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June 2016

What I learned about fighting abortion stigma in Macedonia

by Monika Dragojlovic, H.E.R.A

What I learned from our ‘It’s About You’ project is that fighting against any kind of stigma is a very hard task . In Macedonia we have this controversial abortion law that has negative impact on our society. So from a political point of view, changing the law would be enough to change the whole situation. But is that really enough? Changing the law would be the ultimate goal in our long journey to do so. But we have a long way to go.

In order to bust the stigma it is necessary to change public opinion. Our idea was to bring people together to talk. And it was important to find people with different backgrounds. This turns out to be very difficult task. People in general don’t feel comfortable to talk about these kinds of questions. But we think this is an important step. Why? Because by talking they might affect other people’s perceptions of abortion, in a community they belong to by the media. And then at the end the law can be changed. By shooting short videos we can work to achieve this goal. Stigma works on many levels at once, so there is a lot of work to do.unsafe abortion.png

I learned that fighting against the system itself might not be the hardest part. Sure, the system is helping this process of stigmatizing abortion. We had this aggressive media campaign funded by the government, supporting pro-life views. Conservative values, lack of information and not having sex education seems like a winning combination for making pro-life views even more popular amongst people. So the hardest part is to change people’s mindset. Abortion is not murder but it is a human right.safe and legal

Finally, I learned that abortion stigma affects all of us. In order to improve our situation we must raise our voices and speak out loud, not only about abortion but about every other issue we think matters.

 

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My experience at Women Deliver

By Dennis Glasgow, youth volunteer and peer educator at the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association

In March I was told that I had won a video contest on ‘Talking About Abortion’ that was facilitated by IPPF and the prize was attending an international conference that deals with issues I am particularly passionate about. Luckily for me, Women Deliver was suggested and after doing some research I decided to take the once in a lifetime opportunity to go to Copenhagen, Denmark.

I was asked to speak at two IPPF events at Women Deliver about my experience in Guyana with Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and it was indeed an honour for me, my organization and my country.

On the first day I gave a presentation at the IPPF Member Association in Denmark called Sex & Samfund (The Danish Family Planning Association) on sexuality education in Guyana where I spoke about what I believe young people need to know about their sexual and reproductive health: ‘’what counts as ‘sex’? , we want to know more about contraceptives, how to use condoms correctly and how to access them, we want to learn about relationships, how our body changes, we want to be told that having sexual urges is normal and tell us ways in which we can deal with it, we want to know more about abortion and finally, I think virginity should be a topic we pay more attention to, especially to the myths around it.” The presentation was well received by participants and we had a very interactive session with the audience afterwards. The Conference officially commenced with an astonishing opening ceremony which saw the participation of thousands of conference delegates who came from all over the world and people who have been working in various areas that promoted Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, Maternal Health and my personal favourites, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and Abortion Stigma Reduction. My personal favourite was the “Abortion Stigma Reduction” workshop which was facilitated by Inroads.

I also spoke at the launch of IPPF’s report ‘Everyone’s right to know: delivering comprehensive sexuality education for all young people’ and the best part of the entire experience was being able to be a normal peer educator and volunteer and being afforded with the opportunity to sit and speak alongside Tewodros Melesse, Director General of IPPF, Martin Bille Herrman who is the Danish Secretary of State for Development Policy and Joanna Herat of UNESCO. At the end of the presentations the Minister approached me on his way out and congratulated me for all the work I’ve been doing and shook my hand. He also encouraged me to keep doing what I do, and hearing from him was truly one of the best moments for me at Women Deliver. The Guardian had a representative at the launch and she approached me for an interview and I was like “Why not?” and we spoke about the experiences I had with CSE and eventually it was posted on their website as a podcast.

After the week was over I got to share my experiences with my peers back at the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association. I got to meet some inspiring people and share my personal story as a young peer educator at the Member Association. I can personally pledge to always stand up for my fellow young people and I will always be an advocate for Comprehensive Sexuality Education to be accessible to all Guyanese youth.

 

Abortion and Reproductive Justice Conference – The Unfinished Revolution II

By Marianne Forsey, youth intern at IPPF Central Office

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend an international conference on Abortion and Reproductive Justice  at Ulster University, Belfast. It was the second conference of its kind which brought together academics, medical professionals, performers and activists from many different countries and contexts. Attendees had the opportunity to present on, share and question issues relating to abortion and reproductive justice and to build new networks of knowledge and activism.

