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youthagainstabortionstigma

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November 2015

Reducing abortion stigma in Palestine

By Abu Arich, PFPPA

The Palestinian society is not different from other Arab societies, in terms of heritage, cultural, social and economic infrastructure; however, there are some issues with political stability which affect all other aspects of life. The occupation causes restrictions towards community development and women’s empowerment, especially with regards to sexual and reproductive health and rights. Many community activists do not see these issues as major priorities. Moreover, the conservative community and religious values play a major role regarding women’s decision to access SRH services especially abortion related services.

Palestinian women, who make up half of the Palestinian society, suffer from persecution because of gender discrimination; but it has not stopped them from being in decision-making positions at a national level and they have established their own institutions to support women’s and girls’ lives.

Recording a radio show on abortion issues

Our youth initiative was established to increase youth awareness regarding women’s right to access SRH services especially those related to abortion. PFPPA youth volunteers were able to conduct a training for a youth group, and broadcast radio shows on the topic of abortion, which was covered by specialists who have a good knowledge in this area. These discussions had a significant impact on young people in particular, because the radio shows went out on a university owned station. Young volunteers also wrote a letter regarding the abortion law and will present this to the President. And finally, we will create murals to raise awareness of this issue.

Designing graphics for the mural
Designing graphics for the mural

The radio discussions, the murals, and the training of young people have already had an effect on community members, especially on young people and have helped them to be more aware of women’s right to control their bodies and to make decisions that affect their health and future. Hopefully, we will be able to have a positive response from the President’s office and help in making a change to the Palestinian laws regarding abortion issues.

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How to talk about abortion: A guide to rights-based messaging

IPPF launches new publication “How to talk about abortion: A guide to rights based messaging”

IPPF is pleased to announce the launch of “How to talk about abortion: A guide to rights based messaging” a new publication to help organizations review and develop materials that include messages about abortion.

Manuelle Hurwitz, Senior Advisor on Abortion said: “The language and images that we choose to use when talking about abortion are important because they can convey both hidden and explicit messages.”

“Language can feed directly into the misconceptions and stigmatization of abortion. Therefore, a powerful way to address abortion-related stigma is to examine and change how we talk about abortion.”

Despite the growing number of organizations and individuals working to increase access to safe abortion information and services across the globe, there is little support or guidance available on how to talk about abortion using accurate and non-stigmatizing language and images.

“How to talk about abortion: A guide to rights-based messaging” fills this critical gap by providing useful tips and advice for what to consider when developing materials, examples of positive, rights-based messages, and guidance how to avoid using stigmatizing language and images.

This guide can be used by educators, advocates, programmers, health professionals and policy makers to help inform the development of a wide range of materials including printed information, education and communication materials, press releases, training guides, and films.

Find the guide at http://www.ippf.org/resource/How-talk-about-abortion-guide-rights-based-messaging. For further information or to provide feedback on the guide, please email Rebecca Wilkins at rwilkins@ippf.org.

“I decide when”

by Nieves Lara and Lucía Pérez, youth project coordinators at Federación de Planificación Familiar de España (FPFE) 

In Spain, most young people have their first sexual experience without having access to the information, sexuality education and youth friendly services they need. This can result in negative experiences of sexuality, risks of STIs and HIV, unintended pregnancies and, as a result, abortions.

Here in Madrid, with more than two million young people under 29, the abortion rate is the highest in Spain. In 2013, 1.5 in every 100 women terminated a pregnancy.

Although these figures show a clear need to improve the services regarding sexual and reproductive rights (especially in relation to sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health care), we find that the general opinion of citizens about the responsibility of those figures fall directly on women. This is just one symptom of the stigma associated with abortion, a reflection of the misinformation of the general population about the real needs of women (especially those who are most vulnerable, such as young women) regarding sexual and reproductive health.

Therefore, we believe in the need to implement a project like ours, where the main goal is to help fight the stigma that has pursued women who decide to have abortions. “I DECIDE WHEN” aims to eliminate the negative myths surrounding this topic through various activities sharing accurate information about abortion and to convey the idea among young people that the decision of when to become a mother is a right of women, including young women.

As the project continues we will:

Deliver a training course aimed at young peers to offer information on sexual and reproductive rights and the current law in Spain regarding abortion.

– Design and distribute materials (brochures and posters) with information on abortion including recent changes to the law.

– Create a blog with information on abortion, sexuality education, sexual and reproductive rights, etc. including videos, news, meetings, courses and opinions.

– Deliver a total of 50 sexuality education workshops in different organizations (schools, youth centers, universities, etc.) where we will discuss, among other issues, abortion and social stigma.

– Work in coordination with abortion clinics, surveying young women who have had abortions, to assess their satisfaction with the process and evaluating the resources they have counted on during it. We will also offer to accompany young women to the clinic..

– Collect the concerns and proposals of young people regarding sexuality education and sexual and reproductive rights through postcards and suggestion boxes. We will also have meetings with young decision makers of different political parties, in order to extend those concerns and proposals.

Young person sending a message to politicians.
Young person sending a message to politicians.

With all these actions we hope to create a network able to broadcast on sexual and reproductive rights and to contribute to the progressive elimination of stigma on abortion, especially regarding young women.

Changing service providers’ attitudes about abortion in Nepal

By Shambhavi Poudel, volunteer at Family Planning Association of Nepal (FPAN)

“It is important for the family to know if a woman has had an abortion. They will then be able to take better care of her at home. Privacy doesn’t come before a patient’s health to me” A doctor speaking at an FPAN focus group

The attitudes of service providers, and concerns about confidentiality/privacy are the major reasons why women in Nepal opt for unsafe abortions. Our project, ‘Yuwa Pahal’, was set up by youth volunteers at FPAN to contribute to the easy accessibility of youth friendly comprehensive abortion care. ‘Yuwa Pahal’ focuses on building capacity among medical students and healthcare providers on safe abortion care, stigma, abortion laws, post abortion care, youth friendly services and related issues.

