The ‘Marea Verde’ Demanding Abortion Rights in Mexico

Last weekend, women followed the Marea Verde and took over the streets of Mexico. Our goal? To demand laws that respect and protect our reproductive rights.

What is the Marea Verde?

‘Marea Verde’ literally means ‘green wave’, but that doesn’t explain the full meaning. There is much more behind those two words. Marea Verde is a feminist movement advocating for the decriminalization of abortion. Women deserve the right to choose if and when they want to become mothers – and to make that choice without fear. 

First, it is important to understand that in Mexico, not all women have access to sex education. Furthermore, many women live in fear of violence, and then there are the women who do not feel ready, or simply do not desire motherhood.

Supporters of the Marea Verde movement carry green scarves tied on bags, purses, backpacks, etc. as a symbol of change. Each time women mobilize for this cause, wrists, necks, heads, walls and whole streets turn green.

In Latin America, like the rest of the world, lawmakers have historically been mostly men – so we continue to live in systems created by and for them. In many countries, women have begun to win equality in representation and decision-making. Systems should belong to both men and women, but still there is a long way to go.

The background of the Green Wave is extensive, but it has received more attention since 2018 when huge movements to decriminalize abortion took place in Argentina. Although it came close to becoming a reality, the Senate eventually voted against changes in the law. The news was heartbreaking for all of us who followed the Argentinian fight. The disappointment hurt our pride, fueled our anger and led the Green Wave to spread all over Latin America.

“Neither of the church, nor of the State, Nor of the Husband, Nor of the Boss. My body is mine, and only mine, and choice is mine alone!”

#GritoGlobalPorAbortoLegal

September 28 is the Day of Global Action for Legal and Safe Abortion, otherwise known as the Day for the Decriminalization of Abortion. The goal is to make the problem visible and demand the recognition of abortion as a right. #GritoGlobalPorAbortoLegal (Global Shoutout for Legal Abortion) gathers Latin American feminists, collectives and allies in an annual march to demand laws in favor of women’s reproductive rights. 

Lawmakers need to add our needs to their agenda. All women need the freedom to choose to become mothers and the freedom to choose not to. Abortions happen even when there are laws against it. Are we willing to accept that the only option is to be forced to be a mother? The outcomes of this include abandoned and neglected children, women dying because of unsafe abortions or women going to jail.

The World Health Organization supports the important impact that laws have on women’s lives:

“(…) Legal restrictions, together with other barriers, mean many women induce abortion themselves or seek abortion from unskilled providers. The legal status of abortion has no effect on a woman’s need for an abortion, but it dramatically affects her access to safe abortion.”

This matters because worldwide, an estimated 25 million unsafe abortions occur each year. 97% of these occur in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. We are protesting a global public health issue.

We need to break the myths that limit and hurt women’s freedom. It is not okay to impose moral rules and religious beliefs over what should be a human right. Safe abortions do not kill women. In the contrary, they empower women through their independence and autonomy.

What’s happening in Mexico?

The Marea Verde took over Mexico last weekend. There are many reasons why we need a movement to raise women’s voices and put pressure on our legislators here. For the past 12 years, Mexico City was the only place where women could access a legal and safe abortion. Recently, Oaxaca decriminalized abortion too, which is a step forward.

In Puebla, there are lawmakers who support the pro-choice cause, but Congress keeps delaying the votes. In the past few years, at least 1183 women from this state travelled to Mexico City to get an abortion. The situation, including teenage pregnancy and violence against women, is challenging and complex, but we keep moving for change.

Women are complete human beings, whether they are mothers or not. Motherhood should be a personal decision. It is our right to choose what happens to our bodies. This is why we are turning our cities green and asking for sex education, contraception, and legal abortion. 

Anyone, anywhere, anytime can join the ‘Marea Verde’ movement. Being pro-choice means being pro-women. We can achieve change, step by step, by informing ourselves, choosing representatives who are truly advocates for human rights, supporting each other as women and by proactively promoting a society governed with a gender perspective.

Diana Meneses took over the Girls’ Globe instagram Stories on September 28 from Puebla, Mexico. Watch her takeover here.

