Jess has always been interested in and aware of gender rights and the on-going need for education and advocacy to change the current state of reproductive justice around the world. Growing up in New York, Jess’s interests were piqued by her mom’s involvement with the Planned Parenthood in her community. After graduating from Boston University in the early 2000’s, she went to a talk by Judy Norsigian, the Executive Director of OBOS, Our Bodies Ourselves (also known as the Boston Women’s Health Collective), and asked Ms. Norsigian if she could intern with OBOS. The internship offered Jess the opportunity to learn about body image and the media, reproductive justice, and social media.
Shortly after, as part of her graduate degree in Theology, focusing on Buddhist Studies at Harvard, Jess traveled to Northern India. She worked on a self-created health and development project with Tibetan Buddhist Nuns where she built and maintained relationships; became more aware of opportunities and took advantage of them; and connected with women who valued ingenuity. After this first self-created project, she became hooked on international gender-focused advocacy; she even identified a need for OBOS to do an impact assessment in India around a recent Tibetan-language edition of their book, made a proposal, and traveled to India again to carry out the project.
Upon her completion of graduate school, Jess sought out a position in a health advocacy organization. She sent out resumes and worked her contacts to acquire a position in communications at Planned Parenthood, in the international division. Driven by her passion for increased responsibility, she moved up within PP by relocating to the Africa regional office and working in communications and development. She has since traveled to East and West Africa, Southeast Asia, and other areas around the globe working on projects focused on gender inequality.
Jess has worked with social media in a multitude of ways, and believes that its relationship to reproductive rights is overall very positive: “It enables a rich diversity of conversations about present-day issues. Social media empowers women—and has been an alternative route to power for many young women!” While she is an avid user herself (you can follow Jess’s current moves here), she also notes some of the tension that it is creating between generations. She argues that currently there are too few young advocates at the helm of boards and organizations, and with social media being such a vital part of practically all aspects of agencies (communications, branding, fundraising, information sources, etc.), this will ultimately only hinder their success. She asserts that “part of building and keeping vitality of movement is to make way and support the growth and development of young advocates and leaders. Mentorship is really important.” Many others agree with her, including the President of NARAL, Nancy Keenan.
A few choice words Jess would like to share with you all: “Be creative and imaginative, and go with your gut. Build relationships, support others, and take risks. Believe you can find a way to do what you love, and you will!”
Currently, Jess is working on a project with the UN Women East and Southeast Asia Regional Office to address issues of violence against women and girls. She is living in Bangkok.