By Jake Clapp | LSU Student
A new national grassroots organization is hoping to change the discourse on women's rights and has sprung offshoots in nearly every state, including Louisiana.
The nonpartisan Unite Women is working to advance women's rights and to stand against legislation throughout the U.S. that the group believes would have an adverse effect on women.
"It's about raising awareness of the issues," said Ashley Baggett of Baton Rouge, the Louisiana coordinator for Unite Women. "We have to change the perception of women as an object."
Baggett, an LSU graduate student, said Unite Women hopes to change the political and cultural perceptions of women through lobbying efforts, voter drives and education.
The national construct of Unite Women began in February as a small Facebook page created by Michigan resident Karen Teegarden and her friend Desiree Jordan, a resident of New York. The page has since attracted over 25,000 fans and initiated a separate website, www.unitewomen.org.
As the page's popularity grew, the organization branched out through regional liaisons and state leaders to organize local events. Baggett came across the organization in March and volunteered to become the state coordinator.
Unite Women's first major event occurred on April 28 with 54 coordinated rallies and marches across the country. Nearly 100 people rallied at Baton Rouge City Plaza.
"Women are not a social problem to be solved," Alecia Long, associate professor of history at LSU, told a crowd of mostly women, but with a sprinkling of men and children. "We all need to contact our representatives to make sure our voices are heard and we achieve equality."
According to a study conducted by the Guttmacher Institute, in the first three months of 2012, legislators in 45 state assemblies have introduced 944 pieces of legislation related to reproductive health and rights. Legislation has focused particularly on proposed laws requiring women to undergo an ultrasound before an abortion procedure.
Legislators in several states have also considered measures allowing employers to refuse to provide insurance coverage for contraceptive methods.
In Louisiana, the Senate already passed a measure that would require an abortion provider to make the fetal heartbeat audible to the woman at least 24 hours before an abortion. The woman could opt not to listen to the heartbeat. The Senate also passed legislation that would allow only physicians licensed in Louisiana to perform abortions.
For Renee Davis, regional liaison for Unite Women, the abortion issue is the tip of the iceberg. Davis pointed to recent legislation affecting equal pay and birth control as pressing issues that could have an adverse affect on women.
"People want to marginalize these discussions of women's rights into thinking it's just about abortion," Davis said. "It's so much more than that. Multiple and multiple issues that affect women are being discussed."