Sinthia Shabnam is a Planned Parenthood volunteer with the Muslim Organizing Program.
Communities of color continue to face structural inequality in the American health care system. Black and brown people, especially women, have faced the greatest disparity in health care outcomes, inequality in treatment, and have made countless compromises on their health due to lack of affordability and institutionalized discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, and socioeconomic status.
North Carolina is no stranger to this alarming inequality, including a dark history in eugenics during which the state forcibly sterilized nearly 7,600 people, many of whom were Black. In the wake of a global pandemic, Black Americans are the least likely to trust the COVID-19 vaccine. History provides context to existing policies and attitudes now.
As a young Brown Muslim woman, I quickly noted how even menstrual health education has remained a taboo topic in the diverse Muslim community. This was a major driving force in my interest to co-create a women’s health education workshop series titled “Femi-win Hygiene” focused on comprehensive and culturally sensitive menstrual health education for all age groups with my co-creator Soha Raja. Presenting to Muslim American youth, college groups, and even refugee communities, I realized how deeply the intergenerational lack of resources continues to impact families even today. So many Muslim women don’t even know that contraception can help manage periods or hormonal acne and that you don’t have to be sexually active to use it. So many Muslim women have deeply ingrained cultural values that actually don’t align with religious perspectives on women’s health. But where would they learn that if they don’t know who to talk to or ask? I believe paving a way for honest conversations is an absolute necessity. When we destigmatize women’s health education and include black and brown women in public discourse, we develop a more holistic understanding of women’s health as a whole.
Let moms share why they are afraid of using some types of birth control, let teens share why they are concerned about the impact of their mental health on their reproductive health, let couples have opportunities to discuss family planning options together with their healthcare providers.
Reproductive health care is health care. Women of all backgrounds continue to cross inconvenient hurdles just to achieve a basic and comprehensive level of education around women’s health. How can we expect couples, families, and their children to have conversations around reproductive health if even knowing the basics of health education is limited?
Our elected officials have the power to address these structural inequalities. North Carolina state lawmakers are in session right now. The policies they put forward have the potential to either improve or restrict access to reproductive health care.
Having interned at the North Carolina General Assembly myself, I witnessed firsthand the powerful positions of representatives' ability to impact North Carolinian lives at the click of a vote. Health care is deeply personal. It is worth having the conversation about what the consequences of restrictive health care are, who it benefits, and who it harms. No matter your opinion, I want us to ask ourselves one thing: why does the color of one’s skin, or dollar value on one’s paycheck, or even zip code, impact the health care women receive?