Donya Nasser

2019 Winner

Position: Member, Board of Directors
Organization: International Planned Parenthood Federation / Western Hemisphere Region

Bachelor of Arts, Summa Cum Laude from St. John’s University, Honors College/ Gender Studies and Political Science

Additional Degrees and Certifications:
Candidate, MA in Iranian Studies – SOAS, University of London
Public Policy International Relations (PPIA) Fellow: Quantitative Methods, Public Policy, and Economics – U.C. Berkeley
Awards Received:
  • Award:
    Glamour Top Ten College Woman 2014
    Awarding Organization:
    Glamour Magazine
    Date Awarded:
    April 9, 2014
  • Award:
    Bustle Upstart Award Recipient
    Awarding Organization:
    Date Awarded:
    September 29, 2016
  • Award:
    Outstanding Human Rights Young Adult Activist Award
    Awarding Organization:
    Kean University
    Date Awarded:
    March 23, 2018

“Donya is the 2019 U.S. Gender Equality Youth Delegate to the G7 Summit, a UNAOC Women in Peacebuilding Fellow, and the former U.S. Youth Observer to the UN. She represents young people on the PPFA and IPPF/WHR Boards and the IPPF Governing Council.”

Giselle Carino, CEO & Regional Director at International Planned Parenthood Federation / Western Hemisphere Region

Describe your contributions to and achievements in family planning.

For over a decade, I have worked hard to ensure the rights of young people, women, and minorities to family planning access, leadership representation in SRH organizations, and intentional engagement by campaigns. This has been done through advocacy coupled with policy efforts, my most recent example being at the G7’s Youth Summit (Y7) as the U.S. Delegate on Gender Inequalities. In our Communique negotiations, I fought for and secured language on sexual and reproductive health rights and services, feminist approach to domestic and foreign policy, and the early comprehensive sexual education of girls and boys. This was presented to the G7 Sherpas to incorporate in their official dialogue and documents. I have facilitated workshops on meaningful youth participation and the need to train and uplift youth voices in the family planning space to thousands of people, including at the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the International Conference on Family Planning, and Women Deliver. As PPFA’s youngest Board Director, I have represented their commitment to young people and youth rights globally, such as at the 2018 Regional Conference on Population and Development in Lima, Peru. My contributions and achievements have also allowed me to be a recognized advocate for the inclusion of Muslims in the SRHR movement by challenging stereotypes and breaking down stigmas in my community.

What sparked your passion for family planning?

My mother had a marriage arranged for her when she was in high school, and it changed the trajectory of her life. She had to leave Iran for the U.S., a country unknown to her in almost every way possible: language, culture, and religion. She was powerless in her environment, as well as in her own body and life. She was denied access to contraception, financial autonomy, and education. She didn’t have control over her present or future. The only source of autonomy she had was accessing her local Planned Parenthood clinic, because they didn’t require anything but her own permission to receive services. My mother’s story, my family’s struggles being raised by a single parent in a low-income home, and my own struggles as a young woman sparked my passion for SRHR advocacy and policy. She empowered me and my sister to fight for the voice of all women and to use our privilege as Americans to aspire to greatness and ensure others have the right to do so as well. I delved into volunteering at 14 when I realized my power and how that power could be wielded for creating change in the lives of women and girls. If my mom had someone advocating for her rights and power, her life would have turned out differently, as could the lives of millions around the world with family planning advocacy. Her difficulties and sacrifices are the reason why I do what I do and why I am who I am. She taught me to reach for the stars with one hand, but to leave one hand near the ground to uplift other women and girls with me.

Give one or two examples of how you display leadership in your family planning work.:

After being appointed the youngest and only Muslim Board Director of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), I contributed to different campaigns and programs dedicated to youth services and leadership. This included working with different departments to ensure that Muslim women were being represented, included, and meaningfully engaged. I developed a “Cultural Competence for Muslim Patients” training for Affiliate staff and led the conversation in the first PPFA Facebook Live conversation on Muslim Women’s Day. Through this advocacy work, I have reached over 10,000 youth and women in my conference panels, social media takeovers and publications, and strategic planning. Additionally, as a Youth Director for the IPPF/WHR Board and the IPPF Governing Council, I take an active lead in designing and funding SRH programs that impact over 200 million people around the world.

If you are named a winner of 120 under 40, how will you use this new platform and the $1000 grant to advance your work? 

I would use this new platform, in particular the high-level networking and access to incredible family planning champions, to strengthen my work in meaningful youth engagement, inclusion of minorities in SRHR advocacy, and representing Muslim women. These thought-leaders and will undoubtedly be helpful in sharpening my tactics, expanding my knowledge, and fostering creative ideas that I can use to innovate our field. The grant will be used to support the Girlz, FTW program in growing their advocacy efforts. I am partnering with the Founder to transform the power of the over 1,000 girls in their network into global action for sexual and reproductive health rights and services. It is not about creating youth power, but rather uplifting the power these girls already have with the resources they need to do so. I will use both the new platform and the grant to support their global advocacy.

Video Introduction:

Photos of the nominee in the field/at work: