Mental Health Awareness Month


“But when do we tell each other it is ok to breathe? That it is OK when you cannot show up for every issue? “


May is Mental Health Awareness Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common mental health issue in women is depression. It is reported that twice as many women experience depression during their lives as men. As North Carolina Women United, we find it necessary, particularly at this moment in our state and national context, to add our voice to this public health discussion and raise awareness of the importance of mental health in the lives of women. 

 Everything feels like it’s on fire, or that it should be! (We mean that symbolically, we are not promoting arson!) If you do not have challenges with mental health already, try reading enough headlines and it will surely take a toll on your mental wellness. From forced isolation in response to the pandemic, war, the refugee crisis, mass shootings, gender-based violence, racist attacks against black people, hauntings of missing and murdered Indigenous women, shortages of life-saving and life-giving essentials like baby formula, high inflation, climate change, and threats to human rights and bodily autonomy—the list can go on for days.

I have worked with and on behalf of sexual assault and domestic violence victims for over 15 years. I have seen first-hand the impact of repeated exposure to traumatic events. Living in a constant state of fear is disastrous to our stress level and increases symptoms of anxiety and depression. How do we recharge? In the quest for social and gender justice, our first response is often to fight. to rally and to march. To protest. To make a call to action and pressure a decision-making body to make different decisions. As proven through history, these are all very commendable and necessary actions in the advancement of the status of women.

types of anxiety infographic  

But when do we tell each other to breathe? That it is OK when you cannot show up for everyone and every issue?  How often have we used the tools of patriarchy and capitalism to shame women who struggle to show up because of the weight of the world? Did we make time to understand the weight of their world before we judged their actions or inaction? How do we treat one another when our activism looks different? How can we create a space for women to show up authentically and yet be worthy of taking up space? This is the internal work we think all boards and coalitions should do. This is how we positively impact mental wellness. 

 “If no one else does, know that we see you and appreciate you! The membership of NCWU is devoted and hardworking”

When we push for increased access to healthcare, the outcome is that we are not only closing the insurance gap; it means getting closer to making holistic wellness resources available for all women despite their wage, zip code, and level of education. Trauma-informed therapeutic services can help so many women cope and deal with the mental health challenges that living in this world can bring. The specialized care found in those treatment modalities should not be a privilege or a luxury. All women that could benefit from those services should have access to them. We know that is not a reality for all women, especially those without guaranteed sick days and those who do not earn a living wage.

After we have achieved all the legislative success in our sights, what is next? How quickly can we reach back to the community and grassroot efforts on the ground to continue progress? Sustaining that level of change on the community level will require healing and restoration, and that includes meeting the needs of the whole person, including addressing their mental wellness. This also means that we must listen to communities when they say they need alternatives to law enforcement response when seeking mental health crisis intervention. In the absence of that, we will continue to advocate for more training as well as increased accountability in law enforcement.


Pregnant and incarcerated people who give birth while shackled deserve access to wellness services that will address the consequences that action will have on their mental health. Mothers who feel forced to have or not have children under any circumstance that does not honor their humanity or respect their bodily autonomy should have access to the mental health resources necessary for healing. What does it mean for the parent-child relationship born under these circumstances? Does the impact go away when the rule or policy is changed?

With maternal and infant mortality rates being as alarming as they are and community knowledge and awareness of them increasing, we need more clinicians in doctor’s offices who understand the impact this fear will have on the patients seen by medical providers. When women, especially women of color, are not heard by medical staff, how can these clinicians serve as patient advocates to create different outcomes? This integrated approach to patient care may exist in some urban communities, but women in the most rural parts of NC deserve the same access.

anxiety infographic

There are locations in our state where women must drive across multiple county lines for certain health and wellness needs. NC providers reported an increase in the number of individuals seeking services during the pandemic. The pandemic severely triggered many with existing mental health challenges. Although telehealth assisted greatly in meeting the need, it did not eliminate the labor shortages. While telehealth can address the barriers to services due to distance, the wait time for an appointment can still be a challenge. These wait times are often discouraging, and appointments are not kept, resulting in fewer individuals who need treatment receiving the help and support they need. Repeated enough times, this lack of access and shortage of resources will be felt by entire generations whose ancestors could not benefit from the professional support and resources available.

This month and every month after, we affirm that mental health matters. The mental health and wellness of women matters, and we all share in the responsibility of doing our part to have a positive impact. If no one else does, know that we see you and appreciate you! The membership of NCWU is devoted and hardworking. We know that each of you comes into this work fighting your own individual battles. You are doing a great job, even if all you did today was hold it together! Activism takes a toll. Being a woman in this world adds tax. Be kind to yourself

Updated 2020 Legislative Agenda

Thank you all so much for joining us in June for our listening session on how your organization or community is experiencing the current moment. Because of your contribution, we were able to successfully update our legislative agenda to incorporate content on Covid-19 and we also applied an explicitly anti-racist lens to our recommendations. Please click here or below to download the new report!

