By Alimatu Harding, youth volunteer at Planned Parenthood Association of Sierra Leone
Joining the Stop Abortion Stigma project has helped me grow more confident than ever! Having been in the project for the last five months, I have learnt something about myself that I never knew.
I’m Alimatu Harding; working with the Stop Abortion Stigma project in Sierra Leone. It was an eye opener to me and other young people in this community. Having been with the project for five months, I have realized something about myself that I never knew before. I am more confident and assertive in addressing abortion and other related stigma in my community. My engagements in the project have further improved my social interaction and behaviour. Before this time, I found it difficult to engage people on issues relating to abortion.
The abortion project transformed my life. This was as a result of the training we received at the commencement of the project. I was part of the sensitization in schools and communities. This project has empowered me to talk about issues relating to abortion.
Abortion was viewed as an evil practice in my community, and if a woman ends a pregnancy intentionally, people thought that she will lose the chance to conceive in future. Despite these numerous challenges based on religious values and traditional beliefs that were deeply rooted in my community, the intervention of the project brought positive transformation.
During the implementation of the project I engaged young women and girls on issues of abortion stigma and how we could work together to stop it. The project has helped me to interact with fellow young women and girls in the Njai Town community.
My involvement on a radio panel discussion, to talk to my peers and gather their contributions through text messages and phone calls was a remarkable experience.
Although abortion is legally restricted in Sierra Leone, the community stakeholders supported this project because they want to save our lives as their daughters and wives. Above all we ask that they recognize our sexual reproductive rights and stop stigmatizing us.
By Sunil Karki, youth volunteer at the Family Planning Association of Nepal (FPAN)
Every generation of today is familiar with this word abortion. Some take it in a positive way whereas some take it negatively. Most people from developed countries are more open to abortion but in Nepal, especially in under-developed places or rural areas this is kept a confidential topic – it is very difficult to accept the word ‘abortion’. So our FPAN Palpa branch members took this initiative on abortion stigma and made a successful project.
On 25th September 2017 we, the active members of FPAN Palpa, with Bangsha Gopal youth club, made this project a huge success. Teenagers, youths, as well as their parents, were involved in this programme. It was a great privilege to see their active participation and involvement beyond our expectation. Almost everybody spoke and gave their views and perceptions on this topic without any hesitation. There were many sessions such as sexuality and reproductive health, contraceptive devices, safe and unsafe abortion, ways and types of abortion and so on.
Many female participants talked about the experiences they had gone through and the circumstances they had to face during abortion. They knew that unsafe abortion may lead to the death of the woman, or cause mental health problems, but still feared opening up to society. Our great achievement was to start a change in people’s education and thinking. After the project they developed a bit of guts and a new way of thinking. This project was a small approach to change the way people think about abortion. This was not so easy – some of them had an argument on this too because accepting this challenge in such a rural area is not so easy, but after a long discussion we were successful.
by Paula Rerimoi, youth volunteer at Family Health Options Kenya (FHOK)
‘Silent Loud’: let’s take a minute and internalize the title at hand. Paradoxical isn’t it? That is exactly what abortion stigma is! Silent, hidden, yet so loud. The question is why is abortion stigma in existence? What does it do to us as a society and what can we do to fight abortion stigma?
According to a study done by the Ministry of Health in 2012, it is estimated that there were nearly 465,000 induced abortions in Kenya. The high number of unplanned pregnancies that often lead to unsafe abortion cases were mainly due to gender based violence, high levels of poverty, poor access to family planning services and generally poor state of women’s reproductive health in the country. Most of these cases involved women and young girls not having access to post abortion care.
Most young girls procure abortions in order to continue pursuing their education; others avoid the financial burden that comes with raising a child, especially with no source of livelihood and also to avoid the stigma that comes with being a young/unwed pregnant woman.
Abortion is often considered a taboo in the African culture thus the case of abortion stigma existing in our society. Abortion stigma is a negative attribute inflicted on women who seek to terminate a pregnancy or access post abortion care. In Kenya, women still do not have the freedom to make life-transforming decisions of whether to carry a pregnancy to term or not. Stigma mainly manifests depending on the laws of the land, archaic cultural perceptions and religious influences. The Kenyan constitution states that “abortion is not permitted unless, in the opinion of a trained- health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.” Stories often hit the news of women being handed more than 10 years imprisonment for procuring an abortion. Service providers are also caught up in the net and often end up behind bars for providing abortion services that are seen as not in accordance with the law.
