Providing Sexual Health Education and Sexual Violence Awareness in Muslim Communities
Dear Friend, Greetings of peace! As Co-Founder and Executive Director of HEART Women & Girls, I am pleased to share our growth and impact over the years. With your support, we have been able to expand our programming to college campuses across the country, as well as develop publications, toolkits, and fact sheets which have been downloaded nearly 25,000 times. These resources play an integral part in offering the community accurate sexual health information and in supporting survivors on their journey toward healing and justice. HEART remains committed to providing accurate, culturally-sensitive sexual health information to its participants. Over the years, we have built a national team of talented, accomplished, strong Muslim women who are experts in public health, mental health, and anti-sexual assault advocacy. We need your help. Given the political climate, our work is more important than ever. Unless we take action together, it is likely we will see less federal support for reproductive and sexual health education and sexual assault awareness. For the last seven years, we have been working to dismantle the shame and stigma around sex and sexual violence, and we have made incredible inroads despite a small budget and limited resources. We remain more motivated now than ever before to continue this work, promote gender equity, and advocate for reproductive justice for all. We invite you to join us in this timely effort. With Eternal Gratitude,
Nadiah Mohajir Co-Founder and Executive Director HEART Women & Girls
Our Mission HEART Women & Girls promotes sexual health and sexual violence awareness in Muslim communities through health education, advocacy, research, and training.
We work toward a world where: • Women and girls are valued for their character and personhood, rather than their body type, skin color, or what they choose to wear; • Women are free of guilt, shame, oppression, and violence, so that they are able to make informed and empowered decisions about their sexual health that aligns with their values; and • Gender equity is celebrated, consent and boundaries are honored, and space is made for those in need of support and resources.
As a Muslim-led organization, our core values are rooted in the Arabic word rahma (mercy), and reflected in the acronym below:
Rights: Muslims have the right to accurate, culturally-sensitive
sexual health information and victim-centric resources and services. We will reflectively listen to you to honor those rights.
Agency: Our programming offers participants with the space and
affirmation to critically examine their personal values and faith, while equipping them with the resources and skills they need to strengthen their personal agency and feel in control of their bodies and spirituality.
Healing: We are committed to building safe spaces that honor your faith and cultural values while replacing blame, shame, and stigma, with openness, support, and healing.
Mindfulness: As trained professionals, we will maintain your
privacy and are mindful of the cultural and political context and how it can impact the lived experiences of Muslim Americans.
Anonymity: Because issues around sex, sexuality, and sexual
violence have historically been stigmatized, we make every effort to ensure participants’ anonymity while offering resources and information.
Our Story As consultants for the Office on Women’s Health at the US Department of Health and Human Services, HEART co-Founders Nadiah Mohajir and Ayesha Akhtar were asked in 2009 to coordinate a health and wellness day for Muslim women in Chicago. More women than they ever imagined signed up for the event, which brought together many diverse women and girls and their incredible stories. As such, co-founders learned about women and girls who: • • • •
Couldn’t identify basic anatomy or common medical issues such as yeast infections Engaged in risky sexual activity, not knowing the risks due to lack of sex education Were unable to identify sexual abuse when it was happening Struggled with intimacy and experienced sexual frustrations in their marriage or relationships
For years, we have heard Muslims share stories such as the ones above and of not having access to culturally sensitive information and resources. We learned many were apprehensive about seeking out the existing resources and tools because of the shame and stigma associated with discussing sex and sexual violence in Muslim communities. These individuals were different ages, ethnicities, genders, and education levels, but they all had one thing in common: they were never given personal agency or the tools to think critically about their bodies, sexuality, and faith. Often, they navigated the world alone, and in silence. This silence is unjust and can contribute to the gender inequities and violence in our communities. 3
HEART Women & Girls was founded to break this silence and dismantle the stigma that looms over candidly talking about issues related to gender and sexuality, especially the issue of sexual violence. Over the years, we have grown from being a small, parttime nonprofit organization to one that has received national recognition. We have held workshops and trainings all over the country, including Illinois, California, New Jersey, Indiana, Washington, D.C., and Georgia. We have been invited to present at a number of national conferences, including the annual ISNA conference, American Public Health Association Annual Meeting, National Sex Ed Conference, and the National Sexual Assault Conference. We have supported dozens of survivors, and our work has served as a case study for other communities needing to address similar issues. Our volunteer team currently includes 11 accomplished, diverse Muslim women committeed to reproducive justice.
We want people to reclaim sexual health decision-making by instilling healthy attitudes toward sexuality, while also being able to draw inspiration from their faith.
