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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.


Inroads Africa Regional Meeting: A festival of ideas

Aussi en français ci-dessous

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).

Inroads Africa Regional Meeting kader group
Inroads members discuss social media strategies for tackling abortion stigma


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 should all be concerned by abortion stigma //La stigmatisation liée à  l’avortement: Tous concernés

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.

Abortion advocacy training in Zambia – Billy

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.”

Billy Banda, young peer educator in Lusaka

Lusaka during Group Exercise on SRHR Policies and the Law (2)
Training participants in Lusaka discuss abortion law

Abortion advocacy training in Zambia – Mwape

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.

Mwape Kaunda, young peer educator in Kitwe


Unsafe abortion in Benin/ L’avortement à risque au Bénin

by Hélène Hlungbo, IPPF Youth Champion and President of Youth Action Movement in Benin//Par Hélène Hlungbo, ‘Youth Champion’ de l’IPPF et présidente du mouvement d’action jeunesse au Bénin

International conventions on human rights, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child[1], support the rights of young people to information, education and good health. In Benin, one out of every five deaths occurs in adolescents according to the Benin Demographic and Health Survey (EDSB IV, 2011-2012). The 2003 Act on Reproductive Health is fairly restrictive and authorizes abortion only in three situations: when the woman’s life/health is threatened, when there is malformation of the fetus and in cases of rape or incest.[2] This restrictive law means that many adolescent girls terminate unwanted pregnancies in secret, in places which are unhygienic and often not even recognized by the Beninese state as proper clinics. In most cases, there are complications or even deaths of adolescent girls as a result of these unsafe abortions.

Moreover, a survey carried out in Benin by the students of the University of Abomey Calavi (UAC) in 2015 reveals that the majority of patients referred to both the University Clinic of Obstetric Gynaecology and the Hospital and University Center of the Mother And Children are aged between 15 and 24, according to the various statistics collected in these hospitals. Also, registered abortions, especially those within this age group, exceed 50%.

Furthermore, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or disability. From this definition it can be noted that young people have the right to make informed choices and make decisions about sexuality. Although the law exists, it is very restrictive, its implementation limited and far from being a reality for want of political will. Many ‘unofficial clinics’ are providing care to the population at a very high cost. Medical ethics are trampled underfoot in the pursuit of profits, which has the direct consequence of unsafe abortions that are detrimental to the health of adolescents and young people.



Les Conventions internationales sur les droits humains telles que la Convention sur les droits de l’enfant soutiennent les droits des jeunes à l’information, à l’éducation et à une bonne santé.[1] Au Bénin 1 décès sur 5 est le fait d’une adolescente selon l’Enquête Démographique et de Santé du Bénin (EDSB IV, 2011-2012).[2] La loi de mars 2003 relative à la Santé de la Reproduction est assez restrictive et n’autorise l’avortement que dans trois (03) situations: lorsque la santé de la femme est menacée, lorsqu’il y a malformation du fœtus et en cas de viol ou d’inceste.[3] Cette restriction de la loi fait que de nombreuses adolescentes terminent des grossesses non désirées de façon clandestine dans des cabinets de soins peu adaptés et parfois même non reconnus par l’état béninois et dans des conditions peu recommandables. Dans la plupart des cas, on note des complications ou des décès dans le rang des adolescentes suite aux avortements à risques (non sécurisés).

Par ailleurs, une enquête réalisée au Bénin par les étudiants de l’Université d’Abomey Calavi (UAC) en 2015 révèle que la majorité des patientes référées aussi bien à la Clinique Universitaire de Gynécologie Obstétrique qu’au Centre Hospitalier et Universitaire de la Mère et de l’Enfant (CHU/MEL) ont un âge compris entre 15 et 24 ans, selon les diverses statistiques recueillies dans ces centres hospitaliers. Aussi, des avortements enregistrés, notamment ceux se situant entre cette tranche d’âge, excèdent les 50%.

En outre, selon l’Organisation mondiale de la santé (OMS), la santé est un état de bien-être physique, mental et social complet, et pas seulement l’absence de maladie ou d’incapacité. De cette définition, on peut ainsi retenir que les jeunes ont le droit d’opérer des choix éclairés et de prendre des décisions en matière de sexualité. Bien que la loi existe, elle est très restrictive, sa mise en application limitée et loin d’être une réalité faute de volonté politique. De nombreuses cliniques ne répondant pas aux normes sont opérationnelles et dispensent des soins aux populations à un coût très élevé. La déontologie médicale est foulée au pied au détriment de profits induits ce qui a pour conséquence directe ces avortements à risques préjudiciables à la santé des adolescentes et des jeunes.




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