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A Young Leaders’ Workshop on the Consequences of Abortion Stigma

by Robert Désiré Doualamou, youth volunteer at AGBEF (Association Guinéenne pour le Bien-Etre Familial)

Abortion today is a rather delicate subject in most African countries, people do not speak much about it and the subject has become almost taboo in many African societies. Abortion can be defined as the voluntary termination of a pregnancy.

Many teenage girls have to seek abortions outside of the law, because of abortion-related stigma. To avoid being stigmatized and discriminated against in their communities, these girls who are find themselves in unplanned pregnancies practice unsafe abortion, which, of course, has detrimental consequences on their sexual and biological health and can even lead to death

In view of all this, as part of the “Choice, not crime, voice and action to save” project, the AGBEF Youth Action Movement organized orientation workshops for young leaders and mentors on the theme: ‘the consequences of abortion-related stigma’.

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Group work sessions were conducted during the training period in order to better assimilate the different themes that were discussed relating to abortion and socio-cultural values.

The main goal of this workshop was to make the population aware of the various stigma-related issues, and the repercussions that this can have on young people, especially young girls, through educational talks, awareness-raising sessions as well as door-to-door activities taking place in the different communes of Conakry, in Guinea.

At the end of this workshop, commitments were made by the participants to raise awareness about the consequences of stigma related to abortion, but these sensitizations are much emphasized on the factors that cause unwanted pregnancies. Because we cannot talk about abortion without pregnancy, so one of the key themes of awareness will be unwanted pregnancies. The mentors who took part in the training are responsible for supporting the young leaders in this fight.

 

 

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Abortion in Syria

By Maya Mahmoud, young volunteer at the Syrian Family Planning Association

Like in most other countries, abortion in Syria is a subject of controversy. Some stand with the person’s right to decide whether he/she is ready to become a parent or not, and that no one must be obligated to go through an unwanted pregnancy, while others believe that no one has the right to terminate a potential life, no matter what the situation is.

In Syria, having children is seen as essential in every marriage, in fact, there is a Syrian saying that says “each baby that comes, with it comes its wealth.”

There is also a high number of child marriages and a lack of awareness regarding family planning, which means that most families consist of several children.

Syria is a religious country in general and people often understand abortion to be prohibited by their religion. The stigma that follows any woman who has an abortion exposes her to a variety of stigmatizing attitudes and limits her access to good medical and social care for abortion. It also shames her because in many cases abortion is related with women who get pregnant out of rape or an affair out of wedlock.  Women who choose to opt out of pregnancy are often given many negative labels, such as sinners, as well as a bad person or even a bad mother if she has children.

In the Syrian law, abortion is almost completely illegal unless done to save a woman’s life however, due to the ongoing war in Syria, many people now seek abortion. The reasons are many, including low wages, the very expensive life costs due to the economic crisis. Additionally, many people lost their homes and have extra costs now since they have had to rent new houses elsewhere, so plenty of people can’t afford the expenses of an extra child.

Another major issue is the discrimination and inequality between boys and girls, which makes the news “you’re having a baby girl” very sad and shameful for a lot of people. In some cases it could get them to abort because they don’t want a girl, thinking that a girl only brings shame and extra expenses on the family. Some husbands even ask their wives to undergo dangerous procedures to abort since it isn’t legal and finding a doctor who will perform the procedure is very difficult. Many of these procedures end up with harming the woman’s health and threatening her life.

The Syrian law sentences any woman who aborts to prison for a time that ranges between six months to three years, whether she had taken an abortion medication or if it was done by another person (for example a doctor) with her consent. A person who provides a woman with an abortion or helps her do it with her consent receives a sentence of between a year to three years in prison. If the abortion causes the death of the woman he/she gets four to seven years of hard labor, and five to ten years if he/she used other procedures that the woman didn’t consent to, and if that person who carried out the procedure was a doctor or a pharmacist, the penalty is increased by a third to a double and all fines are doubled along with a ban from practicing their job.

Mostly, the government’s supervision over medicine is insignificant and there are ways to obtain pills for abortion. Many pharmacies sell them without a prescription and similarly, many doctors conduct abortion under the cover of names of other procedures. According to the way things take place, technically no one goes to prison unless the husband or someone files a lawsuit against the wife or doctor.

Personally, I believe that being a parent is a responsibility that demands a person who is psychologically, emotionally, and financially ready to raise a healthy emotionally-stable child. Thus, all people should have the right to decide for themselves whether they are ready to have a child or not. An unwanted child could suffer from many issues as he/she grows up, with the absence of social services or governmental supervision on families and children along with the absence of financial aid in. No child deserves that. People should asses their situation and have the right and access to end a pregnancy when they see fit.

We, the youth, always seek to achieve gender equality, empower women, raise awareness on family planning, and aim for a better future.

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 source: the Syrian Penal Code. Subject 247, 527, 528, 532.

 

Project ‘Háblalo’ (‘talk about it’) in Venezuela

By Vanessa Blanco, youth volunteer at PLAFAM (Asociación Civil de Planificación Familiar)

Leading this project on the de-stigmatization of abortion was a great challenge for me and for all the participants since it is the first time that my organization, PLAFAM, has delivered a project specifically referring to abortion stigma. We therefore started with a training on abortion and abortion stigma, which gave us all the capabilities we needed to share information in our community.

