked with the crowd.

Meanwhile, training conducted by Population Connection staff focused on how to best use social media and grassroots organizing to advocate for safe and accessible contraception. The young activists practiced writing letters to the editor and then got creative by “tweeting” photos of themselves holding “I’m Making Family Planning a Priority” signs.

On Monday, the dynamic group of activists visited 163 Senate House offices on Capitol Hill. There were three primary asks discussed in these meetings: increasing US funding for family planning to $1 billion; allocating $65 million of this to the UNFPA; and permanently repealing the Global Gag Rule.

While the participants were prepared to answer challenging questions, many of them remarked at the ease and productivity of their conversations with Congressional offices. This realization—that elected officials are accessible through lobbying—is an idea they will share with their peers at home.

“I feel so much more confident speaking to someone about something I’m passionate about,” said one student.

At Population Connection Action Fund, we were inspired by all of the enthusiastic speakers and supporters. Capitol Hill Days 2015 energized our efforts to change harmful policies like the Global Gag Rule and provide every woman around the world with access to reproductive health care and family planning.

We hope that you will join us for Capitol Hill Days next year and that you, too, take action to make family planning a priority!

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