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Nepal legalized abortion in 2002. With the recent adoption of “The Right to Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Act” in 2018, the country has taken huge strides for the fulfilment of the sexual and reproductive health needs of women and girls. However, 19 years since the legalization, the conversations around safe abortion services and its accessibility are much more complex.

“The laws we have on paper are quite different from the societal norms which guide us.”

Reflection of a youth champion at Visible Impact

In Nepal, young people aged 15-24 make up about one-fifth of the population. About 64% of adolescents have their first sexual intercourse between the age of 15 to 17. Contrastingly, the use of modern contraception in this age group is relatively low, only about 4.6%. Thus leading to a higher chance of unwanted pregnancy. Comprehensive Sexuality Education is a far-fetched dream for many young people, causing them to resort to unreliable sources or no information at all on sex and sexuality.

Although spelled out in the constitution and international treaties, a woman’s rights over her body is still guided by what society defines as moral and right.  

The topic of pre-marital sex is a major taboo. It’s discussed in whispers with shame attached to it. These further limit the access to abortion in Nepal, even more so for young women and girls.

“I took painkillers to end my pregnancy. Going to a health facility meant people knowing that I had an abortion, a topic of stigma in my society.”

– Woman interviewed by Visible Impact

Moreover, stigmas in societies are exacerbated and perpetuated by the media. Using sensationalising headlines, stigmatising language with pictures showing full-grown foetuses being cut by sharp objects, the media has been falsely projecting abortion as a very dangerous procedure.

News stories are published with headlines like – “Girls in their school uniforms, visiting abortion clinics!” or “Increased abortion, a concern for the society!”

Through interventions targeting multiple aspects of the manifestations of these stigmas, Visible Impact has been implementing a project titled “Youth for Access to Abortion for Youth” since 2020, supported by the Safe Abortion Action Fund.

We have trained 35 young people across 7 provinces in Nepal and championed them in the cause of safe abortion.

These young people have been reaching out to communities and raising awareness within their peer groups and families. The young champions have been established as a major focal point for women’s health in the communities.

“I get many questions following my session on safe abortion. People have reached out to me. I provide the information that I know and try to link them with the service centers.” – Visible Impact Youth Champion

Besides the engagement of young people, reaching out to media professionals to change the narratives around abortion is also our prime intervention. Seven media professionals have been provided with a value clarification workshop and engaged in a media fellowship program.  By using a rights-based approach, these trained media professionals have now been writing and reporting accurately.

Small but meaningful steps are required for attitude transformation.

The liberal laws alone are insufficient for ensuring bodily autonomy and independent reproductive choices for women.  The energy, openness to change, and advocacy capacities of youths should be harnessed to create a supportive environment where every woman can access stigma-free abortion care in the country.

Visible Impact is a SAAF grantee partner.

The Conversation

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