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.
We’re pleased to announce that young people at six IPPF Member Associations have recently been awarded small grants to carry out their own projects tackling abortion stigma. We will post updates from these projects from now until January 2018 but here is a quick introduction:
Young people at AGBEF will gather personal testimonies of those affected by unplanned pregnancy and unsafe abortion and conduct public conversations and educational talks to start to break the silence on abortion. Women in respected positions in the community (such as politicians, NGO staff, lawyers and community leaders) will be recruited to act as mentors and supporters to young peer educators. Together, they will conduct visits to other key decision-makers in the community to begin to change the conversation on abortion rights and access.
At the Eldoret youth centre in Kenya, peer educators will create theatre and dance performances which focus on the topic of abortion and deliver them to groups of young people to provoke discussion and greater understanding. Social media will also be used as a platform to reach a wider group of young people with non-stigmatising messages about abortion. The project team will involve young people with disabilities and young men to ensure that a diverse section of the community is reached.
Young people at FPAN will work with marginalised groups of young people, particularly migrants, to increase understanding of the legal status of abortion and sexual and reproductive rights. They will use street drama to deliver information in an accessible way, as well as working with youth representatives from different political parties to advocate for better access to and understanding of abortion.
“Hablemos del aborto” // “Let’s talk about abortion”
The project seeks to correct common myths through the creation of short, appealing films about abortion. Young peer leaders from Profamilias will partner with law students to create the films, as well as a booklet on abortion which can be used for educational work and advocacy.
PLAFAM wants to open up discussion about abortion stigma in Venezuela, where the law is very restrictive. The ‘Háblalo’ multimedia project will create innovative messaging on abortion as it affects young people in the hopes of building a more favourable context for the future decriminalization of abortion in Venezuela.
Young people at PPASL plan to develop evidence-based messages on abortion for dissemination through radio discussions, and community stakeholder meetings. They will also use drama and music, as well as social media, to directly target youth. The project will develop radio ‘jingles’ to specifically address abortion stigma and to reach out to young people to let them know their rights.
By Oumar Tao, Youth Champion at ABBEF, Burkina Faso // Par Oumar Tao, Jeune Champion à l’ABBEF, Burkina Faso
Abortion stigma exists in almost every country in the world. Indeed, several layers of society are affected by this stigma, contrary to the belief that only those who have had abortions are victims of stigmatization. Indeed, health workers responsible for this necessary services are also victims of stigmatization. At the African meeting of INROADS members, a health worker gave his testimony in these words:
“I am a churchman, a man of God, every Sunday I go to church. After going to church I usually invited my friends to eat and drink. One day I explained my work to a friend from church and he said to me that it is not good what I do, that the Lord does not endorse these practices. After church I invited my friends over and he refused to come and he told others not to come because I’m paying for the guests with money from abortion. That day I felt stigmatized and I realized how stigmatized the victims of abortion were. “
It should be noted that this is a testimony of a health worker.
Thereafter, a woman who educated the community gave her testimony:
“Every two to three days we raise awareness in the villages about abortion and the stigma associated with abortion. One day we were in a village for sensitization and when we finished, we took the road to the house. On the road, a group of young people joined us and asked us if we are the “abortionists” with a violent tone, we answered: we are not abortionists but we are raising awareness for better access to information for all on abortion. They told us to leave and never return to the village for these kinds of sensitizations. That day I felt stigmatized, I was even afraid for my life.”
These testimonials show us how all those involved in abortion are concerned by the stigmatization in their community or in their place of work. Several organizations like ABBEF work day and night to eradicate this stigma in the world. I remain confident that through our programmes to target abortion stigma, with the support of everyone we will make it.
