The Womxn Project and the Womxn Project Education Fund, a separate education-focused nonprofit formed by members of the Womxn Project, are grassroots organizations that fight for reproductive rights in Rhode Island. With worries among reproductive health advocates around the country that the Supreme Court could soon issue a decision that weakens Roe v. Wade, organizations such as the Womxn Project are pushing for greater protections of abortion access at the state level.
The Herald spoke with three of the organizations’ board members, who outlined the groups’ mission, work and current policy goals.
The Womxn Project is directly engaged in policy work and the Womxn Project Education Fund focuses on “using the arts as a tool for disrupting, educating, and advocating for broader social and cultural change,” but both organizations work “independently and in partnership” on their shared mission of “making Rhode Island a more just and equitable state,” according to the Womxn Project Education Fund website.
The “organizations work together to help figure out how to educate the public and then activate the public to be able to use their voice to make change,” said Jocelyn Foye, co-founder of the Womxn Project and board chair of the Womxn Project Education Fund.
Foye said that both the Womxn Project and the Womxn Project Education Fund are entirely volunteer-based and depend on energetic and dedicated volunteers who choose to donate their time and effort toward the cause of reproductive rights.
Foye spoke about the Education Fund’s focus on “artivism,” which is the use of art installations to promote activism, or, as Foye described it, a “tool for people to be able to understand the community voice through creative means.”
“Artivism has been used at first as a community organizing tool,” Foye said. One “artivist” project that the organization undertook was the construction of a giant quilt composed of pieces of cloth signed by people in Rhode Island in order to symbolize the community’s unified support for the 2018 Reproductive Health Care Act, which sought to codify Roe v. Wade in Rhode Island.
Foye added that the quilt, which hung in the Rhode Island State House in 2018, kept growing over time, becoming “the first tool of growth where people could see that each square was the voice of an individual that we had a conversation with about the bill.”
Foye said the Womxn Project Education Fund’s use of artivism has been instrumental in their encouragement of public civic engagement, adding that their quilt is now in the John Hay Library archives.
Harshita Ganesh, the co-director of the Womxn Project, elaborated on the organization’s mission. “Our goal is to make sure that we provide a voice for intersectional feminist ideas and push through to find and make sure that in all capacities of issues that deal with policy that affects women, minorities are represented, and that nobody is missing in the conversation,” Ganesh said.
Foye said the groups’ early mission centered around improving access to abortion in the Ocean State, culminating in the passage of the Reproductive Privacy Act in 2019. The law codified into law the right for any person to get an abortion in the state.
Despite these protections, Foye said that certain restrictions such as limited insurance coverage prevent many Rhode Islanders from receiving reproductive care. As a result, the Womxn Project’s focus has changed from “guaranteeing the right to abortion” to “making the right real for everyone,” she said, particularly state workers and Medicaid recipents whose insurance does not cover abortion.
The Womxn Project is one of a number of advocacy groups pushing the state legislature to pass the Equality in Abortion Coverage Act, which would allow state employees and Medicaid recipients to use their insurance to cover the cost of abortions, The Herald previously reported.
“We’re talking about a socioeconomic issue. We’re talking about a racial equality issue. Some people go, ‘Oh it’s an abortion issue.’ No, … now we’re fighting for an equality issue.”
In order to achieve this goal of providing reproductive rights and health care to all, the Womxn Project and the Womxn Project Education Fund use traditional methods of lobbying as well as the merging of art and activism, Foye said.
The Womxn Project has been organizing “lobbying days” where they train “medical folks (on) how to have conversations with General Assembly members and demystify that process,” Foye said.
“Then (the Womxn Project Education Fund) will do things that are about educating the public. … We’ve had billboard trucks driving around the city with pictures of folks on it and they just say, ‘We want to have bodily autonomy,’ ” she added.
Ganesh said that what brought her to the Womxn Project was an interest in feminism necessitated by her experience as a woman from an immigrant community. “It feels like almost a civic duty to be a part of the conversation to represent those who cannot do that for themselves and to also assist any organization that can affect change,” Ganesh added.
Foye said that she wanted to create the organization after Donald Trump’s presidential victory in 2016. “I came to it as a spectacle-based artist and as an educator and as a concerned citizen and (have) been learning from incredible women around me every step of the way, as to how to be better, how to do it in a more intersectional way,” she said.
Janie Seguí Rodriguez, a board member of the Womxn Project, said that the organization has been grateful for an outpouring of support from the Rhode Island community. “I'm really proud of the community that the organization has built. People show up, we could plan a last minute rally and folks show up. They plug in and it's beautiful,” she said.
In light of nationwide restrictions on abortion, including the passage of a restrictive abortion bill in Idaho and a Mississippi law prompting a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade, Foye said the work the two organizations do is especially relevant. “There’s a huge immediacy to why we’re still working the way we are. … I’m proud of the people (that) wake up and they are still fighting … and I think that’s a huge thing to acknowledge right now.”