Malawi has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Africa – only permitting a termination of pregnancy to save a woman’s life. This restrictive law has been reinforced by harmful social norms thereby creating fear and stigma around abortion which leads women and girls to resort to unsafe abortion methods. In Malawi, unsafe abortion accounts for 18% of maternal deaths, with the health system treating high numbers of complications from unsafe abortion.
Since 2005, Ipas has worked with the government and other partners in Malawi to improve treatment for abortion-related complications at public health facilities and to build an advocacy movement that includes broad-based support for improved access to safe abortion care.
Numerous studies including the recent ‘Improving adolescent access to contraception and safe abortion in sub-Saharan Africa: health system pathways’ research conducted by the London School of Economics and Ipas indicate that unsafe abortions affect adolescents the most – because they lack information and access to family planning methods they end up getting unintended pregnancies that usually end in unsafe abortion.
Despite adolescent girls being most at need of safe abortion care, Ipas Malawi found that conversations on abortion legal reforms often excluded the youth voice. With support from Hivos, through the Regional SRHR Fund, Ipas Malawi ensured meaningful participation of young people and amplified their voice in community mobilization and advocacy processes aimed at legal reforms. This youth engagement was enhanced through their participation in the Ipas-established Coalition for Prevention of Unsafe Abortion (COPUA), which educates the public on unsafe abortion and builds grassroots momentum for law reform.
Ipas Malawi built the capacity of young people in advocacy and created platforms at community, districts and national levels for the youth to engage in the policy discourse on the Termination of Pregnancy Bill. According to Luke Tembo – Ipas Malawi Programme Manager – “The youth are now able to hold advocacy meetings with traditional and faith leaders, members of parliament and government officials on the need for law reform on termination of pregnancy”.
Ipas Malawi ensured that all processes were youth-led and youth-centred by providing capacity building and mentorship on community mobilization and advocacy and allowing the young people to design and implement their own advocacy and community interventions.
With the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on communities, unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion among young people in Malawi has been on an increase. This has heightened young people’s calls for the protection of SRH as an essential service during the pandemic and the need to expedite the abortion law reform to enable young people’s access to safe abortion care.
In commemoration of this year’s International Safe Abortion Day, young people are calling for expedited abortion law reforms through the Termination of Pregnancy Bill which is about to be vetted in Parliament. “The International Safe Abortion Day provides an opportunity to amplify youth voices and advocate for an expedited process of legal reforms on abortion” says Luke Tembo.
September 28 marks the commemoration of International Safe Abortion Day which aims to build an international movement to promote universal access to safe, legal abortion as a women’s health and human rights issue.