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On this International Safe Abortion Day, “We need action, no restrictions or performative promises”


A protest in favor of abortion in Chicago on July 15, 2019. (Charles Edouard Miller / Flickr)

Today we celebrate International Safe Abortion Day 2020, under the theme calling for Various actions, different places, one request, to allow access to a safe and legal abortion.

This day has its roots in a regional campaign for the decriminalization of abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean and was launched in 2011 as a global campaign by the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNNR).

This month also marks the 25th anniversary since the Fourth World Conference on Women which carried the Beijing Platform for Action, outlining 12 critical areas of concern that governments are called upon to advance gender equality. These 12 areas range from access to health, education and economic empowerment to violence against the rights of women and girls.

A quarter of a century after the 4th World Conference on Women, we have made progress in some critical areas outlined in the Beijing Platform for Action, but we are lagging far behind in others.

According to the UN Women report, “Women’s rights in review, 25 years after BeijingThe world has made tremendous progress in girls’ education, in the fight against maternal mortality, and some progress in the representation of women in decision-making and gender-sensitive legislation.

However, the progress is far too slow and uneven. For example:

  • at the World level, women aged 25 to 34 are more likely than men to live in extreme poverty;
  • only one in four political posts is held by women worldwide in national parliaments;
  • and on average, women do three times more unpaid care and housework than men, with long-term consequences for their economic security.
  • Besides, one on three women experience physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives.

Is there hope for concrete and sustained initiatives at the end of this anniversary year?

On this International Safe Abortion Day, "We need action, no restrictions or performative promises"
With a university background in biomedical research and public policy, Catherine Nyambura has worked on sexual and reproductive health and rights, women’s rights, adolescent health, HIV / AIDS prevention, care, treatment and research over the past ten years.

From my perspective in Nairobi and as a Kenyan, I am proud not only of the progress in equality since the Beijing Platform for Action of 1995, but also of the global momentum that the International Day of safe abortion created for hold governments accountable for their reproductive rights commitments, including those of Kenya. And last year International Conference on Population and Development held in Nairobi sparked a thoughtful dialogue on promoting gender equality and what shared responsibility looks like in this 25th anniversary year.

In March, COVID-19 disrupted the already struggling global infrastructure and economy, and it exposed and exacerbated already enormous social and institutional inequalities. And there is a confluence of issues that we face as a global community. Multilateralism is under threat, widespread populism and anti-choice rhetoric is gaining ground. This confluence created a charged political climate, characterized by a decline in women’s rights.

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Undo the evil of the global gag rule

To make matters worse, specific government actions have compounded the effects of this political climate. The US government, for example, aims to impose an expanded version of the global gag rule, also known as Mexico City Politics.

In four years of its extension, the global gag rule has been documented to leave behind a trail of devastating effects on the lives of women and girls, compromising reproductive rights and providing a platform to embolden anti-choice groups. In addition to anchoring a structural barrier to women’s and girls’ access to their sexual and reproductive health and rights around the world, the new, expanded version of the rule has created a resource gap of over $ 600 million in financing family planning.

It also extends the restrictions to almost all of the global health aid from the United States, resulting in an estimate $ 9.5 billion loss of support for HIV / AIDS, malaria, and maternal and child health initiatives, among others. Some of these resources have been shifted to support a well-coordinated and well-funded anti-choice movement (mostly rooted in evangelical rhetoric).

And here in Kenya, these groups have been at the forefront of the spread of disinformation and have been able to gain significant support to block the 2019 Reproductive Health Bill. They have also raised considerable opposition at the top. from Nairobi last year, including senior political diplomats.

We are at a tipping point. On the one hand, we have the 25th anniversary initiatives and the global health, feminist and social justice movements. On the other hand, we have the inherent systemic inequalities and legislative obstacles that these movements face.

At the start of 2021, the Generation Equality Forum will be hosted and showcased six coalition action themes (gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health and rights, feminist leadership, technology, climate justice and economic justice). These themes could be used to rally governments around the world around “shifting” political commitments to action.

But there must be buy-in and responsibility or these commitments only salute the quest for gender equality and the work and legacy of feminist movements.

Between now and next year’s Forum, we have the opportunity to raise the bar, put our best ideas on the table to address the barriers women and girls face around the world and ” call on governments to increase political will. For this to work, we need fully funded policies, programs and services with built-in accountability mechanisms. Governments around the world, from the United States to Kenya and everywhere else, should seize this moment.

In Kenya, in the informal settlements of Nairobi where I grew up, one in five (17%) girls aged 15-19 have started childbearing, and unsafe abortion is responsible for almost a third of deaths maternal. We need action, not more restrictions or even performative promises.

On the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, I want to remember today as the day we took a big step forward.

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