Empowering young advocates for safe abortion in Nepal

In Nepal, abortion was legalized back in 2002. This decision was made to reduce the high maternal mortality and morbidity attributed to unsafe abortions. However, the government’s lack of effort to educate the population about safe abortion and its legal provision means that many people are still unaware of their rights. 

Abortion is legally available on request up to 12 weeks, and in some circumstances beyond, but not everyone knows about this entitlement. According to Nepal’s 2016 Demographic and Health Survey, only 41% of women of reproductive age were aware of the legal status of abortion. Of those who knew that abortion is legal, only 48% actually knew where to obtain safe services. We know that young people face particular barriers to safe abortion, including judgements from their family as well as health care providers. 

We want to empower young people to be able to make their own decisions about pregnancy and abortion. 

At Visible Impact we know that despite the legal status of abortion, Nepalese communities still suffer a deep-rooted abortion stigma, making reproductive health advocacy uneasy. So, with SAAF funding we set up the Youth for Access to Abortion for Youth (YAAY) project.  

As the Youth Engagement and Advocacy Officer for the project, I have been involved in a truly transformative journey with 28 promising Youth Champions, four from each of Nepal’s seven provinces. Mentoring the 28 champions and witnessing their advocacy journeys from the beginning of their year-long tenure to the end, where they handed over the championship to the next cohort of equally passionate champions, was a great learning and growing opportunity for me as well. 

Talking about abortion for the first time. 

All our Youth Champions take part in an intensive ‘abortion boot camp’ where they learn safe abortion advocacy skills and have a chance to clarify their own values. After they have been through this training, learning from experts in various fields, they deliver community-based discussions. 

Reaching 1800+ individuals in 20 districts of all seven provinces of Nepal, it was very inspiring for me to witness our champions take the educational sessions even to geographically hard-to-reach areas. From the hills to the plains, champions conducted these sessions in venues ranging from community schools, colleges, and health facilities in their respective provinces. Most of the sessions saw participants involved in safe abortion related conversation for the first time. In these sessions, young people were generally found to be very receptive compared to the elders who were more likely to perceive abortion to be a sin. 

Engaging with government officials. 

Parallel to community engagement, our Youth Champions took the lead in lobbying provincial and local government representatives. They were able to share their recommendations based on the reflections from the awareness sessions. Armed with experience, personal stories, and a passion for change, they advocated for youth friendly, stigma free, accessible, and quality safe abortion services. Despite our skepticism regarding the government’s engagement on this issue, the heartwarmingly positive response received from the officials remained constant throughout all these meetings.   

I’ve seen such a positive change in our Youth Champions. 

The journey with our current group of Youth Champions has come to an end, but the impact of their advocacy – for sure – will resonate for years to come in the reproductive health advocacy landscape in Nepal. As I was undertaking monitoring visits, I could trace a sky of difference in the confidence possessed and demonstrated by the champions during their first and their final activities. Witnessing the transformation in their communication, coordination, event management skills, along with their resourcefulness in terms of safe abortion advocacy has been immensely rewarding. Champions now understand that empowered, informed communities and progressive policies are the lasting legacies of any advocacy endeavor. As I acknowledge the accomplishments of the past year, I also look forward to creating much more aware communities with the forthcoming cohort of youth champions. We do this by dismantling taboos, dispelling myths, and fostering a supportive environment for discussing reproductive health.  

By Manisha Thapa, Youth Engagement and Advocacy Officer at Visible Impact, a SAAF grantee partner in Nepal. 

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