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Ask An Expert: Liz Owens

Liz Owens

by Rachel Terran (’18)

In honor of Women’s History Month, we talked to Liz Owens, an expert in gender and human rights. Liz has been an adjunct at Westminster in the Master of Arts in Community Leadership (MACL) program, where she taught a course called Program Planning and Evaluation.

Liz took her background in sociology to the University of Essex, where she earned her master’s in human rights, focusing on intersectionality in the US. At the time—in 2005—she remembers telling people about her area of study, and no one knew what it was. Post graduate school, Liz worked with an organization in London called Women in Prison, where she advocated for women who were sentenced in order to help them resettle in the community. She later applied for and received a fellowship at the London School of Economics, where she researched women at the intersection of race and gender. In 2012, Liz moved back to Utah and sought a position at Utah Pride Center, becoming the trans-program coordinator. After working for the Pride Center, Liz transitioned to a position with the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, where she directed training and education for shelter advocates. Liz says her journey clearly brings her to her role today as director of community engagement for Planned Parenthood.

With an extensive background in gender and intersectionality, Liz provides insight as to how we can look at issues such as the wage gap and sexual harassment by asking the question ‘which women?’ She explains that if we look at the most marginalized—even if they are a small number in proportion to the whole—and create structures that support those most vulnerable, it will support everyone else who are less vulnerable. In talking about things like the wage gap, we often hear 77 cents, however, we know that it’s different for some women—and some men.

“It takes practice saying things like ‘oh the wage gap,’ and then asking myself, ‘which women?’" says Liz. “If we focus on 77 cents to one dollar, we are going to make it better for white women, but others are still invisible in that story.”

To continue the conversation with Liz, we asked what role women’s history plays in the work that she does, her advice about how to be an advocate, and how we can get involved.

Women’s History 

“Part of my personal and professional work is to always give reference to those who came before us, and to provide a framework of the history of where we are at. Part of the context and grounding of any workshop or presentation is speaking about how we got here. I love advocacy and coming together in circles of women, but also remember that we are not the first group of women here. History is essential. Always go back to history when you sit in a circle of advocates. A lot of the hard work has been done; we have our different hard work. And the next important aspect  history  is looking ahead at the women who come after us and being able to honor their expertise equally as much as we honor history. I think we learn in a circle—we learn from each other.”

How to be an advocate

“What inspires you, takes care of you, and feeds your soul? That’s part of advocacy. Everyone doesn’t have to get out on the street and protest. Part of the revolution is surviving in a world that wasn’t meant for your survival, and that means taking care of yourself.

It’s hard doing the work of just knowing what’s going on in the world. And, whether it’s easy or not, empathize with other people’s experiences and see/decide where you are in that—where do you benefit? Where do you not benefit? I think self-reflection is so important, and one of the most important aspects of self-reflection is looking at how you might benefit from oppression. It’s something I try to practice all the time. It’s been more important to see myself in the role of the oppressor; I think it gives me more empathy. I think it improves my own ability for advocacy. I’m just a better human when I think about myself in relation to my community members. It’s really easy to close your ears and eyes to the things happening that don’t impact you, but they do. They come around eventually. We all live in this world together, and we have to continue living in this world together. Last thing I’d say is: It’s totally overwhelming to do this work, so find what it is where you can put your energy and take care of yourself and thrive and survive. Love yourself, love your life, do the work.”

Ways to get involved

“Thursday, April 5, is Take Back the Night. This is a good way to end out Women’s History Month and kick off Sexual Assault Awareness Month. We meet at President’s Circle at the University of Utah and walk down to Westminster. It is meant to open up a conversation and essentially claim our space, and say the night belongs to us too, and the streets belong to us too. There’s so much messaging and victim-blaming around women and why we are walking at night, so the title “Take Back the Night” is great. Also, March 8 is international women’s day, so we will be doing an event. Listen for that.”



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