EVENT: Listening Session to Discuss NC’s Changing Feminist Policy Landscape

Police violence against black and brown bodies and the global pandemic are parallel plagues across this nation. For many of us, working at the intersections of multiple crises is not a new task. However, these new and more uncertain times have exposed the fault lines of just how broken things are, leaving so many questions to consider. It also exposes how ready we are for change.

What is the role of the feminist movement in addressing structural and institutional racism? What are the vulnerabilities in our diverse community of NC women? Why is front line work so gendered? What does it mean if childcare fails? The Atlantic has described this pandemic as a “disaster for feminism” and we agree that this public health crisis has had a significant impact on family life, especially for women. Additionally, the pandemic has exposed, for the first time for many folks, the reality of what Mikki Kendall calls “Hood Feminism”, the feminism of women for whom there is a constant thought and effort to secure safe and sustainable housing, decent available food, good schools, and equitable instruction.

These are the musings of my mind; we want to know what’s on yours. What are your NCWU member organizations seeing as the impacts of the pandemic and public health crisis on your stakeholders? What would a women’s agenda for NC’s COVID recovery look like? Other states are starting to publish similar recommendations–see the Hawaii Women’s Commission proposal or this op-ed from California’s Rep. Jackie Speier. We’re interested in compiling a similar effort for our state. Ideally, this would be a reflection of your evolving policy priorities for the legislature as you are witnessing and experiencing the impacts of the pandemic on your stakeholders. This could either take the form of an addendum to our 2019-2020 legislative agenda, or a discrete product such as the Hawaii example. Please share your ideas and reactions with our policy director Lyric Thompson at, which she will curate in a running list that we can discuss as an NCWU community on a Zoom call on June 23rd at 4 p.m.

Register for the Zoom Call

P.S. Read our new blog post and take our survey! We want to hear from you!

Where Are the Pink Pussy Hats When Black Women Are Dying?

This week, blackout Tuesday was a day to center the voices of black people and amplify their stories and experiences. This is a necessity each day, not only Tuesday and not only this week. The 8 minutes and 46 seconds of silence honoring the memory of George Floyd this Thursday was an act of solidarity that must extend every minute of every day, and must expand to include the memory of black women, like Breonna Taylor and Michelle Cusseaux, who have also been murdered but have not been memorialized with the same energy and fervor because of the intersecting and cruel legacy of sexism and racism in America.

As we consider the actions necessary to end racism and call out white supremacy, I hope we remember that we do not have to look far to find more work that needs to be done. When I think about healing and ending systemic racism and state sanctioned violence, I’m not certain of the way forward, but I know we don’t move forward without acknowledging the erasure of black women and their experiences across many of the social justice movements, including the larger feminist movement.

Something has shifted this week. The stream of black squares on instagram, the proliferation of organizational and individual solidarity statements and posts with symbolic images create the necessary echo chamber that carries the message farther than it has before, but what is next? Speaking out is step one. For NC Women United, as an explicitly anti-racisit organization we know that ending racism also includes dismantling the parts of white feminism that exist to promote the safety of middle-class white women at the expense of black women. The conversation about police brutality does not live in a vacuum outside of the world that allows the Amy Coopers of the world to weaponize their tears against a black man. These are both problems for the feminist movement–in all of its diversity–to address.

For many black women, especially those in the feminist movement, we are all too familiar with the tone deafness that occurs when we speak our truth and we are used to reminding people to see us, to respect our opinions and trust our ideas. During the summer of 2006, Mariana Ortega wrote “Being Lovingly, Knowingly Ignorant: White Feminism and Women of Color.” In this piece she speaks to the racist ideologies within feminism that claim to speak for all women while only recognizing the needs of black women when it furthers an agenda or creates an inclusive appeal–inviting Black speakers to an event or to sponsor a march at the last minute, when all of the planning is done, in an obviously last-minute scramble to be more inclusive. Black women have been so overlooked by mainstream white feminism that many, like Alice Walker, have denounced it completely and instead cling to the term womanism which incorporates an adoration for black womanhood AND a commitment to improve the quality of life for all folks that experience oppression due to race or class.

