Voices from Mozambique: Discussing Ongoing Efforts to Advocate for Safe and Legal Abortion for Women Everywhere

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“Decriminalizing abortion is not just the right thing to do but the smart thing to do. It saves women’s lives. And women’s lives matter. ” -Pathfinder President Purnima Mane

In honor of the Global Day of Action for Safe and Legal Abortion on September 28, Pathfinder spoke with colleagues and friends in Mozambique to learn more about environment for safe abortion and how Mozambique will celebrate this momentous day.

Want to know more about how Pathfinder's celebration of the September 28th day of action? Read our blog on improving abortion access in South Africa.

What is the current state of abortion accessibility in Mozambique?
In Mozambique we have an ambiguous situation when it comes to abortion. Although the national Penal Code criminalizes abortion, a former Minister of Health who was aware of the state of unsafe abortion opened a window to safe abortion through an “internal administrative note.” Based on that note, a few hospitals (primarily those at the central and provincial level) “provide” safe abortion in certain circumstances. Within this unclear framework, services are limited and information is very restricted, which put women in an unsafe and uncertain situation.

A few well off women are able to travel to nearby South Africa where safe abortion is legal, but most women and girls that want to have an abortion use unsafe methods, putting their lives at risk. In Mozambique, unsafe abortion is among the five main causes of maternal mortality and is especially deadly when you look at how it affects adolescents and youth.

- Estrella Alcalde, Pathfinder International Gender Officer

How does Pathfinder support safe abortion in Mozambique?
Pathfinder has worked on comprehensive and postabortion care in Mozambique for the past decade in partnership with the Ministry of Health, local NGOs, and community champions.  To increase access to safe abortion care in Mozambique, we nurture the sexual and reproductive health rights mindset in a variety of stakeholders. We support three main interventions: 1) Support availability of a comprehensive safe abortion and postabortion care services, and ensure that they are youth-friendly, 2) Mobilize community and raise awareness for unsafe abortion  through supportive, stigma-free  interventions, and 3) Support national advocacy and engage with professional and civil society organizations for abortion law reform to a less restrictive legal environment.

- Jorge Matine, Pathfinder International Sexual and Reproductive Health Director

How is Pathfinder Mozambique celebrating the Global Day of Action for Safe, Legal Abortion?
As a member of Mozambique’s National Coalition for the Defense of Sexual and Reproductive Rights, Pathfinder is thrilled to be supporting the Global Day of Action for Safe, Legal Abortion. We are organizing petitions to policymakers, hosting televised and broadcast debates, publishing articles on abortion and reproductive rights, and holding advocacy meetings with key stakeholders like government officials, donors, and local NGOs. 

- Ivone Zilhao, Pathfinder International Technical Advisor

When did Pathfinder’s work on abortion advocacy in Mozambique begin?
Pathfinder’s advocacy for safe abortion in Mozambique began before the creation of the National Coalition for the Defense of Sexual and Reproductive Rights with an abortion environmental policy survey that identified opportunities for women’s rights related to abortion. That survey helped shape the national coalition’s first working plan. Pathfinder provided early support for the coalition by organizing an advocacy workshop on safe abortion.

- Ivone Zilhao, Pathfinder International Technical Advisor

"Pathfinder has opened up this approach supporting comprehensive abortion care through advocacy and community engagement. Our experience in the field is very helpful in the identification of the main gaps and difficulties that need to be overcome."  -Pathfinder Technical Advisor Ivone ZilhaoHow is Pathfinder’s advocacy approach in Mozambique unique from other approaches?
In Mozambique, Pathfinder is the only organization working on abortion issues on three very important fronts: advocacy efforts, provision of services, and community engagement.

Mozambique’s Penal Code has not yet been revised to allow for legal abortion, so Pathfinder only provides postabortion care as a part of emergency obstetric care for the time being.

Pathfinder has opened up this approach supporting comprehensive abortion care through advocacy and community engagement. Our experience in the field is very helpful in the identification of the main gaps and difficulties that need to be overcome. Pathfinder will continue to work closely with the Ministry of Health in the revision of guidelines related to abortion, including monitoring of data collection and the development of a referral system.

- Ivone Zilhao, Pathfinder International Technical Advisor

What is the National Coalition for the Defense of Sexual and Reproductive Rights doing in support of the Global Day of Action for Safe, Legal Abortion?
We are working to raise awareness about the importance of safe, legal abortion with help from television, radio, and newspapers. We will also collect signatures to support a petition to Parliament for the approval of the revision of the Penal Code. On September 30th, representatives from several local NGOs will gather to reflect on how to make abortion services more accessible to women nationwide. The revision of the abortion law is at a standstill in Parliament and we need to focus on how to move forward. We will also share special ribbons—white for safe motherhood and purple for women’s rights—to commemorate this day.

For us, it is very important to feel part of a broader movement and to know that we are not alone in the cause of women’s reproductive rights. Participating in this global campaign is strengthening the national coalition and it has inspired some of our actions.

- Cristina Hunguana, Focal Point for Mozambique for the International Campaign for Women’s Rights to Safe Abortion

What are the links between violence against women and girls and unsafe abortion?
Violence against women often surrounds unsafe abortion cases. In our work, we encounter many situations in which this relationship is clear. Cases of women, of young women, and even girls. Girls like Maria. Maria, an 11-year-old girl from a rural community, was raped by a group of young men. Fearful and without access to information, Maria was unable to visit the health facility in time to access emergency contraception. When she finally arrived at the health facility, it was too late and she became a mother

Living in Maputi, 25-year-old Sheila is married with three children. Sheila suffers from domestic violence and many nights her husband forces her to have sex. She is using contraceptives without her husband’s knowledge, but not in a consistent way. She found out she was pregnant again, but did not wish to have another baby. One night, she traveled to an unsafe abortion provider to have the procedure done for a small fortune under unknown conditions. For a while, her life was at stake. Pathfinder provided her with postabortion care.

- Estrella Alcalde, Pathfinder International Gender Officer

"Increasing efforts on sexual education and information and access to contraceptives should be a priority. We must empower women and give them the opportunity to make decisions in their lives."  -Pathfinder Gender Officer Estrella AlcaldeHow can we ensure abortion services are available for all women, including young women and girls?
In Inhambane province, we are seeing large numbers of adolescents and young women coming to the gynecology emergency warden of the health facilities with complications of unsafe abortion. In some facilities, more than half of the women that receive postabortion care are under 25. Their information on sexual and reproductive health and rights is very limited. Sometimes they insert roots in their vaginas to end a pregnancy, which causes infection.

Access to contraceptives is key in order to prevent unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions. This is a great challenge in Mozambique, where contraceptive prevalence rate had declined from an abysmal rate (17 percent in 2003) to an even worse rate (13 percent in 2011). Many women are denied their reproductive rights, unable to space and time their pregnancies and left without the information and means to do so. Increasing efforts on sexual education and information and access to contraceptives should be a priority. We must empower women and give them the opportunity to make decisions in their lives.

- Estrella Alcalde, Pathfinder International Gender Officer

For more information about Pathfinder's work on safe abortion in Mozambique, please visit the Expanding and Sustaining Safe Abortion Services project page.

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