In Conversation with Kizanne James

Let us introduce you to Kizanne James. Kizanne is a physician from Trinidad & Tobago working on reproductive health and rights.

In this conversation with Girls’ Globe, Kizanne speaks about the challenges she has faced as a woman – and especially as a black woman – working in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights in the Caribbean.

“We were taught that if you had sex or you had a boy touch you, it’s like a tomato – the more that a boy touches you the less valuable you would be. And that’s not the same narrative for boys.”

Kizanne explains that it’s being grounded in her values that helps her to handle difficult circumstances. In the face of negativity or even hateful abuse from those who disagree with her, knowing her work and advocacy empowers women and girls to make decisions about their own lives keeps her motivated.

“Regardless of what I may be feeling, or the negative voices or concerns people may have…I feel like I’m on the right side.”

This video was made possible through a generous grant from SayItForward.org to support women’s advocacy messages.

If you liked this post, we think you’ll love our conversations with KingaWinfredScarlettNatasha & Tasneem, too!

7 Ways to be a Male Ally on Abortion

Abortion’s got nothing to do with men, right?

Wrong. So, so wrong.

Men can be fantastic allies when it comes to abortion. Here are 7 tips to get you started:

1. No judgement

If your partner, friend, relative or anyone else in your life is considering an abortion, never judge them or try to sway their decision – and if she wants to talk to you about it, just listen. Deciding whether or not to have an abortion is a deeply personal choice, and it must ultimately be one made by the woman who is pregnant.

2. Respect her decision 

Once a woman has decided to have an abortion, respect that choice. Her body is her own, and she must always be in control of what happens to it. If a woman you know has decided abortion is the right path for her, trust that she knows what she is doing.

3. Offer to be there

If someone close to you is having an abortion, offer to accompany them to the clinic, or to meet up some time after. They might just want and need your company, and a friendly ear to listen to them. Equally, if they wish to be alone, that’s OK too.

4. Accept her emotions…

Having an abortion can be an emotional experience for a woman. Whether they seem happy, sad, relieved, angry, scared or any other emotion – or none at all – accept their feelings and do not judge or question their reactions. Their emotions and feelings are unique to them alone.

5. …and your own

Abortions can be very emotional experiences for men too. If your partner is considering one, or has had one, it is important to communicate respectfully with her about what you are going through. Or you might want to talk to someone else about it instead. Consider seeing a counsellor who can help you process your feelings healthily.

6. Consider the cost

Abortion procedures can be costly, which often leads to additional stress for those seeking one. If you were involved in the pregnancy then offer to share the financial burden so it’s one less thing for the woman to worry about.

7. Talk about it

Abortion is an everyday procedure that many women will experience, but it is still shrouded in stigma in many circles. We all have a responsibility to break that stigma and to educate ourselves, and this can start with something as simple as striking up a conversation with a friend about abortion.

Want to know more? Pledge your voice to I Decide, IPPF’s movement for safe abortion access for all – we’ll send you all the resources you need to get you started. You can also find videos explaining the different types of abortion, personal testimonies, frequently asked questions (with answers!), podcasts, reports and much more.

Got more recommendations to add to the list? Let us know!

IPPF is a key player in the fight for safe abortion worldwide. In 2017, our projects averted 1.7 million unsafe abortions, and we delivered nearly 5 million abortion-related services globally.

To Prevent Abuse, Young People Must Know their Rights

Content note – this post refers to sexual violence and suicide.

Recently, a Twitter user named @twadi_doll shared her story fearlessly and curtly online – giving many people a reality check and leaving them feeling shaken.

Twadi narrated in her thread that at 13 years – orphaned and young – she found herself living with a pastor and his wife.

A respected…no, scratch that…a revered member of society, the man of God raped Twadi her on a regular basis. On other occasions, he would call his friends and they took turns exploiting her body. As if that wasn’t enough, the pastor would ask her constantly to seek forgiveness from God, for making him commit a sin.  

Since she had nowhere to go and was being blackmailed by the pastor for receiving food and shelter from him for 3 years, Twadi couldn’t escape the reach of the preacher’s hand. Even when she spoke out in church, she was called a liar and a demon who had been sent to tempt and disorganise the pastor in his job of shepherding the Lord’s people.