Abortion was legalized in Nepal in 2002 after the very long and tireless effort of a group of civil society organizations, led by FPAN. The law of Nepal allows abortion up to 12 weeks at the request of the pregnant women, and after this in certain circumstances. However, women are still accessing unsafe abortions, due to a lack of knowledge about their rights under the law, and due to the barrier of stigma and discrimination.

Focus group discussion at FPAN

The first activity of our project was a focus group discussion with eight service providers from different medical institutions. There were two major learnings from this activity. First, the service providers were only taught how to perform an abortion and nothing more. Many of them knew it was legal but weren’t aware of the conditions in which it was permitted. Second, they had a very negative attitude towards young unmarried women seeking abortion, with little respect for their privacy.

The ‘Yuwa Pahal’ team plans to have a training session with 30 service providers to ensure that they better understand the barriers to abortion, and most importantly that they recognize that abortion is a fundamental right of every woman, and that every women seeking abortion should be treated with dignity and respect regardless of her marital status.

I believe that if we lived in a society that valued women’s autonomy, abortion would be just as acceptable as childbirth.

Public support for safe and legal abortion in Macedonia

by Monika Dragojlovic, volunteer at H.E.R.A. in Macedonia

On the 28th of September, the global day of action for safe and legal abortion, H.E.R.A organized a national conference called “Legal restrictions to safe and legal abortion”. This event gathered all relevant stakeholders to discuss the new abortion law which was introduced by the Macedonian government two years ago. We used this opportunity to ask all participants to choose a message and to take a picture. Members of the national Parliament, such as is Radmila Shekerinska from the Green Party (pictured above) and Radmila Shekerinska from the Social Democrats, took photos and shared them on their Facebook profiles. The law professor Karolina Ristova-Aasterud from the Ss. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje also posted a picture. (H.E.R.A. filed a request to challenge the law in Macedonia’s Constitutional Court, together with Prof. Aasterud). The photos attracted a lot of attention on social media as you can see below:

PROF AASTERUD
Prof.Aasterud: “my uterus, my decision” 411 likes and 29, 773 people reached.
L.Popovska: “abortion must be safe and legal” 5,173 people reached, 61 likes and 18 shares
L.Popovska: “abortion must be safe and legal”
5,173 people reached, 61 likes and 18 shares

As part of the project, a tweet-a-thon was also planned. More than 70 tweets were sent from the H.E.R.A twitter account, using the hashtags #abortion and #BustTheMyths. #Abortion was ‘hashtag of the day’ according the “Macedonia trending” twitter profile that generates most used hashtags and most popular twitter profiles.

“The decision about abortion is a personal decision, the stigma just makes it harder.”

We also shot pictures in the city park. We were expecting more young people at that time of day, but it turns out it was full of parents with young children. This was actually great for us, because we had photos with young parents and their babies which is literally showing that being pro-choice is not equal to anti-life, a common mis-understanding among people in Macedonia. We were explaining our project to everyone interested in the photo shoot and talked about why raising awareness about abortion and abortion stigma is important. There were of course people who did not want to participate, but the main reason was that they didn’t want to be in a photo, however they did not express their opinion about abortion. We also met celebrities in the city park, who participated in the photo shoot such as Ognen Janeski, a journalist in 24 News, Irena Ristic, an actress, and Ranko Bubamara, owner of the Bubamara Radio.

Let’s talk about The “A” word

by Génesis Luigi WHR, Youth Network Coordinator

“Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself”

I have two favorite hobbies: reading Harry Potter books and advocating for Sexual and Reproductive justice. The quote above brings those two things together. I want to talk about the “A” word and why we need to start and maintain an open conversation about…

…A medical procedure

People around the world have abortions, right now an abortion is happening. And for sure tons of other medical procedures are being performed too: c-sections, transplants, open heart surgeries, you name it. So, let’s think about this: What if all of these medical procedures were illegal? A total nightmare, right? Imagine you had to find an underground service provider and plan a story to tell your boss or teacher to justify medical leave for treating a broken leg. That’s what women have to go through when abortion is penalized.

Let’s say you broke your leg because of “irresponsible behaviour” like climbing where you were not supposed to climb, driving a car while drunk (please, don’t ever think about this), or you were simply walking and fell. When you get to the hospital, do doctors decide if they’ll treat your broken leg because of the reasons it happened? When abortion is legal under only a few circumstances like sexual abuse or life/health risks, a woman’s “reasons” are being judged. If she doesn’t ‘fit’ the legal criteria, she could be turned away, and may be at risk of seeking unsafe abortion, or forced to give birth against her will.

…A stigma

“Women will regret their abortions and live in pain for the rest of their lives”

“All abortion procedures are dangerous”

“Service providers are butchers”

We have all heard –or maybe at a certain point in our lives even said- some of the statements above. But do we really know what safe abortion looks like? Maybe not, because of how we learn about abortion in schools and informal educational settings. We grow up thinking about abortion as a sin or the ultimate crime. Who would feel comfortable and confident talking about sins and crimes?

This is how social stigma works: it discourages people from seeking safe abortion services, demonizes providers, and mutes the advocate. Everything is kept in secret, women who die due to unsafe abortions remain invisible or appear only as an “unknown cause” in the statistics. Silence is the fuel for social stigma and the only way to tackle it is losing the fear to talk frankly about abortion, name it as it is: a medical procedure, not a curse, not a crime, not the “A” Word.

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