In Burkina Faso, each year, one-third of pregnancies are not planned, and one-third of unplanned pregnancies end in abortion. Additionally, 11% of maternal deaths in Burkina Faso are due to unsafe abortions. The majority of abortions are carried out in unsafe and sometimes fatal conditions—by an untrained provider or through a dangerous method. Although abortion is legally permitted in Burkina Faso if a woman’s life is endangered by the pregnancy, in certain circumstances, women face barriers to accessing safe and legal abortion services, especially in rural areas.
Strong local champions and national coalitions, with support from Pathfinder International’s RESOnance project (RESOnance), have expanded equitable access to safe abortion care. RESOnance strengthened the capacity of civil society organizations (CSOs) in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, and Democratic Republic of the Congo to raise awareness, reduce stigma, and achieve policy changes to promote access to essential health care services—particularly safe abortion. This work is critical to reducing maternal illness and death, while ensuring women can safely access legal services.
In Burkina Faso, Awa Yanogo, Project Manager of the Communauté d’Action pour la Promotion de la Santé Sexuelle et Reproductive au Burkina Faso (Community Action for the Promotion of Sexual and Reproductive Health in Burkina Faso) or CAPSSR-BF, is one of those RESOnance champions. We sat down with Ms. Yanogo to learn more about how she is using her voice to protect women’s and girls’ health and human rights.
How did you become an advocate for safe abortion?
In 2006, I became a safe abortion advocate when I was in high school. I promoted access to contraception in schools and universities. I campaigned for reproductive health and rights and worked to prevent unintended pregnancies that can lead to unsafe abortions and jeopardize the lives of women and young adolescent girls. My passion for protecting the rights of women and girls led me to join the Association of Women Lawyers of Burkina Faso. I learned about policies that support women’s reproductive health and how to fight for gender equity. Later, I was recruited to join CAPSSR-BF.
What is CAPSSR-BF and how are you involved?
CAPSSR-BF is a national coalition that promotes safe abortion in Burkina Faso. We work with religious and customary leaders, as well as various CSOs that are advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights. We advocate for legal and policy changes to ensure more women can access safe abortion care, gender equality, and, gender-based violence prevention. As Project Manager, I coordinate all advocacy campaigns and actions, plan activities, and mobilize resources to achieve our objectives.
How has RESOnance supported CAPSSR-BF?
RESOnance supported the coalition to develop locally relevant advocacy strategies, including a strategic plan, communications plan, and resource mobilization plan to guide and fund its activities. RESOnance has strengthened our capacity to increase transparency around abortion laws, share information, encourage legal and policy changes, and effectively advocate for women to exercise their rights.
Through RESOnance, we have received training on how to implement digital campaigns on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and TikTok. Using compelling visuals, videos, and life stories to destigmatize and normalize abortion has been essential to our work. These campaigns inform the public about the causes and consequences of unsafe abortion. Thanks to RESOnance, our advocacy has significantly improved. And now many more community and customary leaders are committed to working alongside us to promote women’s access to safe abortion.
What progress has been made in Burkina Faso regarding safe abortion?
Significant progress has been made because people are moving from conscientious objection to tolerance. Five to six years ago, the subject of abortion was so taboo that we didn’t dare talk about it in public. We hid to talk about it in secrecy, even though we knew abortions were happening. Reducing abortion-related stigma and widespread bias has been the country’s greatest progress!
There are still people in Burkina Faso who don’t agree that women should have access to safe and secure abortions. But at least they are willing to talk about it. Abortion is no longer taboo. This is a major success. Now, our advocacy focuses on shifting norms and biases from tolerance to acceptance. That’s the biggest challenge we have.
Tell us about your favorite campaign that you’ve worked on.
A major campaign that I worked on was to promote the Maputo Protocol. The Maputo Protocol guarantees comprehensive rights to African women and young girls. Burkina Faso has signed and ratified the Maputo Protocol, which specifies that abortion must be provided to any woman who wishes it when her health (physical or mental health) is at stake, when there is a malformation of the unborn fetus, and in cases of incest or rape. The campaign I managed informed the public that Burkina Faso has ratified regional and international conventions that allow a woman to have an abortion in certain cases, and that we must uphold the commitments that Burkina Faso has made.
Watch this video to learn more about Pathfinder’s RESOnance project.