From the Silent Loud Project, I learnt that every woman has the right to make decisions affecting her and her body. With the project we were able to stage community plays where we engaged with the locals as to why abortion stigma was prominent and what could be done to counter it. During the focused group discussions, reasons as to why it is very important for any woman to access safe abortion services was emphasized. We also sensitized the community on the importance of talking about abortion openly as it is the only way to deal with abortion stigma.
Some of the challenges faced during the project mainly involved being criticized by individuals within our community as many stated that abortion should not be the basis of the discussions as it is illegal before the law, God and even as per the cultural perception.
As the community, we ought not to be so fast to point fingers and be perpetrators of abortion stigma, instead we ought to support the victims for it could be your sister, your daughter, your mother or even you. Women should be given the freedom to make decisions concerning their own bodies for it’s HER BODY, HER CHOICE!
Two young people, involved with IPPF’s youth and abortion stigma project in India, write about their experiences of sharing information in their local community. This post is reproduced from the FPA India blogsite.
Chandmani – Peer Educator
I work as a peer educator in the Murhu project of Family Planning Association of India. Before working with FPA India, concepts such as abortion, contraception, copper-T, etc. were alien to me. Yes, I had heard of ‘condom’ somewhere, but how it is used, its benefits, were unknown to me. I didn’t even know about STDs and their risks. When FPA India came to Murhu, they explained to us about the basket of contraceptive choices, women’s right to abortion, and everything associated to sexual and reproductive health and rights. Abortion, especially, was something nobody spoke about or even accessed because of the stigma associated with ‘ending a pregnancy’.
All the information provided by FPA India helped broaden my viewpoint and motivated me to join them as a peer educator. Now, I support abortion as a choice and even tell people in my community, about how it is alright to opt for abortion in case of an unwanted pregnancy. I am glad that I am getting a chance to learn so much from FPA India.
Abortion, especially, was something nobody spoke about or even accessed because of the stigma associated with ‘ending a pregnancy’.
Dolly – Peer educator
I work with FPA India as a peer educator in the Khunti district of Jharkhand. Earlier, I used to consider abortion a sin and did not have much knowledge about contraception either. But, it was the information and services provided by FPA India that put an end to my superstitious beliefs. And now, I take so much pride in associating myself with FPA India and talking about its initiatives in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights. As a peer educator, I work towards destigmatising abortion in our village, especially by educating young women and newly-weds. Every time I support someone to opt for contraception, it gives me a lot of happiness because I feel like I am helping in bringing about a change.
by Isabel Pérez Witzke, Youth Coalition Member from Venezuela and abortion advocacy training facilitator. This is cross-posted from the Youth Coalition blog. Versión en español a continuación.
Facilitating the IPPF/Youth Coalition Safe Abortion Advocacy Training of Trainers workshop reinforced in me the importance of safe spaces for advocates.
At the training we recently delivered in the Dominican Republic, the space we created was not only productive for developing important reflections about our experiences as advocates, it was also profoundly positive for sharing feelings and thoughts. For example, on how we feel about the speeches we constantly deliver to different audiences in favour of safe and legal abortion.
There were moments during our training when we realized that there were significant differences in how we viewed abortion, both within our small group and among our many advocate peers. So, it is important that we foster open and safe spaces where people feel comfortable enough to share thoughts or questions that they might not normally share in advocacy spaces – out of fear that they will face criticism, or that their words will be manipulated and used against them.
There must be space for reflection and self-criticism in our advocacy spaces! It is the only way to avoid becoming a robot, simply repeating information and arguments. Our actions and advocacy are strengthened by self-reflection and self-awareness, and the more spaces we develop for this, the more we will be able to build up strong, empowered groups of advocates that cannot be weakened by anti-choice groups.
We fight for Comprehensive Sexuality Education. We fight for the Right to Decide. We fight for our safety and our relevance as young people. But we also fight to not lose the spaces that challenge us to reflect, think critically and ultimately strengthen our movements. Young people are thoughtful and powerful, and our Training in the Dominican Republic was just a small taste of that!
Al facilitar el Entrenamiento de Entrenadores/as en Promoción por el Derecho al Aborto Seguro, sentí, con mayor fuerza, la importancia de los espacios seguros y cómodos para jóvenes activistas.
El entrenamiento que se dio en República Dominicana fue un espacio productivo, no sólo para construir reflexiones sobre nuestras experiencias como activistas, sino también para compartir sentimientos y opiniones. Por ejemplo, sobre cómo nos sentimos con respecto a los discursos a favor del aborto seguro y legal que constantemente estamos dando para diversas audiencias.
