Abortion rights: a personal experience leading to Fem

Working in the ‘not for profit sector’ in South Africa exposed me to a myriad of issues. It opened my eyes to realities that show the resilience of the human spirit and dire situations. I began to understand that everything is interlinked and that no issues need to take a back seat when all hands are on deck. With this knowledge, I moved from being a ‘woke’ employee to being an activated citizen. The world looks at you differently when you become an agent of your own matters. Suddenly I am a young, black, female activist.

I have worked in the lobby and advocacy space, looking out for the development of young people. Realising that change happens on the ground and also needs policy conviction, I initiated Mocha Panda (Youth Forward). This project meant to start conversations on what should be contained in the Youth Policy for 2015-2020. The activities involved youth leaders organisations and groups that work with young people. We collated inputs and, as a collective, we made a submission.

Throughout these conversations and in the final copy of the National Youth Policy, there were talks of high levels of teenage pregnancy, high maternal death rate due to lack of access to quality health facilities and even speculation as to the capacity of the health professionals who provide these service. I found it disheartening that as a country we could admit the sexual and reproductive health is a challenge but that the proposed policy interventions were not explicit at all, particularly when it came to Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights.

In my endeavour to understand what our attitude as a country is towards SRHR, I coordinated a series of conversations and workshops on gender equality. These showed how in culture, religion and work spaces a woman didn’t seem to have ownership of her bodies or decisions.We had to speak a particular way, dress in a defined way and inevitably become a mother even if we were not ready. Couple this with the narrative of women who have been turned away from health facilities whose responsibility is to provide an abortion service, and the alarming number of women who get wheeled into hospitals because of botched back door abortions. I knew there was much work to be done.

This is why I am part of Fem. It has been remarkable to work on a project that radicalises access by using a simple SMS to reaffirm a woman’s choice and offer her safe alternatives. Fem refers women to legal and safe abortion providers, who in their turn will get a chance to register and, once verified, will be part of the Fem database. Very soon afterwards, these women will then be able to give feedback on their experience at the hands of the service providers.

I see Fem pioneering in the authentication of abortion service providers not only by vetting who provides the abortion service, but also helping service providers to understand that they offer a critical service that requires empathy.

Fem will grow to be in more provinces and, as it increases in reach, it will be translated into three more official languages. This will happen hand in hand with a network of organisations and individuals who believe that this work is necessary and possible.

To that tune we would like to invite you to take part in Fem’s iExpress Reproductive Health Art Competition that is running until the 15th of June 2017. The Fem iExpress campaign calls on local artists to submit visual concepts, supported by a written explanation, to promote a project that opens access to safe abortion services to South African women. For more information, follow us at @FEM_RSA on Twitter and Facebook and e-mail us at hello@fem.safe2choose.org. It is time to get information!

By Kanyisa Booi