Moms Fighting Back

By SARAH MIERS, Spark Fellow

At last month’s speaker series, we were honored to host Jenni Williams from the women’s activist group Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA).  With a membership of over 75 thousand women and men, the organization works to empower Zimbabweans across the country to stand up for their rights with non-violent activism.

Through a moderated discussion with KQED’s Stephanie Martin, Jenni explained how WOZA members spread the word of upcoming protests by walking miles from one town to the next. She explained how each protester understood that their participation would likely lead to incarceration. It was shocking to hear Jenni calmly explain how these women were trained to prepare for their peaceful protests…

Here are some of WOZA’s tips:

  • Be conscious about what you wear: they will be your only clothes for a week or so in jail. Make sure to wear a sweater or jacket as it will be your blanket. It is also provides extra padding if you are beaten.
  • Make sure to bring sanitary supplies, especially toilet paper. There is no toilet paper in jail. And it can double as a pillow when wrapped in your jacket.
  • For mothers, make sure to prepare meals in advance and secure childcare. You cannot be certain on how long you will be away.
  • When you are beaten or arrested, be prepared to look at your aggressor in the face and tell him your name. It will remind him that your are a human.

While these problems may seem far away, we face related issues here at home. Just like WOZA members need to prepare for potentially long-term childcare for their absence in jail, Spark grantee Center for Young Women’s Development in San Francisco works to secure rights for incarcerated mothers, as one-third of women in San Francisco’s juvenile justice system are pregnant or parenting.

By advocating for their “Incarcerated Young Mother’s Bill of Rights” (below), the Center addresses current laws that restrict women from visiting their children and wearing shackles during visits. They also recently co-authored the Anti-Shackling Bill (Assembly Bill AB 1900) that would require state-wide improvements for restraining pregnant women during transport, as “nearly two-thirds of county jails shackle pregnant women in ways that could cause miscarriage or other serious injuries”.

Spark supports women advocating for their rights. This Mother’s Day we stand in solidarity with moms from Zimbabwe to San Francisco.


  1. We have the right to be treated with dignity and respect.
  2. We have the right to be mothers and not be discriminated against because of our age, and status of offense.
  3. We have the right to regular check-ups and proper prenatal care and nutrition.
  4. We have the right to have somebody with us while we’re having our babies.
  5. We have the right to not be handcuffs and shackled during labor.
  6. We have the right to recovery in the hospital after birth.
  7. We have the right to see, touch, and speak with our children.
  8. We have the right to be informed about our children’s well-being and safety.
  9. We have the right to have support and advocacy while incarcerated and the right to know our rights as parents.
  10. We have the right to have access to information and education, such as prenatal and parenting classes, so that we can be the best parents we can be.

For more information on the Incarcerated Young Mother’s Bill of Rights please contact LeaJay Harper at or 415.703.8800 ext. 212.


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