Hubo momentos en los que nos dimos cuenta de importantes diferencias de opinión entre nosotras/os mismas/os como grupo y como activistas. Por ello, es importante que siempre podamos proveer espacios que sean seguros y de confianza donde las personas puedan sentir la comodidad suficiente para compartir sus pensamientos o las dudas que normalmente no compartimos en espacios de activismo debido al temor a recibir juicios de valor o a que nuestras palabras puedan ser manipuladas y usadas en nuestra contra.
¡Deben haber momentos para la reflexión y la autocrítica en nuestros espacios de activismo! Es la única manera en la cual podemos evitar transformarnos en meros autómatas que reproducen información y datos. Nuestras acciones son fortalecidas por la autocrítica y la reflexión y, si tenemos más momentos para ello, pues tendremos más grupos empoderados que no sientan presión o debilidad frente a los grupos anti-decisión.
Luchamos por la Educación Integral en Sexualidad. Luchamos por el Derecho a Decidir. Luchamos por nuestra seguridad y nuestra importancia como personas jóvenes. También debemos luchar por no perder los espacios que nos invitan a reflexionar, a pensar y analizar críticamente la realidad. De esta manera, fortalecemos nuestro movimiento. Las personas jóvenes somos fuertes y pensantes. El entrenamiento en República Dominicana fue una pequeña cucharada de ello.
by Karina, a youth advocate from the Dominican Republic.
Karina took part in Youth Coalition’s Abortion Advocacy Training in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, co-hosted by Profamilia Dominican Republic, the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and IPPF-Western Hemisphere. This is cross-posted from Youth Coalition’s blog. Versión en español a continuación.
Relieved. That’s how I felt during the Safe Abortion Advocacy Training of Trainers.
It was the first time I worked or participated in an educational space free of stigma.
People from Perú, Dominican Republic, United States, Bolivia, Venezuela and Argentina participated in this space and shared nurturing reflections and knowledge about their countries’ situations around abortion. Through sharing these experiences, it made us realize how important it is to not just fight to change the restrictive legislation towards abortion, but to fight for comprehensive and quality services aiming to provide safe abortion to people who need it.
During this training, every emotion and every thought mattered. We defined the most effective ways of talking about abortion and we learned to not feel guilty for defending it. We clarified our values and prejudices around abortion using a human rights based approach.
We developed many reflections through our discussions, such as: people who get abortions do not suffer because of the decision itself but because of the painful road they have to take to access abortion services. They suffer because of health providers’ lack of information about abortion. This is what makes the decision a difficult and uncomfortable one. Abortion is not a moral problem but a health issue, and one that our states are not paying enough attention to.
The people from IPPF, Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Profamilia were amazing facilitators. I feel so much more safe and secure now when I say: abortion is a right and we need to fight for it. This training and the new friends I made are going to remain with me forever.
Liberada. Así me sentí durante mi estancia en la Formación para Entrenadoras/ en Actividades de Promoción por el Aborto Seguro, es la primera oportunidad que tengo de educarme sobre el tema en un espacio de trabajo y de socialización en donde no existía estigmatización.
El encuentro de los países que participaron -entre ellos Perú, Argentina, EEUU y RD- fue una de las partes más enriquecedoras. Ver cómo las demás naciones asumían el tema del aborto, y la manera en que variaban las problemáticas, ayudaba a darnos de cuenta que no bastaba luchar por un marco legal que aprobara la interrupción del embarazo para la vida e integridad de la mujer, sino que también se tenía que pelear por un servicio integral de calidad en materia de aborto seguro.
Siempre se le dio importancia a cómo nos sentíamos en el proceso educativo. Definimos técnicas abordaje sobre el tema, aprendimos a no sentir culpa por defender el aborto, aclaramos dudas basadas en las preconcepciones que tenemos del mismo y de situaciones de salud basándonos en los derechos humanos y reforzamos nuestros argumentos.
Dentro de los intercambios de experiencias personales, movilización social y trabajo de salud en el tema del aborto pudimos llegar a las siguientes conclusiones: las mujeres que deciden abortar no sufren por la decisión sino por lo doloroso y complicado que es acceder a un aborto; la desinformación de los proveedores del servicio de salud hace inaccesible o incómoda la decisión de interrumpir un embarazo; el aborto no es un problema moral, es un problema de salud que no está siendo resuelto de manera satisfecha por parte del estado y que los albortos que se realizan en zonas vulnerables son de alto riesgo.
