Ending the imprisonment of pregnant women. Demanding beauty brands remove toxic chemicals from hair relaxers. Stopping the media blaming women for their own deaths. These are some of the issues that Level Up campaigns on – and although they might seem disconnected, they are each underpinned by themes of bodily autonomy and reproductive justice. But what do we mean by those terms, and why are they our focus? Here, we’ll explain the thinking behind our campaigns and why we choose them.
We believe in a world where people of all genders are loved and liberated from bodily and systemic violence. The ‘loved’ part is essential. We don’t just want to survive, we want to thrive!
So much of the violence that many of us experience on a bodily level is not unique or personal, it’s a demonstration of how systems of power operate. The opposite of bodily violence is bodily autonomy, which means that your body is your own. It means that you have the right to make decisions about your body, and resources to carry out those decisions. That could look like access to free, safe, legal and local abortions. Or comprehensive sex education, freedom from gender-based violence, liberation from prisons, and the knowledge that the products we buy aren’t going to harm us.
When a man murders a woman, he violates her bodily autonomy. When the state puts a pregnant woman in prison, it violates her bodily autonomy. And when companies sell cancerous products to women, it violates their bodily autonomy. We take action against these specific, preventable forms of gender injustice.
A short history of reproductive justice
Reproductive justice is the right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities. It’s a feminist framework that was created by a group of Black feminists: the Women of African Descent for Reproductive Justice. They recognised the need for a holistic approach to liberation, and set out to address the needs of Black and working class women who were often ignored by white, middle-class feminism. In 1994, they wrote a statement addressed to the US Congress and published it in the Washington Post. They wrote:
Reproductive rights vs. reproductive justice
Together, they demanded funding not just for abortion, but also for “the full range of reproductive services,” without discrimination. While reproductive rights focus on people’s legal right to access reproductive healthcare, reproductive justice asks the question: what good is a right if you do not have the resources to access the services that the right has provided?
Reproductive justice is vital. It connects reproductive rights with the economic, social and political inequities that prevent people from accessing healthcare. For example, a woman might have the right to access an abortion in her country – but what happens if she’s trapped in an abusive relationship, without the means to access it?
Gender justice and the importance of intersectionality
The fight for gender justice needs everyone. It needs people from a range of backgrounds representing the full spectrum of experiences. That’s because all forms of injustice work simultaneously to oppress every single one of us in ways that often intersect, but look different for each of us.
War, racism, misogyny, transphobia, ableism, classism, capitalist exploitation and other means of oppression are in perpetual motion, moving together in service to the pursuit of money and power. They feed off each other and keep each other alive. Where one exists, others are usually lurking. Therefore, taking a holistic approach to both understanding and fighting for our liberation is the only way for all of us to be free from bodily and systemic violence.
A pop culture approach to campaigning
Level Up identifies specific interventions to interrupt injustice that will have a broader effect on wider systems of oppression. When it’s interlocking systems of power that are producing violence, we have to build our own power to dismantle them. That’s why Level Up focuses on building people-power and cultural shifts to force the conditions for change.
We don’t beg for power: we build it. Campaigning is not about asking nicely: it’s about reframing the dominant narrative and strategically and persistently pushing until the systems change. That takes all of us.
We often focus on cultural moments, rather than immediately seeking change through political machinery. Culture changes faster than law – and culture has to change before the law can. And our strategy is working.
How we frame our gender justice campaigns
The first step in all our campaigns involves reframing the dominant narrative around the injustice that we’re working to dismantle. We do this to shift cultural attitudes on the issue that will set the stage for meaningful change. Culture change always precedes policy change.
For example, our campaign to decriminalise abortion in Britain reframes abortion as a healthcare intervention, rather than the stigmatising issue that the media often portrays it as. This shifts the narrative away from abortion as something that some people deserve and others don’t, to an essential procedure that everyone needs safe access to. By reframing domestic homicide reporting as a matter of dignity, we encourage newsrooms to report on women’s murders with compassion instead of sensationalism.
All of Level Up’s campaigns use windows of opportunity in the media, pop culture, and politics to contextualise gender injustices within the structural oppressions and inequalities that facilitate them, and help shift public attitudes.
Changing the way the media reports on fatal domestic abuse and decriminalising abortion are two of the five campaigns that Level Up is running right now. Together as a team of six and a wider community of over 22,000 supporters, we mobilise to reframe public and press narratives, hold powerful people to account, and demand meaningful change.
We know that community pressure works. The louder we are, the harder it is for institutions and companies to ignore us.
When thousands of people emailed the directors at ITV calling on them to scrap the plastic surgery and diet pill adverts from Love Island, they listened. When hundreds of people complain about a newspaper publishing a victim-blaming article, the headline gets changed. And when dozens of mums and babies show up outside the Ministry of Justice to protest the imprisonment of pregnant women, we keep a public and media spotlight on the hidden horrors of prison.
You can find out more about Level Up’s current campaigns on the links below. Agree to receive updates so that you can join new actions that push the campaigns forwards.
- SisterSong on Twitter
- Abortion is Healthcare campaign – decriminalise abortion in Britain
- Dignity for Dead Women campaign – change how the media reports on fatal domestic abuse
- #NoMoreLyes campaign – take toxic hair relaxers off the shelves
- Pregnancy in Prisons campaign – end the imprisonment of pregnant women
- Whose Side Are You On campaign – end the culture of gender-based violence in sports.