‘We need to have a candid conversation about abortion that is very personal and the people who need to be speaking and be given the chance to be heard are women because this issue inherently affects them first!’ Kate Kiama Atlas Corps Fellow (Kenya) serving at the Nike Foundation.
The year 2010 was indeed a historic year for Kenya. The Kenyan people decided and adopted a new Constitution that expressly declared among other things that Kenyan women have the fundamental right to their reproductive health and thus have in theory the subsequent right to access a safe abortion. In principle the structures are legally in place but implementing the same is a whole other ball game, four years later, majorly due to our socialization process and the notion that a woman exerting control over her own reproductive health right and her sexuality will threaten the existing gender norms and status quo.
According to Nancy Felipe Russo (1976) in the Journal of Social Issues Volume 32, she is of the opinion that abortion is highly stigmatized because it violates two fundamental ideals of womanhood; namely that of a nurturing mother and her sexual purity. She further propounds the notion that the litmus test of a being a ‘good woman’ is her desire to be a mother. This would naturally therefore conclude that a woman would be considered out rightly absurd, bad or awkward to not want to have children or worse still to terminate her pregnancy for whatever reason. Be that as it may, every culture and community is entitled to develop their own value system, social norms and beliefs, this line of thinking has however been the fallacy and the ghost of several generations past that continues to plague many societies to-date.
It is important to recognize and acknowledge that whether we consider ourselves to be ‘pro-choice’ or ‘pro-life’ is inextricably linked to our value system and that is perfectly acceptable and is peripheral in my opinion to the main issue at hand. I am of the considered view that we are all in a sinking boat if we think that ‘conversion’ (from pro-life to pro-choice and/or vice versa) from one camp to another is the solution to this quagmire that we find ourselves in. We can and have been belaboring with legal, moral, religious and philosophical justifications and arguments of why the practices should or should not be allowed, but I do find myself asking this rhetoric question sometimes out load -whether we really care about the women and girls affected? Or if that is not compelling enough, the following glaring writings on the wall.
According to the World Health Organisation, they report that in each year there are an estimated 40-50 million abortions in the World. This corresponds to mean that there are approximately 125,000 abortions happening every day. Further that nearly half of these abortions are un-safe and that 98% of the same occurs in the developing world. This obviously means that a woman’s likelihood of having an abortion is greatly elevated if she lives in a developing region! The reasons behind this are numerous and are largely due to inaccessibility of proper reproductive health rights and services, poverty, legal constraints as well as religious and cultural inhibitions.
It would be redundant to effectively go through all the consequences of undergoing an un-safe abortion procedure here, but we cannot understate reports that show that 47,000 women die each year from complications directly resultant from procuring an un-safe abortion. If we believe in humanity and care even a little bit for these 47,000 women, then the issue to me is not whether we are for or against anything. The issue is we can do something about it-period! And that’s where our efforts and prioritize should be!
Before 1997, the Southern Africa sub-region abortion rates and deaths were dominated by South Africa. In 2008, they reported the lowest abortion rates in the entire continent at 15 per 1,000 women after they passed legislation that allowed for safe abortions. East Africa regrettably records the highest rate, at 38, followed by Middle Africa at 36, West Africa at 28 and North Africa at 18.
Nepal is a great case study that East African governments should consider looking into too. In 2010 the country was awarded an MDG Award for its commitment and progress toward achievement of the Millennium Development Goal 5 as related to improving maternal health. Nationwide introduction of safe abortion care was one of several strategies that helped Nepal nearly halve its maternal mortality ratio in the last decade, reducing the number of women who die from pregnancy-related complications from 415 to 229 per 100,000.The Nepalese government also issued directives that prohibit the recording of personal details of any woman accessing abortion services. The nation wide logo that is legally required to be displayed in all approved facilities throughout he hilly country is that of a faceless woman and the non-documentation strategy adopted aims to limit stigma in the society.