With Planned Parenthood turning 100 years old Oct. 16, we talked to one of the board members to learn more about what they have done in Muslim communities throughout the years.
Check out the interview with the awesome Donya Nasser, the only Muslim board director at Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund. She lives in London, U.K. and is a master’s student at SOAS, University of London.
MuslimGirl: With Planned Parenthood turning 100 in just a few days, what have they done in Muslim communities in recent years?
Donya Nasser: Planned Parenthood Federation of America is dedicated to providing “Care. No Matter What.” We are dedicated to all communities regardless of their culture, faith, identity, or national origin. In the United States, we are working with youth leaders in Muslim communities.
We also engage with Muslim communities through our global work at the International Planned Parenthood Fund (IPPF), for which I serve as the U.S. Youth Delegate to the IPPF Western Hemisphere Regional Council, which is our governing body. It has been a great opportunity to represent our organization as a young Muslim woman on a more global scale.
In addition, many of our West African staff are Muslim, and raise their voices regularly for sexual and reproductive health and rights; including recently when the terrorist group called Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of girls in northern Nigeria, sparking the #BringBackOurGirls campaign.
You’re the youngest board member at Planned Parenthood. Can you tell the readers more about this? What are some issues you focus on?
In early 2015, a young woman of color I had met through a conference previously, who worked for Planned Parenthood, messaged me on Facebook and asked me if I was interested in serving on the board of Planned Parenthood. I assumed she was referring to the youth board, and was incredibly excited about the opportunity.
Come to find out — she meant the Board of Directors, which then instilled in me a little fear and nervousness about the whole process. This was especially because I had to go through a series of interviews with many of the board directors who were incredible leaders — businesspeople, celebrities, etc., and here I am a 22-year-old senior in college who is a young Muslim, Iranian-American from Orlando.
It’s been about a year and a half since I’ve been on the Planned Parenthood Federation of America Board, and a little less than a year since I have been on the Planned Parenthood Action Fund Board.
I’m the only woman of Muslim faith and Middle Eastern origin, which is incredible in that we have representation for our community on an incredible Board of an incredible organization dedicated to the health and rights of all women.
I focus on representing and providing a voice for young women, women of color, Muslim women, and Middle Eastern women. I come to the table with a background which is incredibly unique to the board — because I am the only director with many of these identities — and the board wants to hear from me and the concerns of these communities.
Why is it important for Muslim communities to support Planned Parenthood?
I encourage the Muslim community to support Planned Parenthood, because it is an organization dedicated to providing unbiased, medically accurate, high-quality care and education to all communities, including ours. As Muslims, we know that Islam and the teachings of Allah (SWT) as told to us by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) emphasize many values central to women’s liberation and feminism.
The Qur’an places women and men as equals in everyday life and within our responsibilities, and Planned Parenthood is dedicated to just that: equality.
Furthermore, our community should demand their seat at all tables, and this area is one where we don’t have as much visibility and representation as we should. We should support Planned Parenthood, because in doing so, we are claiming our right to sit at the table and have our voice heard in an institution that provides so much and is also very influential.
Having a say in the reproductive justice movement and politics allows us to broaden our clout and taking one step closer to fair representation and justice for our community.
Talking about sexual reproduction — birth control or abortion are often taboos in the Muslim communities. Why would you encourage Muslim women to have conversations around these issues?
Unfortunately, these subjects are taboo in all communities — not just ours. However stigmatized these topics are, education about sexual and reproductive health, family planning and abortion are extremely important.
Muslim women should discuss these issues because their health and bodies are important and valuable, and these “taboo” topics are integral to our well-being and futures. All women, not just Muslim women, are taught to be ashamed of talking about our bodies, and even more so fighting for the right we have to make decisions about our own health. And all women, including Muslim women, should feel comfortable discussing our health, and have the right to practice autonomy over their own bodies.
We deserve a say and our voices should be heard. Our sexual and reproductive health are as valuable as any other woman’s, but we can’t secure those rights unless we discuss the “hard” issues. And let’s be real, they’re “hard” issues because we are women, and these issues are specific to our bodies, so if it doesn’t impact men (not all), they don’t want to talk about them, support them, and often work against them — #ThanksPatriarchy. We should fight against the patriarchy in our community, as women do in all communities.
Globally, we are working with religious leaders such as imams to change culture and policy around these issues and to reduce stigma. Case in point: Voices for Health is a new project from Planned Parenthood Global to support advocacy for sexual and reproductive health and rights in Africa and Central America, in support of the FP2020 initiative.
Two of our Voices for Health partners worked with a traditional chief (who is also a Muslim) and a Muslim imam to voice their support for family planning. Our faith-based partners — an interfaith union of traditional and religious leaders comprised of imams, pastors, priests and chiefs — invited these leaders to take part in training sessions centered around the need for family planning and the role of community leaders in breaking down stigma.
What does Planned Parenthood hope to work on in the future within Muslim communities?
Planned Parenthood is looking forward to supporting the efforts of several organizations led and founded by Muslim women. The Chicago-based, HEART Women & Girls is one such organization which promotes sexual health and sexual violence awareness in faith-based communities through health education, advocacy, research, and training. Another organization, Equality for HER is led by a staff member at PPFA, Blair Imani, who was previously featured on Muslim Girl.
Equality for HER recently became All* Above All’s very first Muslim-led organization. During All* Above All’s week of action calling for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, Equality for HER led a campaign in support of access to safe and legal abortion called #CoveredGirls4Coverage.
Planned Parenthood Action Fund is also looking forward to working with the very first American Muslim Women Political Action Committee headed by Mirriam Seddiq. Planned Parenthood is dedicated to working for women in all communities as that is the purpose and vision of the organization. That includes the access, care, and education that Muslim women receive. Remember, “Care. No Matter What.”
Is there anything else you’d like to add about Planned Parenthood and the centennial?
We all have our personal Planned Parenthood story. My mother does, and I do as well. We all have some connection to their work, be it direct services, political advocacy, or indirectly through friends or family. My time with this organization hasn’t been long, but it has been more meaningful and impactful than any other that I have been involved with.
During this 100 years, we have evolved and changed for the better, but the one thing that has stayed the same has been our dedicated to women’s health and women’s rights. Despite the smear campaigns, congressmen who have tried to deny women autonomy over their own bodies, dozens of laws passed in state legislatures designed to limit women access to care, we have stood by women and their rights strongly and proudly.
For that, I am proud to be a part of this historic institution and the life-changing work they do for women in our country, and around the world.
Here’s to another 100 years of care!