Let’s Talk Abortion

By Naisola Likimani

Let’s put the facts on the table. Evidence shows that abortion has been happening for centuries, way before the pro choice movement. Wherever sex exists, there will be unplanned pregnancy, because even contraception does not work 100% of the time, there is forced/unwanted/violent sex that takes away women’s choice to get pregnant or not, etc.

Additionally in African society there is reluctance to acknowledge that sex even takes place, so we rarely provide young people and women in particular information about sexual and reproductive health, therefore they are unable to make informed choices. Then most of our women (78%) who need contraception do not have access to it, either because of poverty, because it is not provided, or they are not empowered to make that choice.

Therefore when unplanned or unwanted pregnancies happen, some will want to terminate those pregnancies. Either it will happen safely or in a kiosk somewhere with an untrained person. Our middle/upper class women can and do procure safe abortion in private clinics, for themselves and their daughters when needed. It is our poor women, our rural women, our young women who cannot afford this, and resort to very desperate measures. Women do not resort to sticking hangars in themselves or drinking bleach out of a whimsical, thoughtless decision. Let’s give them at least that respect. Research shows that all kinds of women seek abortions for all kinds of reasons, and it is incorrect to say only immoral, promiscuous women seek abortions. I can tell you many heartbreaking stories including of girls raped by fathers or other relatives who ended up with unsafe abortions, injured for life. I believe we should take our religious and moral battlefield somewhere else, not on women’s bodies. Because it is resulting in about 30,000 African women dying every year and millions of injuries from unsafe abortion, while we continue to have this debate from the safety and luxury of our homes, churches and computers.

Everyone is entitled to their belief. But no one has the right to tell someone else what to do with their own body, based on that belief. The women getting abortions in Africa are also Christians, Muslims. They are people we know and love. Let them negotiate their choices with people they trust, yes, including their god. For the rest of us, let us work to make a society where women do not have to result to desperate measures to end a pregnancy. There’s a lot we can do including preventing unplanned pregnancy. But arguing over whether abortion is morally or religiously right or wrong is the most futile of all efforts. It has never and will never stop women from seeking abortions (including churchgoing women). All it does is keep people distracted and misinformed while women continue to die in large numbers.

PS. The restrictive abortion laws we have in Africa were inherited from our colonizers. Those countries have ALL since changed their laws and now no woman dies from abortion in developed countries. Meanwhile Africa continues to have almost half of all maternal deaths from unsafe abortion in the world. As Africans we should be very concerned about the imperialist nature of some of the anti-choice campaigners from the North. They live in a society where women have choice, but is it that Africans cannot make their own choices too? Why are people so comfortable with death, poverty and poor quality of life for Africans?

Naisola Likimani is a campaigner for African women’s rights. Connect with her @NaisolaL.

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Beauty versus Contraception in Bamenda

By Numfor Alenwi

When one hears that only 37% of demands for family planning in Cameroon are met, he may be tempted to think the determinants are the availability and affordability of modern options as is the case with many developing nations. Contrary to this, the need for comprehensive education seems to be the key demand for young girls in Bamenda as the fear of body deformation; sterility and cancer increasingly block usage.

Social enterprises and charity organizations in the last five years have greatly increased the availability of modern contraceptives in the Cameroonian city, Bamenda. Beside the female and male condoms which can be found in stores around town, IUDs, Jadelle, Depo-Provera and Nouvelle-Duo can be accessed from a majority of the health centers within the town. Despite this availability, 14 in every 100 girls aged 15-24 have conceived a baby with less than 5% of the pregnant adolescents (married or not) desiring a pregnancy. (UPSB 2011). What then are the key obstacles that make young people uncomfortable about accessing or using contraception?

‘I fear the side effects like weight increase, cancer, and sterility’ says Stephanie Nchum. ‘Condoms are very unreliable and the long term methods would destroy my sexy shape. I don’t want an ugly weight’ says Ruth Lum.  All 20 young women (15 -24 years) recently interviewed by Cameroon Agenda for Sustainable Development (CASD) in Bamenda, identified with Stephanie and Ruth on the fear of increase in weight if they take pills, inserted or injected contraceptives. The fear of sterility and cervical cancer also came up several times.

Mr. Ngang Peter, head of Family Planning Services at ACMS Bamenda also confirmed these allegations as the key obstacles to the use of contraception by young people in Bamenda. However, he makes it clear that sterility and cancer are only myths but weight increase is likely for the hormonal methods. ‘None of the family planning options causes sterility or cancer but the hormonal methods can likely cause weight increase for some people, the reason we often insist on counseling before choice’ says Ngang.

Strangely, the girls who fear weight gain consider every other contraceptive apart from condoms as hormonal. Even the Copper T 380 intra-uterine device (IUD) which is the most promoted in Cameroon is also dreaded for the same reason. Ngang Peter thinks the problem is not the weight issue but lack of information. ‘The choices are many. Through counseling, providers help clients make and carry out their own choices about contraception. There are eligibility criteria for all the family planning methods. Most people who don’t feel comfortable relying on the condoms are often advised to consider IUDs if no contraindications are found’ Ngang.