La stigmatisation sur l’avortement existe dans presque tous les pays du monde. En effet, plusieurs couches de la société sont touchées par cette stigmatisation contrairement aux pensées selon laquelle seules les personnes ayants avorté sont victimes de stigmatisation. En effet, les agents de santé responsable des interruptions nécessaires de grossesses sont aussi victimes de stigmatisation. Lors de la rencontre africaine des membres d’INROADS un agent de santé a rendu son témoignage en ces termes :
« Je suis un homme d’église, un homme de Dieu, chaque dimanche je me rends à l’église. Apres l’église j’ai pour habitude d’invité mes amis à manger et à boire. Un jour j’ai expliqué a un ami de l’église mon travail et il m’a juste dit que ce n’est pas bien ce que je fais, que le seigneur ne cautionne pas ces pratiques. Apres l’église j’ai invité mes amis et il a refusé de venir et il dit aux autres de ne pas venir car je suis en train de les invités avec l’argent de l’avortement. Ce jour je me suis senti stigmatiser et j’ai compris à quel point les personnes victimes d’avortement souffraient de la stigmatisation. »
Il faut noter que ceci est un témoignage d’un agent de santé.
Par la suite une femme qui sensibilise la communauté a rendu son témoignage :
« Chaque deux à trois jours nous sensibilisons dans les villages sur l’avortement et la stigmatisation liée à l’avortement. Un jour nous étions dans un village pour des sensibilisations et quand nous avons finis, nous avons pris la route pour la maison. En effet, sur la route, un groupe de jeunes nous rejoignit et nous demandas si nous sommes ‘’les avorteurs’’ avec un ton violent, nous répondîmes à travers ces mots : nous ne sommes pas des avorteurs mais nous sensibilisons pour un meilleur accès à l’information pour tous sur l’avortement. Ils nous ont dit de partir et de ne plus jamais revenir dans le village pour ces genres de sensibilisations. Ce jour je me suis sentis stigmatiser juste par-ce-que je faisais des sensibilisations, j’ai eu même peur pour ma vie ».
Ces témoignages nous montrent à quel point tous les acteurs de l’avortement sont concernés par la stigmatisation que ce soit dans leur communauté ou dans leur lieu de travail. Plusieurs organisations à l’instar de l’ABBEF travaillent jours et nuit afin d’éradiqué cette stigmatisation dans le monde. Je reste confiant que travers les programmes pour cibler les stigmatisation liées l’avortement , avec l’implication de tous on y arrivera.
In March and June, 30 young volunteers at the Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia were trained on abortion advocacy. Here, one young person reflects on what he learned:
“Abortion is a matter that really needs attention in our day to day matters. To start with I would say abortion is the termination of a pregnancy. In the past two day workshop I realized and learnt things that I never knew were in existence like the Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1972. The law says that abortion is permitted to save the life of the pregnant woman, to preserve her physical or mental health, in the case of fetal impairment and for economic or social reasons.
I would also like to state that regardless of people being modernized they still practice unsafe abortions. One unsafe practice that left me in a state that was unpleasant is where a person crushes bottles and takes them without realizing she is endangering her life. Having heard this I came to the conclusion that most people regardless of their class or profession need to be sensitized about abortion to reduce the number of unsafe abortions and encourage legal safe abortions that will be done in hospitals by trained doctors.”
In March and June, 30 young volunteers at the Planned Parenthood Association of Zambia were trained on abortion advocacy. Here, one young person reflects on what she learned:
Abortion is one of the most sensitive topics society shuns to discuss, which from the word go is looked upon as evil. Having attended a workshop on safe abortion advocacy I have a different perspective of abortion.
I feel abortion should be a human right that every woman should be entitled to. It is a fact that unsafe abortions are happening in our society and many deaths result from unsafe abortions. As such, it is vital that we the youths take up the leading role and bring unsafe abortions to an end.
The Zambian law may be restrictive in some areas but the provision of safe services depends on the attitude and willingness of the health care providers and willingness of clients to come through. Reducing the need for abortion, be it unsafe or safe abortion, can be achieved by focusing on; changing the circumstances of women that make them vulnerable to unwanted/unplanned pregnancies; increasing women and men’s knowledge, access to and use of contraception; sexuality education for all, and addressing the poor economic prospects of women.
