Our 2017 Letter from the Director

As 2017 comes to a close, I feel a tremendous sense of gratitude for the privilege of leading Faith in Women and for what we have been able to accomplish together over these last two years. Let me take this opportunity to thank each of you for your support and partnership in transforming Mississippi for all women and girls who deserve to live their lives with dignity, health, and joy. We simply could not do this critical work without you.

Despite the challenges of these political times, there is still much to celebrate as we progress towards achieving our vision of accessible reproductive health care and education for all of Mississippi’s women and girls. I want to share a snapshot of some of our programmatic highlights from the past year and reveal some of what we are planning for 2018.

Sexuality Education

To strengthen our sexuality education programs, we received a $25,000 grant from the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi. Reducing teen and unplanned pregnancy rates is one of the foundation’s top priorities, and we are grateful to partner with them in providing effective prevention through evidence-based, medically accurate sexuality education. Faith in Women is using these funds to assess training options, curriculum choices, and resource development for our clergy and faith leaders.

In 2016 I was accepted into the Mississippi Sex Ed Training Cadre, a group of health and education professionals across the state who are committed to advancing quality sex education for Mississippi youth. As part of this program, this spring I co-taught a training class with Hope Crenshaw of Teen Health Mississippi to equip a group of Jackson and Delta-based advocates with facilitation skills to better prepare them to teach safe, evidence-based, non-judgmental sexuality education programs in their communities and faith spaces. We did this in partnership with Delta Hands for Hope, a Cooperative Baptist-affiliated youth outreach organization based in Shaw, MS.

Reproductive Health

We are always working to find new ways of engaging in meaningful conversation around issues of reproductive health, rights, and justice. In May we launched our first ever virtual book club. A group of faith leaders and advocates across the state read Dr. Willie Parker’s best-selling book Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice and engaged in dynamic group discussions via video conference. We are planning more book clubs for 2018, so please stay tuned!

The success of our book club laid the groundwork for our September event at Millsaps College featuring author Dr. Willie Parker, a Christian reproductive justice advocate and ob/gyn. More than 50 faith leaders, health providers, students, and advocates attended our evening of conversation with Dr. Parker. Our event also included comments from Rev. Dr. Cari Jackson, Executive for Religious Leadership and Advocacy for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC). We look forward to partnering with RCRC on some of our faith leader engagement initiatives next year!

Faith Advocacy

In January of this year I had the opportunity to speak at the Sister Solidarity Rally held in Gulfport, MS, one of hundreds of local marches and rallies that coincided with the national Women’s March on Washington, D.C. I was proud to voice my belief, in front of an audience of over 300 people, that women and girls have sacred worth and that my faith supports access to life-giving reproductive healthcare for all people. Several of our Faith in Women members also attended local rallies around the state in cities like Jackson, Oxford, and Gulfport. Together we offered our witness as people of faith who stand for the rights of women and girls.

Sojourners, an ecumenical organization committed to social justice, hosted its annual Faith Leaders Summit in June in Washington, D.C. Faith in Women was invited to facilitate a breakout session with over 30 faith leaders from across the country to discuss how we engage with our supporters in sustainable, long-terms ways, especially those who are new to advocacy. This was a great opportunity to grow our network beyond the state of Mississippi and connect with like-minded organizations doing similar work around the country.

Looking Forward to 2018

I am pleased to announce the good news that the David and Lucile Packard Foundation has renewed our grant funding for two more years! We are grateful for their ongoing support of our mission to engage faith leaders in advocating for comprehensive reproductive health care and sexuality education.

Thank you again for all of your remarkable work, support, and encouragement over this last year.  I look forward to more shared work together in 2018 and beyond!

With gratitude,

Ashley Peterson
Director, Faith in Women
Ecumenical Coalition for Women and Families