On International Women’s Day this year, activists across the world called for collective action in the fight for equality. With the hashtag #EachForEqual, communities came together to collectively challenge stereotypes, fight bias, and champion equal rights. They argued that removing dichotomies in the fight for equality is the next step towards achieving equal rights across the world because individual actions have the power to collectively transform society.
At Marie Stopes International, we know that ensuring safe access to abortion care for every woman is an equality issue that requires collective action. Worldwide, 8% of maternal deaths occur from complications relating to unsafe abortion; that’s over 22,000 women losing their lives each year because they’re forced to seek a service that puts their safety at risk. Restrictive abortion laws increase the likelihood that an abortion will be unsafe, but unsafe abortion also remains prevalent in countries where the procedure is legally available.
Abortion is often a topic so shrouded in mystery and misinformation that the social risks of having an abortion impact the decisions of some women. In a recent report by Marie Stopes International, we found that avoiding judgement is something that many women take into consideration when choosing a service, and for some, it pushes them to unsafe providers and puts their lives at risk. Reducing stigma and encouraging community-wide support for women’s decisions can, therefore, save the lives of women living in countries where abortion is legally available.
As Director of Marie Stopes International in Latin America, I know that stigma can stop women from speaking about their experience out of fear of being judged, leading to many women feeling isolated and alone. Our research shows that our clients in Mexico tell on average one other person about their abortion. Most speak to their partner, their mother, or a close friend, but it’s rarely more than one of these, and sometimes, women tell no one.
I know that every woman approaches her experience in a different way but, on occasion, there is a difference in the experiences of women who feel supported by, and able to speak to, a friend, a partner, or family member, and those who do not. This difference is exacerbated by the context within which they live. In Mexico, for example, the views of the Catholic church are very pervasive: 83% of the population are Catholic and, ostensibly, wouldn’t support a woman’s right to choose. But over 80% of the women who have abortions are Catholic. A woman’s religion does not stop her from making the decision to have an abortion, but when women do not feel able to discuss their decision with anyone else, they face this burden of perceived ‘sin’ entirely by themselves.
Last year, Marie Stopes Mexico introduced conversational spaces to enable women to talk to other women about their abortion experiences. The women who come to these groups are often those who have been unable to talk about their abortion with anyone else - this space is their first opportunity to do so. Once you talk to women about their right to have access to abortion and give them a space to share their experiences with other women, many realise that other women feel the same way and have gone through similar things. That’s when their relationship with their own experience can change completely.
The decision to have an abortion lies entirely with the woman herself, but it is our responsibility as a society to tackle the stigma that surrounds the procedure to reduce the effects a lack of support can have on women. Worldwide, 25% of pregnancies end in abortion, but it’s not talked about, and this feeds misinformation and women’s concerns that they will be judged . If we care about equal rights, we need to send a message to women that we support them, which is why, this International Women’s Day, Marie Stopes International is opening the doors to a collective conversation.
Our campaign, #SmashAbortionStigma, is calling for open and honest conversations about abortion. We want to raise the profile of choice and encourage society to speak out about abortion because erasing abortion stigma will take all of us: partners, friends, family, and supporters, not just the women who make the choices.
Find out how to get involved in the campaign here: https://t.co/kpvfitKjcY?amp=1
Back to news