Last year during many of the women’s marches, women were still seen adorning knitted caps known as “pink pussy hats”.In response to this there have been many conversations about how exclusionary that was. “Not all women have pussys and not all pussys are pink.” That feeling of being overlooked is still a stain on our movement that has to be healed. Our agendas should reflect the changes that we need to see around us. When we talk about reproductive rights and reproductive justice does that include the mortality of black women during childbirth? What is #Metoo without also reconciling the reality of false reports of rape against black men? How do we care about increased civic participation and not fight for the rights of incarcerated mothers who give birth in shackles? How do we fight to close the gap in wages and ignore the school to prison pipeline? Where are the pink pussy hats when black Women are dying? These are only a few points of a very very long list of intersecting items. We have to be intentional about addressing the oppressive experiences of black women and avoid clinging to tactics adopted from movements that excluded them.

At NC Women United, we are committed to lifting up these stories and experiences and will work, from this day forward, to incorporate them more meaningfully in our advocacy. Building on our efforts to better center race and class in our policy education and advocacy, we will be refining our signature products–our legislative agenda and report card–to ensure they are advancing an explicitly intersectional and anti-racist agenda. We will not take only a gender lens to NC policy, asking “What about women?,” but an intersectional lens, “What about Black women? What about Latinx women? What about LBT women, and gender non-conforming people? Rural women? Disabled women? Migrant women? And, importantly, how do the choices of North Carolina policymakers–and the messages of the NC women’s movement–impact people differently on the basis of these different streams of discrimination?”

We are a movement that is stronger together, and today we recommit to working with our member organizations and the women of this state–in all their diversity–to ensure that we do everything in our collective power to center that diversity and strength in our work. Together, we have the power to make invisibilized women visible, to lift up their stories to inform the choices of North Carolina policymakers accordingly.  We invite you to share your unique experiences of this moment with us as we refine and update our post-COVID legislative agenda, toward a more inclusive and lasting progress.

Charnessa Ridley
NCWU President

Survey: What do Women Need in a State Response to COVID?

For many of us, working at the intersections of multiple crises is not a new task. However, these new and more uncertain times have exposed the fault lines of just how broken things are, leaving so many questions to consider.

Why is front line work so gendered? What does it mean if childcare fails? What are the vulnerabilities in our diverse community of NC women? The Atlantic has described this pandemic as a “disaster for feminism” and we agree that this public health crisis has had a significant impact on family life, especially for women. Additionally, the pandemic has exposed, for the first time for many folks, are just now waking up to the reality of what Mikki Kendell calls “Hood Feminism”,; the feminism of women for whom there is The constant thought and effort to secure safe and sustainable housing, decent available food, good schools and equitable instruction.

Arguably this pandemic has had a profoundly classist impact For the first time some women are having to worry about groceries, diapers, clean water, eviction, access to quality health care and hygiene products. However, with nearly 40 percent of jobs under $40, 000 lost and the possibility of a vaccine not being widley available, it does invite the prospect of class genocide.

For women in communities of color this “survival mode” is a switch that never turns off. Has this been a disaster for feminism or has this caused a leveling of the playing field that now requires us all to work towards building the infrastructure that never allows these basic needs to go unmet? We do not have all the answers, but this is a dialogue that we would like to have with our members. The following zooms calls are available so that we can hear from you. How are you? What are you working on? What have you seen and experienced during this time?

We are committed to addressing the challenges that exist for women and families in our state. With a critical election on the horizon it is even more important to have a collective agenda that will enhance the quality of life for all women. But we need your help. What are you experiencing as the impacts and effects of this pandemic? Please take our survey, from which we are compiling a picture of how the women of NC are faring, which will inform our advocacy agenda for what the state’s response to COVID should address.. We know there is no such thing as gender-neutral policy choices–they are only gender-blind, unclear how they might affect people across gender, race, immigration status or other lines. We hope to make these differences clear to NC policymakers.

Won’t you join us?

Click here to take our survey!!


Our 2019-2020 Legislative Agenda

Built on a survey of our member organizations and women across the state, our legislative agenda is a snapshot of the most important issues facing the women of NC today.

Given our history of an intersectional approach to feminism, we have reworded our categories of issues and have added a new one:

  • Economic Stability
  • Expand Access to Healthcare
  • Promote and Inclusive and Equitable Democracy
  • End Gender-Based Violence
  • Advance Climate and Environmental Justice

Here is the full report:  NC Women United Legislative Agenda | (PDF)

Would you like to participate in our Advocacy around the Agenda? in developing revisions?

Please contact us at for more information on how organizations and individuals can join us in our work.

Families Belong Together


As a coalition of progressive organizations and individuals working to achieve the full political, social, and economic equality of all women across NC, we can not turn away from the urgent need for all people of conscience to speak out in the face of this humanitarian crisis happening at our borders. We know that supporting women supports families, and we know that parents will often take risks to make sure their children have the opportunities they do not. We will not condone punishing parents, and by extension punishing their children, for taking the risk of improving their families’ lives.

