A two day workshop on abortion and the reproductive rights of adolescents and young women brought tens of civil society organisations across the continent. The purpose of the workshop was to raise awareness on the upsurge of consequences of unsafe abortion and its effects on the health and lives of African women.
According to the 2010 estimates on maternal mortality and morbidity, the sub-Saharan African and South Asia contributed 86% of deaths; vast majority of which are due to preventable causes that need minimal cost to address. In Africa alone “25% of all unsafe abortions in Africa, are among adolescents aged 15 to 19 and about 60% among young women under 25 years” (Women’s health, WHO-2009).
The Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR) in partnership with IPAS Africa Alliance– an organization protecting women’s health and advancing women’s reproductive rights in collaboration with Equal Now African region, seeing this as a threat to maternal health and the attainment of the MDG by 2015 for some African countries, organized this two day workshop on unsafe abortion at the Hilton hotel in Nairobi, Kenya from the 13th - 14th May 2014. The workshop empowered participants to advocate for women to access safe abortion (according to the Law of the country and Article 14 Para 2 c of the AU Protocol, which states: “Protect the reproductive rights of women by authorizing medical abortion in cases of sexual assault, rape, incest, and where the continued pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the mother or the life of the mother or the foetus.”) particularly within the context of the AU Protocol on Women and other women’s instruments agreed upon by States.
The meeting noted that reducing the burden of maternal deaths due to unsafe abortion and realizing women’s rights to reproductive health is within reach in the African region and this has been addressed in regional treaties and agreements including the African Protocol on Women and the Maputo Plan of Action on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.
The Nairobi meeting also discussed other international and regional policy frameworks on reproductive health, including CEDAW, ICPD, and Vienna Human Rights Conference, which resulted in the declaration– ‘that women’s rights are human rights’. Other commitments to women such as the Beijing Conference, Millennium Development Goals have been reference for workshop participants in the bid to reduce maternal mortality by 75% by 2015, a vision which could be far reaching.
Yet African leaders through the AU continue to show political commitment at their government’s level to promote and protect the right to health in a series of international, regional and continental legal protocols and declarations. Another demonstration of high level political will to protect women from unsafe abortion is the launching of the Campaign on the Acceleration of Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa- CARMMA in 2010 to reduce unsafe abortions that contribute to 40% of maternal deaths in Africa. The Gambia is part of the 38 member states that took part in this continental initiative.
Socio-economic, political, and legal issues continue to determine the lives of women in Africa and elsewhere. Women’s bodies are sites of dispute and instruments of conflict and abuse. They are subjected to all forms of sexual abuse including rape, unwanted and unplanned pregnancies. Yet they are perceived as the perpetrators of the abuse or simply they have to be blamed for what happens to them and their bodies. Such has been the concerns of women’s rights activists in Cameroon like Women Peace Initiatives, Servitas, and Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom – Cameroon... who last Saturday at the Douala based strategies site in one of their concertation and strategic meetings, realized how much women’s bodies are sites of controversy, abuse and neglect.