We made four short videos to be shared on the PLAFAM website that gathered the stories of three women who had gone through abortions in their lives, from a perspective in which all are healthy and the only problem they have faced is the social stigma surrounding abortion. The final video was informative, with figures and testimonies concerning abortion.

In addition, we had the opportunity to be present in two shopping centres to publicly discuss the issue, generating discussions with the general public, where people were interested in having information about abortion since it is a taboo subject which is rarely spoken about. Elderly gentlemen, adults and young people could clarify their doubts and questions regarding this issue and we could raise awareness about the problems in Venezuela caused by the legal restriction of abortion. This results in the death of many women each year. At first, people were concerned, and even annoyed, but once they were given clear and concise information they changed their reactions. I was able to talk with them and exchange views, many of them had never heard of the subject and they thought of abortion as something that did not happen here. It is very worrying that there is no information about abortion in one of the countries with the largest unwanted pregnancy rates in South America.

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Finally, I delivered a talk in a public square in my community, inviting my acquaintances and friends to talk about the stigma of abortion, comparing world figures and visualizing the problems that exist regarding education about sexual and reproductive health. Thanks to the support of PLAFAM, I was able to bring brochures and condoms for everyone, as well as talk about the importance of using condoms for protection.

This was a great opportunity to start working on the issue of abortion stigma, the people who attended were satisfied with the information and some of them even joined us as community peer educators.

Community support for the ‘Stop Abortion Stigma’ project in Sierra Leone

By Safiatu Kabia, Volunteer Peer Educator, Planned Parenthood Association of Sierra Leone

The right to access sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services as women and girls in my community is a big problem. The authorities of our beloved community Bandajuma Town are not in support of these services due to their religious values or traditional beliefs. I am your daughter, with all due respect, I am saying this because the women and girls of this community are missing out on opportunities as a result of our low participation in sexual and reproductive health education.

I was fortunate to be trained as a volunteer peer educator, to implement the Stop Abortion Stigma project in my community. Abortion is only legal in rare circumstances in Sierra Leone. This legal restriction and the religious values of the community makes it difficult to reach young people in schools and communities to raise awareness. As a result, young women and girls were being stigmatized without anyone even considering the circumstances for which they have decided to have an abortion. Some girls had to relocate elsewhere, after being involved in abortion, because of the perverse stigma.
However, PPASL (The Planned Parenthood Association of Sierra Leone) is here again with another opportunity for us. They are here to provide us with vital information on abortion and its related complications and to stop stigmatization of our sisters who may have experienced abortion.

Information is power and we need it, so that we are better informed to exercise our rights and make appropriate choices.

I am appealing to the conscience of my parents and community authorities to please accept this project, and give your maximum support. This is about us young people and our future. Therefore, it should not be down played. I have respect for our traditions and religious values, but let us modify them a bit in the interest of your own children and future leaders.

The issue this project is seeking to address is a serious ethical matter. However, let us emulate the Kantian ethical principle of “For the common good”. Therefore, decisions taken on behalf of women and girls, should be for the common good of this generation.
I received support from stakeholders to carry out sensitization on safe abortion in schools and communities. Other young people joined me, to plan and present short skits during community engagements on abortion.

I am grateful that the Stop Abortion Stigma project has transformed my community.

Breaking the silence on abortion stigma in Kenya

By Margaret Nyajima, young volunteer at Family Health Options Kenya (FHOK)

I come from a society where women don’t have a choice to decide about their body, where natural occurrences like monthly periods are associated with shame. In my community morality is held in high esteem, discussion about sex is almost a taboo and a prohibited topic in the open especially if you are a young person and not yet married. This, coupled with lack of knowledge and accessibility of contraception (which is viewed as an encouragement for young people to engage is premature sex) exposes the youth to cases of unplanned pregnancies.

In my community, cultural values and beliefs are the pillar of which decisions are made including those related to pregnancy, therefore termination of pregnancy is seen as unacceptable, sinful and an evil act no matter the circumstance. This has worked toward promoting silence, secrecy and the fear of open discussion on subjects such as abortion and contraception yet so many women are going to access the services in secret, from the backstreet quacks, in order to avoid being stigmatized and labelled by society.

Just like any other woman growing up surrounded by the sense of fear instilled by the society about women or girls accessing abortion services, I developed fear and negative perceptions founded on cultural beliefs, myths and misconceptions. The fear of a bad omen and the imagination of pain felt during the procedure, discrimination, barrenness, excommunication from the church and even possible maternal death, not to mention a lifelong curse, constantly kept ringing in my mind.

It wasn’t until I attended an abortion value clarification capacity building organized by Family Health Options Kenya in (Eldoret) that I came to understand how significant stigma poses a barrier to women when it comes to accessing safe abortion services. The training also broadened my understanding that access to safe abortion is a reproductive right, this helped clarify my personal values about pregnancy options and to look into my attitude and enhance my understanding that when access to safe and legal abortion is limited, many women with unintended pregnancies resort to unsafe abortions.

In conclusion, all pregnancies should be clearly desired at the time of conception and therefore, the public should be educated on the major social and public health conflicts of unintended pregnancy and the effects of stigma when it comes to abortion. Women should also be allowed to make a choice and decisions about their body, improve their knowledge on contraception, unintended pregnancies and have improved access to reproductive health and rights services.

Sensitization on abortion stigma in my community, Njai Town, Sierra Leone

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.

The ‘Silent Loud’ project in Kenya

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!                

The importance of learning free from stigma

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.

My body, my health rights, my choice

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.

 

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