Truly, these girls spend a lot of resources to maintain what they call ‘sexy looks’. They are also aware that pregnancies make weight control more difficult. Thus, in as much as they prefer to protect beauty over contraception, they need contraception to maintain beauty. Presumably, young women want to know if there are possibilities of rendering the hormonal contraceptive to have local instead of systematic effects. Dr. Ngalla Elvis, a medical researcher and family planning expert with Cameroon Agenda for Sustainable Development (CASD) attempts an answer. ‘It’s possible to localize drug administration with nano technology but that is not a priority for contraception’. He continues ‘the challenge with young people and contraception use is not the hormonal effects. It is a lack of comprehensive education. Young people need to be informed that the IUDs which last longer than some hormonal methods are mechanical and cannot cause changes in body mass. They also need to know that the female condom is to give young women enough control before a sexual encounter. They also need to know that keeping fit during and after pregnancy is 4 times costly than making an informed choice on contraception ’’.

We need to make informed choices.

Numfor Alenwi is the Executive Director of Cameroon Agenda for Social Development. You can connect with him his blog and via email at nalenwi@yahoo.com. 

Broken Childhood

These children have a right to being children

By Nargis Shirazi

I am a woman, when I think I should actually be a girl! I am 15 and I just had a baby last night. I live right next to a school that reminds me of when I was in a school, until I fell pregnant. I did not sleep last night, the baby was crying. I almost died last night! The traditional birth attendant said I was too small. I am alone; my mother lives in another village. I do not know how to handle this baby. My 40 year old drunken husband is asleep from a night out at the village bar. He heard the baby cry at night, and wondered if it was ours. I am crying…I know not anything else I can do. I look out of the broken window and see the school children again. I wish I could still play dodge ball like they do, but I cannot. I had to be given to this man, to bail my family out of poverty. We were 13 in our home and stricken by poverty. I rescued my siblings only to end up in these chains! I had no choice. My mother told me she wanted to have less children…she had no choice…and neither will I.

This may sound like any other story to you…but is more than a story to others, it is a reality. Child marriage most often occurs in poor, rural communities. In many regions, parents arrange their daughter’s marriage. That can mean that one day, she may be at home playing with her siblings, and the next, she’s married off and sent to live in another village with her husband and his family. She is pulled out of school. She is separated from her peers. And once married, she is more likely to be a victim of domestic violence and suffer health complications associated with early sexual activity and childbearing- International Center for Research on Women.  In Uganda more than 4 out of 10 women wish to access modern contraception but cannot. There is an unmet need for family planning. Family Planning alone would reduce the country’s maternal mortality ratio by 33%.Uganda has one of the highest teenage pregnancies in Africa (one of every four pregnancies occurs in a teenager.) By 15 years of age, 24% of girls and 10% of boys are sexually active (debut 16.6 for girls and 18.1 for boys). Yet only 11% of sexually active young people are using contraception-The Citizen Journalist, July 16, 2012.

We need voices to rise up against the girl child early marriages! The time to stand up and speak about access to family planning is now! Let us come together, let us be the voices that need to be heard!

Girls have a right to prepare for their future.

 Nargis Shirazi is Community Based Quality Improvment Coordinator at UNOPS/MVP in Mbarara Ruhiira, Uganda. You can connect with her on twitter, or via email at suripsyc@gmail.com

For more on child marriage, see campaign website for Girls Not Brides

For More on the MVP (Millenium Villages Project), please click here

SRHR & Climate Change in Sustainable Development

By Numfor Alenwi, CASD, Cameroon

Rio+20 was a disappointment to many leading NGOs like Advocates for Youth, Women Deliver and CASD because it failed to recognize Sexual, Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) especially family Planning services for young women as the basis for sustainable development. This has once more raised dust on the relationship between climate change and SRHR in sustainable development. In the simplest terms, how are the two movements related in the pursuit of a sustainable world by young people?

Climate change disproportionately affects young women, who are often the stewards of their area’s natural resources – as they must walk farther to collect water, work harder to produce crops from dry soil, and cope with drought, flooding, and other natural disasters and disease. At the same time, empowered women can be particularly strong agents for sustainable change in their communities. An effective approach to climate change mitigation and adaptation must therefore support young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, as doing so is essential for adaptation while contributing to reducing the impact of future climate change.

 Reproductive health problems remain the leading cause of ill health and death for women of childbearing age worldwide. Some 222 million women who would like to avoid or delay pregnancy lack access to effective family planning. Nearly 800 women die every day in the process of giving life. About 1.8 billion young people are entering their reproductive years, often without the knowledge, skills and services they need to protect themselves.

Experts agree that responding to the unmet need for family planning is a viable option for sustainable development, including climate change adaptation. For example, in a recent study climate change economists concluded that responding to the unmet need for family planning and supporting girls education are much less costly than low-carbon energy development options and are cost-competitive with forest conservation and other improvements in forestry and agricultural practices.

Instead of environmental and reproductive rights movements being at odds with each other, today’s world demands that we see these movements as one. Women who are empowered to manage the timing of their childbearing will be able to invest more resources in climate change mitigation and foster sustainable development.

Numfor Alenwi is the Executive Director at Cameroon Agenda for Sustainable Development based in Cameroon. Connect with him on his blog and on email: nalenwi@yahoo.com.