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!