As a result of the continued sexual abuse, Twadi became pregnant and 6 months later, her teachers learnt of her story and offered her immediate support. They opened a case against the pastor, who in shame committed suicide. An abortion was arranged for Twadi and painful as it was, she took the option because she had long decided that either the baby dies or she commits suicide herself.

Twadi’s story calls upon us all to play our part in improving SRHR information and service access to young people.

This lack of access spirals into multiple other challenges, and sadly, it is the young person who suffers. Their untapped potential is heavily undermined.

For starters, we should always be able to come out and condemn what is wrong, no matter the position or reputation of the person in question. The pastor’s wife, years later after her husband’s death, wrote Twadi a letter saying she knew about the abuse the whole time, but found it better than her man going out to cheat. In Twadi’s own words, “she used me as a glue to hold her marriage together.” The pastor’s wife betrayed and failed Twadi, and her suffering falls as equally on her shoulders as it does on the pastor’s.

We need to pay special attention to young people’s voices on their reproductive health concerns with as open a mind as possible.

Sometimes we can’t understand young people by assuming we know who they are and what they want, especially if we aren’t young people ourselves. The pastor’s congregation was way off course in this case, defending the pastor simply because of his position and ignoring the truth Twadi was telling.

If even one of them had taken time to hear her out, it could have changed her fortune. We should seek virtual spaces where young people are free to talk about their challenges with no fear of judgement, and where they are sure they will be believed and helped.

It is critical that we provide young people with information on their rights so that they can know when to say no, how to say it and how to defend themselves against manipulation and abuse.

The more we starve young people of such information, the more we make them vulnerable to attacks and abuse and the multiple challenges that ripple from those.

Finally, we need to work with stakeholders who can put policies in place to ease the combatting of these challenges. In Uganda, for example, we have been advocating for an operational School Health Policy where we can provide sexual and reproductive health and rights information to young people that fits the context we live in.

Such a document is key, because then we can arm young people with knowledge, and we will have the backing of the law. It is something that policy makers and governments should consider, lest we see more young people come out with stories similar to Twadi’s.

This selfless story should be an eye opener.

Many young people are undergoing such horrific challenges, and the veils of religion and culture, which otherwise should be guiding us to a sane and loving society, are being used as defences and barriers against SRHR access. Such incidents are indeed present in our society and the best we can do is speak out against them, bring the perpetrators to justice and provide young people with information and services so that they can make informed decisions and protect themselves.

PS: Twadi has moved on and is strong now. However, is that what we want, for all young people to become strong like her and move on? Or is it better to stamp abuse out once and for all? Something must change in our communities, right here and right now.

Women in Rural Zimbabwe are Being Left Behind

Being a young woman living in a rural or remote community can be very daunting. You have to fight tirelessly to loosen yourself from the grip of sociocultural stigmatization to have any sense of autonomy over your sexuality.

The situation is worsened by the absence of easy access to modern family planning methods. The problem lies in the fact that when coming up with sexual and reproductive interventions for women and adolescents, our governments still rely on ‘a one size fits all’ approach.

But women in rural areas have different lifestyles and challenges than women living in urban communities.

When it comes to sexual and reproductive health, one size fits all really makes no sense. One size fits all isn’t good enough.

In Zimbabwe, the fact that young women and adolescents in rural and remote communities are still struggling to access modern family planning methods – or even comprehensive sex education – is overlooked. These issues are still regarded as taboo, and in my community you can’t talk openly about them.

It’s a different scenario for women and adolescents in urban communities within Zimbabwe. In urban areas, it’s possible to access both information and services through youth friendly centres, Non Governmental Organisations and other diverse forums.

I believe that women can only enjoy their sexual and reproductive health and rights if they have access to relevant services and supplies – including access to contraceptives and accurate information on how to use them – regardless of geographical area or socioeconomic status.

The government of Zimbabwe is committed to ensuring improved availability of and access to quality integrated family planning services for all women irrespective of age, marital status and their geographical location by the year 2020.

