ATLANTA >> Even with all her fame and accolades, Jane Fonda struggled for years with self-confidence.
The two-time Oscar-winner was able to overcome her insecurity with a strong support base of friends, therapy sessions and by writing a memoir. But she knows others aren’t as fortunate as her, particularly teenagers trying to find themselves while avoiding life’s pitfalls.
To help, Fonda started the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power & Potential, which has sought to prevent teen pregnancy and improve adolescent health. Fonda founded GCAPP in 1995, when Georgia had one of the highest teen birth and pregnancy rates in the country. Since then, the state saw a 66 percent decrease in the birth rate for teens between the ages of 15 to 19, according to state data.
“Teen pregnancy is a factor of poverty and hopelessness,” said Fonda, also known as a political activist. “We have to give kids hope, so they won’t engage in risky behavior.”
Fonda’s foundation will hold a fundraiser to help her cause. An 80th birthday celebration called “Eight Decades of Jane” will be held on Saturday with hopes of raising at least $1 million for her nonprofit organization.
Singer-songwriters James Taylor and Carole King will perform. Guests expected to attend include CNN founder and ex-husband Ted Turner, Sally Field, Rosie O’Donnell, Diane Lane and Troy Garity, who is Fonda’s son.
In a recent interview, Fonda, who stars in the Netflix show “Grace and Frankie,” spoke with The Associated Press about the reason she founded GCAPP, how she continues to grow as an actor and the continuous sexual harassment claims in Hollywood.
QUESTION: What made you want to focus on teen pregnancy prevention?
ANSWER: In 1994, I was traveling around Georgia and taken to a maternity ward in Albany, where I saw a 14-year-old girl who was pregnant. There was nothing much I could do for her. … I knew that there was a 90 percent chance she was sexual abused at her age. I learned she lived in a tarpaper shack with no windows or plumbing. … I didn’t say anything to her. I just kissed her forehead and left. I cried.
Q: What are the misconceptions about teen pregnancy?
A: Middle-class kids don’t get pregnant in large numbers, because they see a future compromised if that happens to them. It has nothing to do with race. White kids who live in poor areas of the country have high rates of teen pregnancy, and so does every other race and ethnicity. It’s a factor of poverty, not race.
Q: The fundraiser will also recognize your life achievements. How do you continue to grow as an actress?
A: Stay curious. Pay attention. Do the work. Get deep. … You have to do in the work. There aren’t any shortcuts.
Q: You’ve been around Hollywood for decades. Why do you think women are stepping forward now and making sexual harassment claims?
A: The reason it’s happening now is because of who our president is. He’s a perpetrator (President Donald Trump has been accused of sexual misconduct but has denied the allegations). Many women are horrified that a man like that has been elected into office. He’s triggered a lot of memories in many women who have been victims. I think that it was white famous actresses who stepped forward and kind of opened the floodgates, and now people are realizing how much of an epidemic it is. Now, they’re doing something about it.
Q: How do you feel about those who have made claims in the past, but went unheard?
A: African-American women … including Ida B. Wells and Anita Hill, have spoken out about this and demanded gender equality before white women did. We have to be grateful for the women who have come before us. Sexual harassment and assault is even more rife among restaurant, farm and office workers. Women don’t have any power to speak out without losing their jobs. We are now reaching out in solidarity.
Q: What do you want to see changed?
A: Where there is equality, and more egalitarian power distribution, sexual abuse is reduced. A lot of what we have to do is not just think about sexual abuse, but also have women in power across industries in decision-making power. Then you’ll see the number of sexual harassment cases drop.