On September 28th, Pathfinder International joined national and international women’s health groups around the world to mark the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion. This day of action has its roots in a twenty-year movement across Latin America to reverse restrictive laws that criminalize abortion and reduce stigma for women who have abortions.
Pathfinder is a proud member of the advisory group for this International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion. We have consistently taken a stand to make sure abortion is included in worldwide discussions about improving women’s health, rights, and lives.
“With 22,000 women dying every year from unsafe abortions, we must do more,” said Ellen Israel, Senior Technical Advisor for Women’s Health and Rights at Pathfinder. “We’re still seeing far too many women denied their right to abortion and to decide for themselves their reproductive futures.”
Around the world, in nearly all the countries where Pathfinder works, access to safe, legal abortion is limited—by law, stigma, distance to services, lack of knowledge regarding their rights, lack of trained providers, and cost. This results in staggeringly high numbers of unsafe abortions.
Stigma also plays a large role, especially in regard to young women seeking services. This year’s campaign uses the hashtag #BustTheMyths to push out positive information about abortions.
Through the Day of Action, Pathfinder and the hundreds of groups who have joined hope to see a shift in international support for abortion, and to see these barriers broken down.
In Mozambique, the Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights hosted an event on the current state of abortion in the country (including the implementation of the new abortion law). With 65 people in attendance, the event was a huge success. Female mannequins were placed at the entrance of the hall as well as in the street, with signs inviting people to leave messages related to safe and free abortion.
At the meeting, Dalmácia Cossa, legal advisor of the Ministry of Health presented the new abortion legal framework and its challenges. She assured Coalition members that they would the opportunity to comment on the draft. For the Ministry of Health, she said, this regulation is urgent. It’s “yesterday’s duty.”
Pathfinder’s Riaz Mobaracaly presented results of a survey on knowledge and perceptions related to abortion. Results revealed that in general providers and leaders believe women have the right to choose the number of children they want, but when it comes to abortion, most of them agreed that the husband’s consent is required. In fact, most of those interviewed consider abortion a crime, a sin, or not acceptable. Around 54% of providers interviewed reported that in a legalized context, they would help a woman have an abortion.
A debate followed the presentations with participants expressing their concern about the high control over women bodies that the survey shows; the need to ensure effective implementation of the new law; the need to remember socioeconomic considerations in the regulation; the need to address the issue of cost of safe abortion; and also for civil society to consider working with traditional healers and police officers to raise their awareness about the new law, women rights, and risks of unsafe abortion.
In Tanzania, Pathfinder continued working towards reduction of abortion-related stigma on September 28. There were awareness raising workshops for hospital and health facility staff near Dar Es Salaam, aimed at clarifying the laws regarding abortion, educating facility staff on comprehensive post abortion care services, showing the link between unsafe abortion and maternal mortality, and clarifying health facility staff’s values regarding safe abortion and post abortion care.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, several activists and others concerned with the reproductive rights of women and girls joined in a September 28th Day of Action celebration in South Kivu, organized by Pathfinder’s local sexual and reproductive rights coalition members. The event’s theme was “Congolaise, unite efforts for the recognition of our rights to sexual and reproductive health in DR Congo!”
The event included three substantial presentations: Madame Viviane Sebahire of Solidarité des Femmes pour le Développement Intégral (SOFEDI) presented on contraceptive methods and the consequences of illegal abortions; Master Giulia Mushagalusa presented the international and national instruments upholding sexual and reproductive rights ratified without reservation by the DR Congo; and Lily Civava and Viviane Sebahire translated into local language Article 14 of the Maputo Protocol of the African Union which spells out the necessity for women to have the right to safe abortion as part of their reproductive health. The Maputo Protocols have been signed AND ratified by the DR Congo government. A petition for the government to uphold the Maputo Protocol was prepared by another Pathfinder partner, the women’s lawyers’ advocacy group, Observatoire de la Parité, and event participants all provided their signatures.
Radio Okapi also supported the event in helping to spread the messages and report on the activities.
In Kinshasha, Pathfinder International together with the National Program of Youth and Adolescents (PNSA) organized an event in Kinshasa, DRC to celebrate September 28, the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion. The event centered on the issue of unwanted pregnancy, and aimed to generate fresh ideas to create suitable policy, community and service delivery environments for better access to sexual and reproductive health and rights for young girls and women.
“It is truly exciting to see the momentum that this campaign has generated,” Israel said. “We’re seeing changes in legal precedent in countries that have previously restricted abortion, like Mozambique. It’s encouraging to others still facing unsafe abortion and violation of women’s rights. We’re heading in the right direction; but altogether we need to continue to push forward.”
Learn more about the September 28 campaign at: http://www.september28.org.