By Aedín O’Cuill, medical student and intern at IPPF and the UK Family Planning Association
When I was 16, my biology teacher was taking the class through a session on reproduction. After a discussion about contraception, she looked up at the class and asked tentatively, “Does anyone here agree with abortion? Sometimes people have different views.” Although the question could certainly have been phrased better, I now look back at this as an act of incredible bravery. You just don’t talk about abortion in Ireland. It felt uncomfortable, shocking even. My teacher exposed herself to a lot of potential hostility in what I’m now sure was an attempt to break the silence and stigma surrounding the topic.
At the time, I shook my head vehemently, and no one spoke up in defence of abortion. “Of course it’s wrong”, I thought. “It’s a life.” At 16 I had never thought about the reasons why someone might have an abortion, and didn’t know that some of my nearest and dearest would have abortions in the coming years. When I thought of abortion, I thought only of the fetus, never the pregnant person. That’s the way the discourse around abortion had always been shaped in Ireland, and for the most part, still is.
Seven years later and I am a loud-and-proud abortion rights activist. I am working as an intern with IPPF and the UK Family Planning Association on projects tackling abortion stigma in the UK and internationally. I volunteer for an organisation called Abortion Support Network which provides practical information and financial assistance to women in Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man who have to travel to Britain to access safe abortion services. I am a medical student and aspiring future abortion provider. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what has happened in the intervening years to inspire such a huge change.
When I was 16, I didn’t know that approximately 1 in 3 women will have an abortion in their lifetime. I didn’t know that restricting access to legal abortion does not reduce the number of abortions, but increases the number of unsafe abortions, which can lead to morbidity and death. I didn’t know that the women who have abortions are often the same women we see on the labour ward. I didn’t know that there was a strong moral argument to be made in favour of safeguarding women’s right to safe abortion. At 23, I know all of these things and more.
Having the choice about your pregnancy removed from you can have devastating consequences for women, their lives and their families. Abortion Support Network has heard from clients in incredibly difficult circumstances who have resorted to heart-breaking actions before learning that we could provide them with financial help. Abortion has always and will always exist; it is pregnant women who are best placed to make decisions about their pregnancies according to their own values and circumstances. They will continue to make these decisions regardless of what barriers the state or society puts in their way, and we must protect their right to make these decisions and endeavour to make abortion safe and accessible.
These days I am still ‘pro-life’- I am pro women’s lives.
By Enoch Weguri Kabange, Youth Action Movement (YAM) volunteer at the Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana
Created in 2005, the Youth Action Movement (YAM) is IPPF Africa Region’s participation network of young volunteers.
Every year, the YAM in Ghana brings its members together from the various branches across the country to do what they love to do best – champion sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). A ‘minicamp’ is held to give young volunteers the opportunity to build healthy relationships with other YAM members from all over the country.
The 2017 edition like previous years was held at Cape Coast, Central region. The community where the outreach was held is a fishing community called Ampanyin. It was reported that teenage pregnancies were rampant in the community which comes with potential abortions, mostly unsafe and the associated stigmatization.
As of 1985, Ghanaian law permits abortion in certain cases but it was realized that only a very small number of women had knowledge of comprehensive abortion care and how to access it. This results in about 45% of abortions being unsafe which is alarming. YAM under the auspices of Planned Parenthood association of Ghana (PPAG) aims to drastically reduce this number.
Due to the particular need for information, the outreach at the camp was centered on education though various services were rendered too. The participating YAM members didn’t want anybody left out of the education so they moved house to house and shop to shop doing one on one and small group discussions. In all the YAM members reached out to 260 people with 88 being male and 172 female. Some of the areas covered were teenage pregnancy, contraception, sexually transmitted infections and most especially comprehensive abortion care. This included education on the need for safe access to abortion and the myths surrounding abortion. It has been realized that myths are the leading cause of stigmatization therefore the dire need to make issues clear.