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On this International Safe Abortion Day, we are reminded that the right to safe abortion should be at the core of achieving gender equality – enabling everybody to fully exercise their human rights and live their lives with dignity. The right to safe abortion is however not enough without social conditions allowing pregnancy-related decisions to be made free of oppression, discrimination, stigma, coercion, and violence.

MAMA Network is a regional collective of grassroots activists and feminist groups based in Sub-Saharan Africa.

We aim to share information about self-managed medical abortion and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) directly with women who need it. Since the Network was founded in 2016, it has grown to include 54 members in 22 countries. This particular growth has shown us that we are on the right path to making safe medical abortion accessible to anyone who needs it on the continent.

We asked our member organizations why they work on medical abortion.

For our member CTYA in Zambia, their work on safe medical abortion is rooted in the reality that approximately 30% of all maternal deaths in Zambia are caused by unsafe abortion. They are motivated by the need to reduce this figure as much as they can. For our member YNCSD in Nigeria, improving access to safe medical abortion is part of their larger mission to catalyze social change by engaging young people on critical SRHR issues affecting women and girls, especially amongst marginalized and vulnerable groups.

Across the African continent, sexual and reproductive health rights are yet to be fully realized, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated barriers to access. Lockdowns and other restrictions led to a rise in teenage pregnancies.

For example, South Africa recorded a 60% increase in teen pregnancies between April 2020 and March 2021. In this challenging scenario, MAMA members, community organizations, women’s rights groups, and health practitioners are at the forefront of sexual and reproductive health work. This continued work is a testament to our members’ resilience, commitment, passion, and potential to affect positive changes in their communities and countries. Despite the pandemic’s challenges, youth-led organizations have grown. They are increasingly doing work around safe medical abortion, pioneering new and innovative approaches to leave no one behind.

Challenges like restrictive abortion laws, unnecessary regulatory barriers, and the stigma sustained by cultural and religious beliefs remain.

Our member organizations share:

Our unique challenge is not just in raising awareness about self-managed abortion, but leaping over the psychological barriers and getting people to a place where they can entertain a conversation about abortion, about the many young women who are dying due to unsafe abortion, and finally, what we can do in order to mitigate the problem at hand.
– CTYA Zambia.

The legal climate in Nigeria does not make it easy for us to talk about abortion from the rights-based perspective. Therefore, for us to get through to our audience, we have to adopt the health-based messaging, and even with that we still experience challenges getting through to our audience.”
– YNCSD Nigeria

Culture and religion stand in the way very often. There is also the shame that we have to navigate within our community as we promote and affirm that safe medical abortion indeed saves lives.”
– IJEFA Democratic Republic of Congo

Amidst restrictions and challenges, MAMA network members draw their strength and motivation from successes and the documented impact of MAMA strategies.

Innovations like safe abortion hotlines. The information and resources they can provide to young women and girls in their communities. And crucially, the solidarity they get from being part of the Network and knowing they are not alone in this work. These are of key importance when times get tough.

“What motivates us is knowing that we are not the only organization working for abortion rights. The solidarity we get from being part of the network motivates us a lot. We know the journey is still long but together we can do this” – SOS Femmes du Congo

So this International Safe Abortion Day, if you are a network, a movement, a women’s rights organization, a donor, or simply an advocate for the right to safe abortion, you shouldn’t lose the hope that we will achieve abortion rights for all. MAMA Network believes it because as activist Mariame Kaba says, “hope is a discipline”. Happy International Safe Abortion Day.

MAMA Network is a SAAF grantee partner

The Conversation

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