Educating peers about unsafe abortion – Interview with PFPPA’s young volunteers


My name is Amani and I am 24 years old. I live with my parents in Bethlehem in the West Bank and I work as a midwife in a family hospital in Jerusalem as well as a peer education volunteer with PFPPA.

Amani near the Halhul clinic
Amani near the Halhul clinic

Part of my role as a volunteer involves going to schools and doing presentations about early-marriage, family planning and gender-based violence. Even though sex outside of marriage is taboo, it does happen. However, it is very hard for unmarried people to access contraception as the culture is so restrictive, especially here in Hebron. When they need contraception, the man usually goes by himself or they look online.

When we go to schools and talk to students about the subject of sexual health, the students want to know more because at home it is a taboo to talk about such things. We get many questions about issues such as masturbation or what causes pregnancy. They just know that it happens when men and women are together, they do not know how it happens. So people may ask a question like: ‘if I touch somebody, if I stand near someone or kiss them will I get pregnant?’

The students don’t normally ask about abortion as it is such a taboo. I do know that unsafe abortion happens though, for example my grandmother tried to end her pregnancy once. She was forty-five years old and had six children already. She did not know any way of not getting pregnant or safely ending the pregnancy. She told me that she drank liquids and jumped from the stairs, taking a great risk. She really didn’t want to be pregnant again and tried hard to end it but it did not work.

I am very proud that as a peer educator I have expanded my knowledge on many issues, including how to provide harm reduction information to women so that they can reduce risks of unsafe abortion and not do what my grandmother did in case they don’t want to be pregnant.

Once I met with a woman who already had six children, she was tired of having children but her husband wanted to have more so we visited them at home and through conversation, the husband understood the need, so she was able to access an IUD.

“Here we work a lot with women, we change them, we speak with them, they change their opinions, they become decision-makers and they leave the clinic as different people.”

Suha edited (3 of 3).jpg

I am Suha. I’m 23 years old and currently studying for my master’s degree in clinical psychology. I joined PFPPA as a volunteer in 2014 through my mother who works for a partner organisation.

As part of my role with PFPPA, I usually volunteer about three days a week and I work in schools, universities, community groups and companies in Hebron and the surrounds. I have learned many things about being a human being and not being extremist in my thinking since being a part of the organisation. I have learned how we are all equals and everyone needs help and support. I have also learned about taking my own decisions in my personal life, how to be strong. Here you can have challenging and creative ideas that the society does not accept and they support us, as there is respect, acceptance and understanding.

This is the only organisation where I have seen that young people have any real power, for example, if I want to do an activity they give me space and support on how to do it. I think you need to provide information in interesting and fun ways, such as through games so that people feel free to ask questions and there is space for discussion.

During my time volunteering, I have helped support a number of young people in need. One was a girl who was about 16. She was already married and was scared that she might be pregnant. She did not know what to do, she had no information about pregnancy and she came to me because she had not had a period: it turned out that she was pregnant. I gave her the information about the risks of unsafe abortion and I referred her to a nurse where she was helped.

I have heard of a number of cases of women who have tried dangerous methods to abort, including in my family. There was one woman I heard of who jumped from the stairs and died. Another who became sterile after she tried to end her pregnancy unsafely.

“I think we need more awareness about abortion in Palestine. We don’t know anything about it, other than that people think it is forbidden in our religion.”

Many women experience psychological as well as physical harm from unsafe abortion. In many cases, women get depressed as they think of having committed a sin. Traditional customs and beliefs are also wrong, with a belief that after an abortion you must immediately get pregnant again as otherwise you will not be able to have children anymore. Women also believe that unsafe abortion is easy and without risk, people don’t know about the harm caused.

I think the law on abortion should change in the country. Decision-makers, legal powers and the religious law have a strong influence on society, we do awareness but it is not as powerful as laws.

Mahmoud (furthest right) working with other volunteers to plan activity
Mahmoud (furthest right) working with other volunteers to plan activity

My name is Mahmoud and I am a 22 year old psychology graduate and youth volunteer with PFPPA doing awareness raising in the community. I really like the work of the organisation; they have given me many opportunities for learning, particularly around taboo issues like abortion. I have learned a great deal since joining them. Before, I was not aware of these issues, I had much information but it was mostly wrong. Here I found accurate information. At first, my family were not sure about me volunteering here. They asked many questions but now they accept it and are very happy about what I do.

I am really proud of this organisation, for example yesterday, a person called us, she had many problems with her marriage and we went to visit her at her house to provide the support she needed. This morning she sent a message to say that it was the first time she had felt calm in a long time.

“I have also changed my attitudes and beliefs since working here. For example, on the issue of abortion, I thought that it was ‘haram’, forbidden. However now I understand that it is not always haram and it should be the woman’s decision. My attitudes to women have also changed and this has affected how I interact with my sister and will affect my future marriage.

On the issue of abortion, we need to create awareness. In our society, people think abortion is always unsafe. Even though there are safe methods, this needs more awareness. These methods exist but are not accessible, in the future they should be. I really love working on these issues, I would love to continue my path here, even if I get another job, I will keep volunteering and providing care.

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