On Monday, November 13, 2017 Latanya Mapp Frett, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Global, came to International House to speak to Residents. The discussion was moderated by Terry McGovern, Chair and Professor of Population and Family Health at the Columbia University Medical Center. The evening’s conversation focused on women’s rights to health resources globally; the impact of the changing political landscape on the future of women’s access to birth control; and abortions and other health resources. Both Frett and McGovern have dedicated their lives to social justice and believe that women’s rights and human rights.
Frett shared the amazing story of how she came to work in the field of women’s health advocacy and provision. Prior to Planned Parenthood, she worked with a child labor program in Ethiopia dedicated to bringing children back to their families and schools. Frett found that “half were girls 12-16…and that many were pregnant.” Compelled to help in any way she could, Frett welcomed a 15-year-old girl who was HIV positive and pregnant into her home and helped to look after the girl’s child.
When asked about the present and future of Planned Parenthood and Planned Parenthood Global, Frett said the Global Gag Rule (GGR) has been their biggest obstacle thus far. The GGR “prohibits international family planning organizations receiving U.S. aid from providing information, counseling, or referrals related to abortion — even if using their own non-U.S. funding and even if the practices are legal in their own countries” (EngenderHealth). Frett said that at Planned Parenthood Global, “we never felt that women’s health was a political issue.”
Nevertheless, Frett and her team have been able to make groundbreaking strides for women’s rights around the world despite the GGR. For example, Frett worked with the nation of Kenya to add language to their constitution that protects women’s reproductive rights.
“Girls are not offered the health choices needed,” Frett explained. “Abortion has become stigmatized” in many nations because it is often lumped in with diseases like tuberculosis and malaria. “Most organizations [like Planned Parenthood Global] are working to reduce stigma and encourage healthy impacts,” Frett said.
In spite of this great challenge, Frett remains focused and dedicated to her goal of increasing women’s global access to birth control and health resources.
Frett draws strength and inspiration from the brave women in her life. She was deeply inspired by her mother at an early age, who helped uplift her family against all odds out of poverty in the United States. “The likelihood that we would have gotten out of that cycle of poverty was so low,” she said.
Frett also spoke of how inspired she is by the women she meets through her work with Planned Parenthood Global. “I am proud of the women in communities affected by FGM [female genital mutilation] who are doing sustainable, community-based advocacy,” Frett said. She also spoke of her deep admiration for the bravery of victims of sexual violence, as she shared a story about a pregnant 15-year-old in Senegal who was a victim of incest. “The amount of courage you have to have to blame [a family member] for raping you and go before a court – these girls are my heroes,” Frett said.
But there is a silver lining to this story. “In every single country we work in, we always find support,” Frett said. “The more personal you get, the less resistance you get. If you want to get past opposition, you get personal,” Frett explained. She shared anecdotes of how individuals against birth control had met with women who shared their personal stories, and how their minds were opened and many changed. “Families grow to understand” a woman’s right to choose, Frett said. McGovern added that “evidence-based advocacy [is] moving the needle” toward change.
Overall, the event was an eye-opening experience. The questions posed by Residents after the discussion created a powerful dialogue of shared understanding and the desire for increased awareness and resources for women around the world.