The Northerner | An organization for women’s rights on campus and in the region


Among dozens of tables in a crowded Fresh Fusion and among many flyers scattered across campus, the Women’s Rights Organization (OWR) may not be the center of attention at Northern Kentucky University. As the Texas Heartbeat Act reignited the debate over abortion access last month, women’s rights were brought back to the fore.

“I started [OWR] last year, when I was very passionate about feminism, ”said Joanna Swaiss, Founder and President. “There was no organization for this cause at the time. We worked very hard and it took off very quickly. “

The organization currently has over 60 registered members. It has three goals: to defend women’s reproductive rights, to educate students about the issues women face, and to perform community service.

For community service, OWR is currently working with Sunrise Movement NKY and the NKU Pan-Hellenic National Council for the Basic Needs Campaign, which donates food, clothing and hygiene items to local homes and shelters on October 29.

For education, the organization regularly teaches different types and branches of feminism, according to Swaiss. In addition, they created a list of resources for pregnant women: information on childcare, parenting, abortion and adoption. Their website registered over 100 clicks, Swaiss said.

Members also volunteer at the Ion Center for Violence Prevention and attended a women’s march in Covington on October 1 to show solidarity with the women of Texas.

Under the Texas Heartbeat Act, as of September 1, abortion is prohibited once the fetal heartbeat of an unborn child has been detected, which usually begins around six weeks after the onset of pregnancy. The law allows anyone who is not an official of a state or local government to prosecute people who perform or assist with abortion in any way, medically or financially.

It is only an exception for abortions that are part of medical emergencies, in which case the licensed provider must prepare documents detailing the woman’s medical conditions and indicating that an abortion is necessary to protect her health. There is no provision for pregnancies resulting from incest, sexual abuse or rape.

“It is clearly unconstitutional. It’s disgusting, ”Swaiss said of the Texas law. “A lot of women don’t even find out they’re pregnant in the first six weeks.”

Swaiss added that restricted access to abortion is also a class issue. Richer women may travel out of state to benefit from a legal abortion, while poorer women must be pregnant or undergo dangerous procedures and face lawsuits.

“These people think they are saving lives when they are only ruining lives,” Swaiss said.

The Commonwealth of Kentucky has adopted a heartbeat act in 2019, requiring that no abortion procedure be performed before the licensed provider attempts to determine whether there is a fetal heartbeat. The House adopted a act in March of this year, which proposes that a new section stating that the Kentucky Constitution does not guarantee abortion rights or abortion funding be added by popular vote.

Abortion and women’s reproductive rights remain hotly debated topics. On October 25, the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, a pro-life nonprofit, set up an anti-abortion graphic display outside the entrance to the School of the Arts on the NKU campus. He encountered counter-advocacy from some pro-choice students.

Women face many other issues besides access to abortion according to Swaiss. There is a lack of representation of women in politics. Women constitute the majority of victims of violence, gender-based assault and sexual violence. Some laws prevent victims from seeking justice.

Women are also discriminated against economically because those who hold jobs associated with femininity earn less and are less respected. It’s not because women are unable to do well-paying jobs, but because they have expectations at home that men don’t, explained Swaiss.

“A lot of people think there is no such thing as sexism in the United States,” Swaiss said. “Although we have it better here than elsewhere in the world, to pretend that everything is perfect would be wrong.”

Feminism and women’s rights are also not independent of other social issues. OWR ensures that there is diversity among its members. “We have a lot of members who are people of color and LGBTQ +,” Swaiss said.

When members first join OWR, they are asked which pronouns they prefer to use. The organization also teaches students intersectional theories, such as how black women do not face racism and sexism separately.

Deputy Director for Student Engagement, Emily Sagraves, describes the OWR as very active on campus, always among the first to register whenever there is a presentation event.

“This student organization offers a truly unique opportunity for students to become a voice on campus. They can bring in other students who share their interests and express their opinions, ”Sagraves said. “It is the power of numbers.”

According to Sagraves, historically, in higher education, student groups have tended to form around certain events. During election years, for example, there are more political groups.

The registration process for student organizations is straightforward, Sagraves said. Each semester there is a month where students need to fill out applications and talk to Sagraves to make sure their assignment doesn’t conflict with anything else and that they know what they are getting into. They will then write their constitution, attend the President’s Academy and pay the fees to formally create a student organization.

“We have a lot of organizations focused on social justice. Our students are very enthusiastic and passionate about social justice, ”said Sagraves.

Swaiss hopes more students will consider joining the OWR. “You will meet a lot of wonderful women and be part of a community in general,” she added.

To learn more about the Organization for Women’s Rights, visit their page on Presence or contact them on Twitter @nku_owr.


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