IPPF, YOUTH COALITION y PROFAMILIA fueron magistrales anfitriones y facilitadores del tema, me siento mucho más segura de que la despenalización del aborto es un derecho que las mujeres que tenemos que pelear, me llevo de esta maravillosa experiencia no solo una nueva perspectiva del tema sino también amigos que siempre marcaran un antes y un después en mí.
By Mwape Kaunda, youth volunteer at Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia
Coming from a family that are strong believers of tradition, for me abortion had always been portrayed as sinful and evil. Myths like; abortion will leave a woman barren and, people who die from abortion turn black from all the bleeding. Hearing all those myths made me detest and fear abortion but upon acquiring knowledge I made it my aim to ensure people change their attitudes towards abortion and the women who practice abortion. It became vital that accurate information should be disseminated. Being an activist and advocate hadn’t been easy because the beliefs are deeply rooted in society.
I remember once coming out publicly saying “If I get pregnant today and I am not ready to be a mother, I wouldn’t hesitate to have an abortion.” The reaction I got from the community was quite disappointing, women especially called me spoilt and said that I had no values. Hearing those hurtful words almost made me give up on advocating for safe abortion but my determination was stronger.
With time, people in my community started to loosen up on abortion, then you would hear people talk about abortion openly. Completely abolishing stigma is a gradual process – whenever I refer a woman to a health centre to access abortion services I am slowly accomplishing my target of a community where any woman can access abortion without fear of stigma.
In my quest to see zero unsafe abortions and zero stigma, young people play an important role. If we involve young people we will definitely get positive results.
By Akosua Adubea Agyepong, Youth Council Member at the Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana
At a point in time I believed that in our society what is moral is cast in stone, that it was defined by the Bible, the Quran or by values crafted by long gone ancestors, centuries before my parents were born. But no, it is not so, morality is not predefined by certain set standards. It is constructed as and when it is convenient and beneficial to mankind.
So why do we make the woman’s body subject to morality, her autonomy dependent on society’s definition of good and the use of her body a topic pending public approval? Such antics do not realize some public good but only leave subjects such as ‘abortion’ at the mercy of the pathology of policy makers, stakeholders and lawmakers.
What came out strongly for me during the inroads African Regional meeting was the idea that seemed to echo across the region – that people perceived abortion as murder. This really is not news, but it is indeed worrisome; such perceptions do not prevent girls from having abortions, it just makes unsafe abortions a much convenient option. This is indeed the reality; thus, it is baffling that a community like ours that values unity, community, life, one another, would rather risk losing our women, our girls, to unsafe abortions than to lead the fight in championing easier access to safe ones.
All of these and more are the many battles we fight against abortion stigma. However, the inroads regional meeting did not only highlight the struggles we face in our different geographical contexts, but we discussed African solutions in the form of innovations to aid us in the battle against abortion stigma.
In my mind’s eye, I see an Africa where the dialogue on abortion is made open and free and abortion is demystified using a virtual platform to engage young people on the discourse of abortion, its pros, legalities and a host of others.
Where, the conversation in our homes is moved away from whether or not it is a sin to how best it can be made easily accessible to every woman who needs it. Where people like me who talk about abortion and refer to it as an option for unwanted pregnancies are not seen as the ones disintegrating the moral fiber of our communities but as heroines saving lives.
If we are unable to realize this type of Africa, we will continue to make unsafe abortions attractive and convenient for the young African girl, and she would keep on risking her life with quack doctors, cassava sticks, broken bottles mixed with coke etc. just to ensure that she isn’t shamed by society for asserting her sexual and reproductive health and rights.
If we value the lives of our girls, then let’s fight abortion stigma together.
By Kader Avonnon, Youth Champion, Association Béninoise pour la Promotion de la Famille (ABPF)
According to the World Health Organisation, 47,000 women die of complications related to unsafe abortion every year. One of the main causes of these deaths is the stigma surrounding access to information and abortion services. I personally think that abortion is a health service like any other; access to it is a fundamental human right that must be ensured for all. Because, safe abortion services save the lives of women and girls.
On 29th and 30th May 2017, I participated in a regional meeting organized by Inroads (International Network for the Reduction of Abortion Stigma and Discrimination) in Lusaka, Zambia. The purpose of the meeting was to provide participants from African countries with a forum for discussing good practices in combating the stigma associated with abortion services. As an IPPF Youth Champion, I work to reduce the stigma associated with abortion among young people in Benin and elsewhere. The meeting was a great opportunity for me to give and receive information. I was given the opportunity to present a video made by the association to which I belong (ABPF) as part of the Packard funded youth and abortion stigma project in Benin; to present Ado-Santé, an application developed by ABPF to promote young people’s access to information about their sexuality; and to co-facilitate a session on “stigmatizing against young people” in collaboration with Akosua Agyepong (National Treasurer of the IPPF Youth Action Movement in Ghana) and Catherine Osita (Fortress of Hope Africa).
