This week I was part of a train the trainers’ workshop for community champions working on sexual and reproductive rights (SRHR) and access to safe abortion. One of the exercises was to share “The journey of my life”. Listening to the journeys of these young women I realized that women are not able to enjoy their reproductive rights and choices because of what they experience in their lives. Women expressed how they had had their drinks laced with alcohol without them knowing, while others had forced early marriages because they had been raped by their boyfriends. Some of them had been raped and fallen pregnant as a result. These circumstances result in unwanted pregnancies and unwanted children. Most of the women had also had unsafe abortions which can bring risk to their health.
As a champion of reproductive rights, I want to change women’s negative experiences.
I have heard many such stories and they give me the energy and willpower to continue my work on promoting SRHR and advocating for access to safe abortion. Our work in Zimbabwe is premised along the lived realities of women which are at times not in line with the laws of the country. As Women’s Action Group (the organisation I work for) we have taken it upon ourselves to disseminate information on different laws that affect women’s rights and wellbeing. We conduct dialogues at the community level to share information on SRHR and the Termination of Pregnancy Act. This is because we have found that women are not even aware of the law. They therefore miss out on accessing safe abortion even if they are eligible to have an abortion under the law. We also have trained community champions who educate women on SRHR. These champions are part of the access to safe abortion movement.
Unsafe abortion is contributing to the high maternal mortality rate in Zimbabwe.
There is a need to respect women’s reproductive choices. The focus should not be on numbers. This was stressed by the UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem in her statement on World Population Day: “Women’s bodies should not be held captive to population targets.”
As the world is focusing on population issues there is a need to understand the realities of women and girls rather than judging their behaviours. In most countries access to safe abortion is criminalized or limited for the majority of women. Countries should show sincerity to these global frameworks such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) abortion guidelines if they are really trying to promote women and girls’ reproductive rights.
Abortion care is a fundamental human right; abortion is health care.
The WHO defines an enabling environment for abortion care as one that respects human rights and has enabling laws and policy framework, availability and accessibility of information, as well as a well-functioning health care system. This guideline is not properly implemented in many countries, as abortion is criminalized or severely restricted. I therefore call upon all governments to decriminalize abortion.
Women in spaces I work in have expressed that there is a need for bodily autonomy and integrity through the following expression: “My body is not a democracy”.
By Edinah Masiyiwa, Executive Director of Women’s Action Group – a SAAF grantee partner.