By Marie – Simone.
Similar to many countries in the region, and the world, the conversation surrounding abortion in Zimbabwe has often lived beneath the surface. Strict legislation, coupled with cultural beliefs that project the concept of purity onto women, means that when abortion is brought up, it is often in relation to a backstreet service that has gone wrong or a traumatizing tale used to warn women of the gravity of the supposed sin this act signifies.
Abortions in Zimbabwe have continued to happen, despite the strict legislation
At safe2choose, we recognize that abortions never stop, even when they are never spoken about, and those who choose to have one are relegated to the outskirts of society. However, when nations cannot own the conversation surrounding abortion, it has drastic consequences for women’s sexual and reproductive health. The gatekeepers of the conversation remain those strongly opposed to it, and they will do whatever it takes to frighten those who even show an inkling of interest in learning more about safe practices surrounding the matter. This in turn has meant that those who are seeking abortions, even under the conditions that make them legal in Zimbabwe, have often felt an immense shame, resulting in the utilisation of methods that have dire consequences.
Recognising this, and wanting to shift ownership of this conversation from those who strongly oppose it, we’ve partnered with The Undomesticated Podcast to discuss abortion in Zimbabwe; what the landscape looks like; how we can push for change; and what information needs to be brought to light in order to further abortion rights in the country. Yamikani Hapaguti, the host of the platform, has been championing women’s rights and provided a welcoming space for the discussion.
The law surrounding abortion in Zimbabwe has barely changed
Zimbabwe has had a long-winded battle with politicians since its independence in 1980, and the constitution’s makeup has suffered as a result. The current abortion law was put into legislation in 1977, with only one amendment in 1997 that changed the fine and prison time for women who seek abortions outside of the stipulations in the law (1). Archaic in nature, this law only allows for abortion under certain circumstances, including incest, mental or physical impairment of the mother or child, and rape – statutory rape not included. The extremely restrictive nature is further exacerbated by the resource limitations in the health-care sector and other sectors that intersect with this domain (2).
For example, in the case of rape, a woman is allowed to seek a legal abortion if she can prove it was the result of rape, but in order for rape to be considered legitimate under the government’s mandate, one must report it within a few days as to avoid being accused of lying. The average Zimbabwean woman will tell you that this is near impossible for many reasons. Policemen have been known to dismiss women’s abortion stories, and that is in the case where a woman has access to a police station, which is very often limited. Moreover, the trauma associated with rape is layered and complex, making it unreasonable to expect women to report within three days.
Situations such as these were discussed at length on the episode and many of the limiting circumstances that inhibit women’s sexual and reproductive health were highlighted. As Yamikani put it, “Legislation such as this puts women in corners, and when this is the case, unsafe measures are taken to protect one’s livelihood.” The state of sexual and reproductive health in Zimbabwe leaves much to be desired, and the conversation around abortion has to be discussed in the context of this. While many may believe that abortion is a topic that should never be visited, we cannot deny that access to family planning services, counselling, and post- or prenatal care is scarce in Zimbabwe, all of which go hand in hand with abortion services. Zimbabwe has one of the highest maternal mortality rates, despite efforts from international organisations to boost sexual and reproductive health services (3). What this is indicative of is the power of stigma and until it’s eradicated wives, mothers, and daughters will continue to perish, in the shadows.
Women in Zimbabwe deserve to know about the abortion-related services available to them
In addition to normalising the practise of abortion itself, the episode also highlighted some of the abortion options available for women, both for abortions and post-abortion care. Manual Vacuum Aspiration (MVA) is a cutting-edge technology that allows for safe abortions as well as adequate post-abortion care. It is made up of a simple hand-held machine that requires no electricity, meaning it can even be found in low-resource settings. It can be used for abortions up to 14 weeks, and for post-abortion care that may be needed due to complications from other abortion methods or natural abortions, otherwise known as miscarriages. You can read more about MVA abortions here.
In fighting for better abortion laws, it is important to armour up with information and it is through having these conversations that we are able to do so. Women continue to be baffled by what to do should they face abortion-related complications and many have watched those close to them suffer as a result.
As Zimbabwe faces a major transformation in its political makeup, it is important to advocate for access to safe abortion services for women. To place these needs on the back burner would be to sign off on the deaths of many women and accept the associated health complications simply because of their reproductive organs. It is important to remember that women are more than just reproductive machines; they are friends, business owners, mothers, sisters, and everything in between. We have to be fervent in our demand for women’s rights and fight for them at every juncture in order to see a better Zimbabwe, not only for women but for every minority group that has been ignored.
safe2choose offers online counseling services and information on safe abortions. Should you or a loved one need guidance on how to navigate an abortion, please reach out to our counselors at firstname.lastname@example.org or on live chat at the safe2choose.org website. In addition, follow us on all our social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to get real-time information and resources @safe2choose.
- “Termination of Pregnancy Act Zimbabwe.” Cyber Harvard, cyber.harvard.edu/population/abortion/Zimbabwe.abo.html. Accessed October 2020.
- “Induced Abortion and Postabortion Care in Zimbabwe.” Guttmacher Institute, 2019, www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/abortion-zimbabwe. Accessed October 2020.
- “Zimbabwe – Backstreet abortions in appalling conditions.” International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion, www.safeabortionwomensright.org/zimbabwe-backstreet-abortions-in-appalling-conditions/. Accessed October 2020.