Of all the sessions, I particularly enjoyed the shared experiences on the use of networks and social media in the fight against the stigma associated with abortion. Different experiences have demonstrated the effectiveness of this channel in removing barriers to access to information and facilitating referral to services.
This meeting contributed to the strengthening of my capacities, particularly in the development of non-stigmatizing messages. It enabled me to familiarize myself with other advocacy tools against stigma related to abortion at different levels. I was also pleased to learn that some religious leaders do support their followers to access abortion services. Even if this is done in discretion, it announces that a day will come when religious barriers to accessing abortion services will be completely lifted.
My participation in this meeting allowed me to strengthen my abilities and diversify my knowledge on abortion communication strategies. This new knowledge will allow me to increase my involvement alongside my young peers. I strongly recommend the replication of this activity at all levels (national, regional, and global) to make available the information, experiences and tools that have proved their worth in the fight against the stigmatization of abortion.
Inroads réunion régionale de l’Afrique: un festival d’idées sur la stigmatisation liée à l’avortement
Par Kader Avonnon, Jeune Champion, Association Béninoise pour la Promotion de la Famille (ABPF)
Selon l’OMS, 47 000 femmes décèdent des complications liées à l’avortement dans les pays en voie de développement. L’une des causes principales de ces décès est la stigmatisation qui entoure l’accès à l’information et aux services d’avortement. Je pense personnellement que l’avortement est un service de santé comme tout autre ; y accéder est un droit fondamental de l’homme qui doit être assuré pour tous. Car, les services d’avortement sauvent la vie des femmes et des jeunes filles et procure le bien-être familial
Les 29 et 30 Mai 2017, j’ai participé à une rencontre régionale organisée par Inroads (Réseau Internationale pour la Réduction de la Stigmatisation et la Discrimination liée à l’Avortement) à Lusaka en Zambie. Cette réunion visait à offrir aux participants venus de plusieurs pays d’Afrique un espace d’échange sur les bonnes pratiques dans le domaine de la lutte contre la stigmatisation liées aux services d’avortement. En ma qualité de Jeune Champion de l’IPPF, j’œuvre pour la réduction de la stigmatisation liée à l’avortement parmi les jeunes au Bénin et ailleurs. La réunion était pour moi un rendez-vous du donner et du recevoir. Elle m’a donné l’opportunité de présenter une vidéo réalisée par l’Association à laquelle j’appartiens (ABPF) dans le cadre du projet Packard au Bénin d’une part, de présenter Ado-Santé, une application développée par l’ABPF pour favoriser l’accès des jeunes à l’information sur leur sexualité et de co-faciliter une session sur « la stigmatisation face aux jeunes » en collaboration avec Akosua GYEPONG (Trésorière Nationale du MAJ Ghana) et Catherine Osita de (Fortress of Hope Africa) d’autre part.
De toutes les sessions, j’ai particulièrement aimé les expériences partagées sur l’utilisation des réseaux et médias sociaux dans la lutte contre la stigmatisation liée à l’avortement. Les différentes expériences ont démontré l’efficacité de ce canal pour lever les barrières affectant l’accès à l’information et faciliter la référence vers les services.
Cette rencontre a contribué au renforcement de mes capacités, particulièrement en matière d’élaboration de message non stigmatisant. Elle m’a permis de me familiariser avec d’autres outils de plaidoyer contre la stigmatisation liée à l’avortement à différents niveaux. J’ai aussi été content d’apprendre que des leaders religieux soutiennent leurs fidèles à accéder aux services d’avortement. Même si cela est jusque-là fait dans la discrétion, cela annonce qu’un jour viendra où les barrières religieuses à l’accès aux services d’avortement seront complètement levées.
Ma participation à cette rencontre m’a permis de renforcer mes capacités et diversifier mes connaissances sur les stratégies de communication sur l’avortement. Ces nouvelles connaissances me permettront d’accroitre mon engagement aux côtés de mes pairs jeunes au pays.
Je recommande vivement la duplication de cette activité à toutes les échelles (national, régional, et mondial) pour rendre disponible l’information, les expériences et les outils qui ont fait leur preuve dans la lutte contre la stigmatisation de l’avortement.