Across the wide range of presentations, there was a theme of looking at the way abortion stigma is experienced through varied aspects of a person’s identity and experience. Things such as age, race, ethnicity, whether or not a person is living with a disability, sexual orientation and being in sex work can all affect the way a person is affected by abortion stigma. Speakers addressed how being poor, or a member of an indigenous group, or living in a remote area prevents people from accessing safe abortion services, even in countries where abortion is provided for within the law.

I had the opportunity to present on the IPPF funded youth-led project, ‘Yo Decido Cuándo’ which explored and tackled young people’s experience of abortion stigma in Spain. The project found that a key element for combatting young people’s experience of abortion stigma is education and those who took part in the educational workshops called upon politicians to provide better sexuality education. One of the most innovative branches of the project was the collaborative work with local abortion clinics. This collaboration has allowed the clinics and the young people’s centre to facilitate young people’s access, improve their experience of abortion services and has tackled stigma related to accessing these services.

Furthermore, speakers addressed the need to tackle stigma experienced not only by recipients of abortion services, but also by providers. For example, Dr Suchitra Dalvie from the Asia Safe Abortion Partnership explained how doctors in India are sometimes unwilling to provide abortion services for fear of harassment by anti sex-selection IMG_20160603_112603campaigners. Dr Dalvie expressed the need to separate the right to a safe and legal abortion from the campaign against sex-determination, so that the root cause of sex-determination (gender discrimination) can be addressed without restricting access to safe abortion. Dr Dalvie also called for better collaboration between the medical profession and pro-choice or feminist movements so that trainee doctors receive stigma-busting training on reproductive health.

Similarly, Kulapa Vajanasara and Kritya Archavanitkul from Mahidol University discussed how the attitude in Thailand that abortion is a sin can result in abortion providers experiencing the stigma of ‘associated sin’. As a result, the speakers noted that providers can face obstacles to career advancement and can find themselves marginalised within the medical profession and their communities. The stigmatization of providers is therefore a major barrier to accessing safe and legal abortion services in Thailand.

Overall, it was highlighted that the diversity of people’s experiences needs to be addressed in order to ensure full access to sexual and reproductive health services and that greater collaboration across sectors is needed to work towards eradicating abortion stigma.

Learning about abortion stigma at ‘Women Deliver’

by Viktor Damjanovski, young volunteer at H.E.R.A in Macedonia

Recently, I participated in the global conference “Women Deliver”. Women Deliver is an enormous global advocacy organization that works on fulfilling the 5th Millennium Development Goal – reducing maternal mortality and improving universal access to reproductive health.

The overall experience of the conference was overwhelming. A mindboggling number of people (over 5000!) from all over the world were attending the conference and being one of those meant a lot. I got to meet lots of peers from around the globe, working on issues similar to mine. I got to hear how young advocates managed to solve these issues and shared ideas on how to resolve those that were not.

I attended a number of sessions which helped me think about abortion stigma. Firstly, an IPPF organized session on the links between abortion and gender based violence (GBV). This session opened my eyes and made me think in ways that I have never done before. The panelists talked about how GBV has direct and indirect influence on abortion and ways we can work on stopping violence against women. I also attended a session called “Tackling Stigma to increase Women’s Abortion Access and Rights”. This session was particularly interesting as NGOs from all around the world talked about how to reduce abortion stigma and how to provide women and girls with proper health care. These issues are something that my organization and I work hard on.

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The ‘circles’ of abortion stigma, Inroads

Then the panelists continued to speak about how abortion stigma works: it is a cycle in which we label the women that seek or have had abortions and with those labels come stereotypes, after the stereotypes the general public starts to separate them and with separation comes discrimination. This cycle can be used to furthermore tackle the stigma, since it shows where we can work and what we can do.

 

The same day in the afternoon there was a session in the Youth Zone on busting abortion myths, where a young woman told us about a girl that had an abortion and how she coped with the stress from her religious family. Since I come from a country where religion is institutionalized and where people have been using religion to fight abortion access, this short story really gave me a way to fight back. The quote simply said “I did not kill my child, I simply returned him to God so he can keep him in good hands while I become ready”. The last session that I want to mention is a ‘TED’-style talk by Leslie Cannold in which she talked of a hypothetical situation in which men could get pregnant. She simply said “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament”.

In conclusion, my experience attending this global conference is something that I will never forget. The things that I learned during my time in Copenhagen will be implemented in my work and hopefully someday I may even present that work on another conference like this one. I would like to end this blog with the words of Katja Iversen, the CEO of Women Deliver. She said “the work starts now, and you are the action, you are the change”.

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