Wednesday, June 20th marked world Refugee day but for many, it was less than celebratory. On a day designated by the United Nations to commemorate the resilience and courage of refugees and their contributions to society, we were all inundated with images and sounds of traumatized women and children separated and detained as the result of a dangerous and unnecessary zero-tolerance immigration strategy. Whether women are fleeing domestic, sexual or gang violence; escaping desperate poverty brought on by aggressive free trade policies and unregulated capitalism, or searching for a better life for their families, these are not criminal acts. We condemn the cruel and inhumane policies and practices that are separating desperate families at the border and upending people’s lives.

We encourage everyone to call/write their Congressional reps on the issue and write letters-to-the-editor to push back on ANY racism and xenophobia they come across in the news. This is not the time to stay silent.

Women’s Advocacy Day 2017!


It’s another long session at the NCGA, which means we will be hosting Women’s Advocacy Day this year on March 14th!

Whether you are an expert advocate or a novice, we encourage you to attend and speak with legislators about the issues that matter to you.

We are looking forward to hosting an interactive and advocacy-full day.

Let us know if you can make it!

Register now:

And be sure to invite your friends. You can invite them through our Facebook event here:

Some Important Truths About the Zika Crisis and Reproductive Freedom

This article originally appeared in NC Policy Watch. It was written by NCWU President and NARAL Pro-Choice Executive Director Tara Romano. 

Summer is winding down here in North Carolina, but the heat isn’t going away just yet. And neither are the mosquitoes. In the Southeast, mosquito season can last until November, depending on the timing of the first frost. As Florida has now recorded more than 60 non-travel-related Zika cases, mosquitos are on the mind of many state officials and public health professionals. They will also likely be on the minds of women of childbearing age, who continue to confront the dire warnings about the dangers of a Zika infection during pregnancy.

It is widely believed that the Zika virus, while normally a mild disease for most people, can be dangerous to a developing fetus. These dangers include severe and potentially fatal birth defects. The risk of a range of moderate-to-severe birth defects has professionals and the general public discussing the best ways women can protect themselves from infection during pregnancy. For many, it also brings up the topics of abortion and disability rights.

Of course, the narrative that all families facing this situation will choose to have an abortion is not necessarily true, nor is it any of our business. Women choose childbirth and abortion for many reasons, and we trust women to make the choices that are best for themselves and their families. And we support them in those decisions. This support includes providing equitable access to safe abortion as well as services to children with special needs and their caretakers.

Despite the name-calling by some abortion opponents, pregnant women who consider abortion because of concerns for the fetus’ health aren’t some special brand of selfish monsters. More likely, many of them are acutely aware of the services that may or may not be available to them, and their own access to the resources that may be needed to provide adequate childcare.

You may have noticed that our society does not have much space in it for people with disabilities – employment, transportation, safe housing, medical services, and educational opportunities can be difficult to come by. And we certainly don’t offer much support to the caretakers for those with disabilities.

And for young women, poor women and women of color, who disproportionality lack access to health care and secure job opportunities, these considerations may be even more critical.

Rather than empty platitudes that may hold little meaning for those in this situation, we as a society need to offer tangible support to these families.

In North Carolina, this means expanding Medicaid so more people can have access to the health care they need. This also means ensuring access to paid sick and family leave, something few North Carolinians currently have. We need to fully fund our public education system, incorporating new technologies and innovations that integrate kids with disabilities into shared and meaningful learning opportunities. We need to raise the minimum wage, close the gender wage gap, and strengthen our social safety nets to better support our neighbors who need a little help.

In 2016 in America, almost half of the pregnancies that occur are unintended. We should address this as well if we want to help women avoid contracting the Zika virus while pregnant.  Despite living in a culture that uses sexualized images to sell just about everything, many kids do not receive formal sex education beyond “just say no,” leaving them vulnerable to myths and misunderstandings about sex and about their bodies. Coupled with the phenomenon of tax dollars being funneled to organizations that regularly spread myths about birth control and sex, too many people well into adulthood don’t have the tools they need to prevent pregnancy. And birth control is not nearly as accessible as it should be. Even over-the-counter methods like condoms, contraceptive sponges and emergency contraception can be difficult to get if stores keep them stocked only behind the counter.

The Zika virus is a new global public health crisis and one whose impact is being felt most acutely by pregnant women. Whether people decide to delay pregnancy or to manage a current pregnancy, we have the tools to effectively deal with this crisis. We just need the political will to make them truly accessible to all.