Promoting Safe Abortion in Southern Africa

October 17, 2016

Hivos Southern Africa is currently spearheading a regional advocacy campaign on safe abortion in partnership with Students and Youth Working on reproductive Health Action Team (SAYWHAT). SAYWHAT facilitates students and youth to discuss sexual and reproductive health challenges and further develop advocacy initiatives. Funding for the project is provided through the Hivos Southern Africa Sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) Fund, which is supported by the Ford Foundation.

According to WHO, an estimated 22 million unsafe abortions continue to be performed each year, resulting in the death of an estimated 47 000 women and disabilities for an additional 5 million women. Almost every one of these deaths and disabilities could have been prevented through sexuality education, family planning, and the provision of safe, legally induced abortion and care for complications of abortion.

Marie Stopes International reports that the risk of death from unsafe abortion is higher in Africa than any other region: nearly half of global maternal deaths related to abortion occur in the region.

In many sub-Saharan African countries, abortion, except in cases of rape, incest, fetal impairment, or to preserve a woman’s health, is illegal – and if caught, women face jail terms. Popular opinion has it that that the decriminalization of abortion has the potential to undermine cultural values and the sanctity of human life.  However, evidence on the ground shows that the opposite is true; the criminalization of abortion has resulted in the loss of life or disability when women suffer complications as a result of undergoing unsafe abortions.

In response to the high rates of unsafe abortions in the region, particularly among adolescent and young women, SAYWHAT will be undertaking a regional advocacy campaign to advocate for the universal provision of safe abortions in the region. The campaign will seek to complement and feed into the recent launch of a continental campaign to decriminalize abortion by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR).

It will also link to the SRHR Fund’s upcoming regional meeting and campaign on safe abortion. To move the campaign forward, SAYWHAT has established the EARS (Engaging Abortion Research for Southern Africa) platform, which will provide a physical and virtual space for people to come together and share findings on abortion via social media.

To raise awareness on safe abortion, SAYWHAT working in solidarity with the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR) participated in the  International Day of Safe Abortion.

SAYWHAT will also launch a competition to develop messages around decriminalization. All of the outcomes from the campaign will be presented in the form of a case study to document lessons learned and best practices.  

Hivos has been working for many years on issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), with a strong focus on people’s rights to (bodily) self-determination, freedom of choice and pleasure. Strategies Hivos uses include joint policy advocacy to influence legislation and policies at national and international level, capacity development of (grassroots) organizations, networking, and development and dissemination of expert knowledge.