Shaila Huq is an enthusiastic young woman who recently graduated from Rutgers University. She dove into Population Connection’s work when she attended Capitol Hill Days (CHD) in 2014. From returning for a second time in 2015 to leading a film screening to engage others in the population conversation, Shaila has become a shining advocate for women’s empowerment and family planning access.
Shaila’s commitment to advocacy began many years ago, in middle school, when she stumbled across a video exposing cases of animal cruelty. This invoked unfamiliar emotions of frustration and helplessness and made her want to take action. With encouragement from her social studies teacher, she explored why this video had stirred such a visceral reaction in her and investigated opportunities to reconcile her frustrations. From this experience, Shaila learned about online petitions and the value of talking to friends about issues that are important to her. This led her to volunteering opportunities and the greater world of activism.
This lesson in taking action stayed with Shaila throughout her college career, both in her academics and her extracurriculars. From her first class, Shaila found public health to be the perfect major for her because it was a nexus of so many of the issues that she cared deeply about—equality, gender, poverty, and the environment. Seeking new ways to pursue her own interests and also to help others cultivate theirs brought her to her campus work with the ONE Campaign, an international advocacy organization committed to ending extreme poverty and preventable disease. Shaila found out that Rutgers once had a student chapter of ONE, but that it was no longer active.
With a few close friends, she was able to revitalize the ONE chapter at Rutgers and recruit others in fighting poverty and disease.
Shaila and Population Connection
Shaila first heard about Population Connection through an email invitation to attend Capitol Hill Days in 2014. After reading through our website and learning more about our mission in advocating for universal voluntary family planning, she decided to come to D.C. for the advocacy weekend. Throughout the conference, Shaila proved herself to be a well-spoken and passionate advocate for international family planning. “Family planning is vastly important,” Shaila said, because “it represents a clear fork in the path for women.” Shaila understands that reproductive rights and access to family planning are vital components of gender equality because they help raise the standard of living for women and girls by improving health and increasing access to educational and employment opportunities.
Shaila credits Population Connection with drawing out her interest in public policy advocacy. Through Capitol Hill Days, she was able to take part in lobby meetings with the offices of her representatives, an experience that she found incredibly eye opening. In speaking to congressional staffers, she found that “a seemingly untouchable group of people actually does want to hear what I have to say, even if they don’t necessarily agree.” She was surprised and heartened that the staffers took notes and asked (at times, hard-hitting) questions about her group’s requests to increase funding for family planning and to eliminate the Global Gag Rule. Her Capitol Hill Days experience helped show her that policy formation is an intricate process that citizen lobbyists can legitimately impact.
During the year following CHD 2014, Shaila was able to share her interests in reproductive health and international family planning with her peers. Seeking to encourage her classmates to join in more conversations about reproductive rights, Shaila helped coordinate a film screening and discussion with Population Connection and her ONE Campaign chapter members. With this screening, her classmates explored the values of reproductive rights and how closely they tie in with opportunities to educate women around the world. This spurred her classmates to get more involved, and several of her peers joined Shaila when she came back to Capitol Hill Days in 2015.
Throughout her college career, Shaila committed herself to advocating for women’s equality, ending poverty and preventable diseases, and working toward environmental sustainability. In addition to leading her campus chapter of ONE, Shaila led organizing efforts with Food and Water Watch and its Take Back the Tap campaign, which aimed to expand the university’s water filtration system and eliminate plastic bottled water.
“Above all, reaching out to people and empowering them to take action is my favorite part of all that I’ve done,” Shaila says. Shaila explains that organizations she’s been involved with, like Population Connection, are so important not only in the work they do, but also because they give people who may have a passive interest in something a chance to become more informed and confident enough to move toward action.
We are proud to see Shaila continuing to encourage others to embrace and advocate on behalf their passions. After graduating, Shaila spent time as a camp counselor for her local park system. She had a wonderful experience working with middle school students and finding ways to teach lessons about being a global citizen. She’s now gearing up to be a campus organizer for the ONE Campaign over the next few months. She hopes to eventually pursue her interests in epidemiology through a master’s degree.
From what we’ve seen, we are certain that Shaila will continue to grow as an activist and as someone who can help inspire action in everyone she meets!