Our Programming Health Education We provide comprehensive, culturally-sensitive sexual health and sexual violence information to empower participants to make informed decisions and become agents of change within their communities. Interactive workshops: We offer handson workshops and trainings that target everyone from adolescents to adults. Topics we cover include sexual and reproductive health; puberty and menstruation; parent workshops; sexual violence; bystander trainings; media literacy; body image; and healthy relationships. Virtual resource center: Our web-based resource center offers sexual and reproductive health toolkits, webinars, blogs, and an online peer education service to allow visitors to access information comfortably and anonymously. 5
Advocacy We believe individuals - young and old - can and do make informed decisions about their sexual health when they have accurate information and systems that foster real choice. Survivor advocacy: Our trained anti-sexual assault advocates offer survivors the information, support, and additional referrals they need to move toward healing and justice. Systems change: We advocate for systemslevel change that dismantles the stigma and barriers preventing individuals from seeking sexual health and sexual violence resources. We empower faith communities to promote healthy sexual attitudes and behaviors and support survivors of sexual violence.
Research We need data specific to each community of color to be able to develop effective, sustainable programming. Collaborative, academic studies: Research studies to better understand the sexual and reproductive health needs of Muslim communities. Partners include Center for Urban Research and Learning at Loyola University, and University of Illinois at Chicago. Current and past research includes examining institutional responses and gaps in social services available to Muslim survivors of sexual assault; findings anticipated January 2017. Assessing the reproductive health knowledge, attitudes, and healthcare behaviors of American Muslim women ages 18-45; findings anticipated Spring 2017.
Training We offer leadership and professional development trainings to equip student leaders and other professionals to better serve the sexual and reproductive health needs of Muslim communities. Professional development: With expertise in public health, reproductive justice, and antisexual assault, HEART provides professional development trainings to increase the knowledge and cultural competency of a variety of professionals, including: • Grad students in health care/social work • Social workers, counselors, & therapists • Volunteers and staff at sexual assault agencies and sex ed organizations • Teachers and school administrators • Law enforcement personnel • Faith leaders • Campus student leaders 6
HEART Women & Girls does a great job of nuancing and defending what is becoming an increasingly difficult view to uphold, and they do it in a grounded way.
HEART recognizes conversations about identity, intimacy, mental and reproductive health are important steps to empowering young women to make healthy choices.
It’s so challenging to provide a space where pain is replaced with healing, but without a doubt, HEART Women & Girls provided that for my community.
“I cannot tell you how much of a game changer it has been for me to have received the type of genuine, open acknowledgement from HEART. I can’t stress enough the importance of creating safe spaces where women can speak about the things they are going through.”
Our Impact Direct Service In 2014,
Total participants reached through all programming, including conferences:
1,591 participants 2016
Total participants reached through all programming, including conferences:
Sexual Violence Programming 130 Sexual Health Programming 235
Sexual Violence Programming 1,294 Sexual Health Programming 297
Community Workshops 32 Campus Workshops 62 Professional Development 31 Conferences 240
Community Workshops 228 Campus Workshops 596 Professional Development 182 Conferences 585
Virtual Impact 18 publications have collectively been downloaded more than 25,000 times in the past two years
Sexual Assault Resources: Sex Education Resources: Why Victims Donâ€™t Tell (Video): Webinars:
16,862 7,559 1,018 views views 1,430
In the next three years, we will: • • • •
Expand our programming to reach up to five additional cities Train 250 leaders and reach 3,000 more participants Double our number of publications Hire our first paid, full-time staff members
The need for HEART’s work cannot be overstated. The current lack of access to accurate health education and sexual violence awareness in Muslim communities is overwhelming and has many long term health implications. We are motivated now more than ever to expand our reach and programming.
But we need your help.
FIND US AT heartwomenandgirls.org
Three ways you can get involved: Follow us. We have active Twitter, Facebook, and blogs that we regularly update. Keep up to date on our work while increasing your sexual health and sexual violence knowledge. Give. Your generous gift of any amount will help amplify our reach and train others on the importance of sexual health education and anti-sexual assault trainings in communities that need it most. Bring us to you. Invite us to your community to lead trainings, workshops, or discussions. These kinds of conversations are difficult, but our trained professionals will lead your group through them in meaningful ways. 10
to our supporters and collaborative partners who have made HEART Women & Girls the organization we are today: Our Supporters:
Brown Family Trust Fund Chicago Foundation for Women Muslim Youth Project at Advocates for Youth Afzal Family Foundation One Chicago, One Nation, a donor advised fund from the Chicago Community Trust Pillars Fund, a donor advised fund from the Chicago Community Trust Crossroads Fund Office on Womenâ€™s Health, DHHS
Our Collaborative Partners:
Rape Victim Advocates Advocates for Youth Center for Urban Research and Learning at Loyola University Womens Health Foundation Interfaith Youth Core UMMA Clinic