A sizeable number of interventions have been made. For example, we now have an ambassador for Family Planning to advocate for family planning. This is a great initiative, but in rural areas this ambassador is not visible, and so issues are misrepresented! This type of intervention is relative – it primarily benefits the adolescents and young women in urban areas the brand ambassador is engaging with – which makes it an unfit approach for women collectively.

I believe that this kind of intervention leaves a lot of women behind. 

A large percentage of Zimbabwean women are in rural communities. Adolescents and young women in rural areas need interventions they can relate to – services that resonate with their particular reality and their existing level of understanding.

As much as there have been family planning and contraceptive outreach services, it is still absurd that in rural areas adolescents and young women continue to have unwanted pregnancies and new cases of HIV infections. The reason behind this is a lack of positive and affirmative approaches towards women’s sexuality.

From my experience in a rural area, the healthcare service providers are not youth friendly and they tend to have a negative perception of young women trying to access family planning. As a result, adolescents and young women shy away from these health centres as they don’t trust the service providers.

This is very disturbing, as trust should be one of the core values health service providers should strive to uphold at all times. I believe that it would be a great idea for genuinely youth friendly centres to be established in rural and remote areas. This would encourage adolescents and young women to seek out sexual education and feel comfortable asking questions about the family planning methods that will work best for them. It would also help conservative rural communities to recognize family planning as not only a priority, but also a right.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and adolescents in rural communities should be prioritized in Zimbabwe, and the government must be held accountable for delivering meaningful and diverse approaches in tackling the family planning challenges our country faces. Without this, achieving the FP2020 targets will not be possible.

If truth be told, rural women and adolescents have had enough of being left behind.

Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for Women with Disabilities

Today is World Contraception Day. As we reflect on the role that birth control and reproductive rights have played on modern day society, we must not forget those who continue to be denied access to sexual- and reproductive health (SRH) services, such as women with disability. Disabled women are often denied contraceptives or sexual health services because they are perceived to not have sexual needs or sexual lives.

More than 15% of the world’s population is affected by disability, including physical, sensory impairments, developmental and intellectual disability and psychosocial disability. This means a significant portion of our population continues to experience discrimination on what is regarded as basic human rights.

In 2007, the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities stipulated international law that all governments should guarantee access to sexual and reproductive health to people with disabilities. However, in practice, women with disabilities face challenges in accessing SRH services for a number of reasons:

  • They are infantilised
  • They are viewed as asexual or hypersexual (lacking control of sexual urges)
  • They are viewed as incapable of reproduction or too weak to carry a pregnancy
  • They are viewed as being unattractive or unfit for marriage or being sexual partners

These myths are far from the truth and are demeaning to people with disability. Yet, these prejudices continue to be the major deterrent in disabled women receiving SRH services. In part, these misconceptions make disabled women (and men) vulnerable to sexual violence and abuse within our societies.

There is silence in addressing the lack of access to sexual health services for disabled women. In contribution, the practice of forced sterilisation and abortions perpetuates the silencing and is in direct violation of disability rights. Our SRHR (sexual and reproductive health and rights) policies do not support or uplift disabled women and this is worrisome. Not enough research is done to understand and recognise the sexual desires and needs of disabled women.  Furthermore, we do not explore the intersectionality of gender and sexual dynamics that disabled people experience i.e. LGBTQ experiences.

Most non-disabled people, health workers in particular, have sometimes been described as being disinterested, lacking awareness and understanding of women with disability and their needs. There is failure in promoting inclusiveness. Many developing countries such as Zimbabwe still have general obstacles to overcome regarding SRHR. Unfortunately, in addition to those challenges we do not have policies that address the sexual and reproductive rights of disabled women.

How do we improve the challenges that are faced by disabled women? Well, we can start by:

  • De-stigmatisation and providing information for better understanding
  • Creating awareness for SRHR that benefit people with disability
  • Improving access to health systems, facilities and services
  • Improving home-based care and community outreach for client education
  • Including disability in SRHR policies, laws and budgets
  • Including women with disabilities in policymaking, strategizing and health research

In conclusion, there is still much to be done to improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights of persons with disability. It is important to have the conversation about disability and sexuality to remove prejudice and misinformation.