Below is an excerpt of a Center for American Progress interview with Urooj Arshad, the associate director of Equity and Social Justice at Advocates for Youth and the manager of the Muslim Youth Project. Read the full interview here!
Sally Steenland: Urooj, you work on reproductive and sexual health issues with young American Muslims. What are some pressing issues these young people face?
Urooj Arshad: Many young people have felt stigmatized talking about sexual health, and there are not a lot of resources for them. Advocates for Youth is a national organization, and we decided it was a priority for us to work with the community. Our Muslim Youth Project seeks to build the capacity of organizations working on reproductive and sexual health issues with American Muslim youth.
It actually came out of a trip I took to Germany, meeting with a coalition of folks coming from all over Europe to talk about multiculturalism and sexual health education. A lot of the meeting was focused on immigrants and Muslim youth, but there was a distinct lack of Muslim representation. I felt that addressing this gap could be a model—not only in the United States but also for people doing this work in other places where there are large Muslim communities but due to lack of representation and resources, reproductive and sexual health are not addressed.
The big challenges American Muslim communities face are silence and stigma. Issues around reproductive and sexual health are either not talked about or not talked about in a way that is healthy. Silence and stigma can lead to negative health outcomes for young people, especially as they negotiate their lives here. All the information they receive from school and other sources can pose a dilemma as to what they’re supposed to be doing.
There is also a lack of cultural competence from mainstream providers. It could be community-based organizations. It could be schools. If you are a provider that’s worked predominantly in the Muslim community, you might not be able to address reproductive or sexual health issues. Or if you are a provider in the reproductive and sexual health community, you might not know how to address issues Muslim young people are facing. Because of this, what can happen in the American Muslim youth community can be quite dire.