As it is my duty of memory to celebrate the strong women that fought for your rights during tougher times, I needed to tell you the story of 2017.
In 2017, 35% of women worldwide were experiencing physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives. Some national studies were even showing that this percentage could rise up to 70% when it came to violence from an intimate partner. Violence was everywhere. Besides being already at a disadvantage from birth because of so many social inequalities, women and girls were constant potential victims to any kind of violence.
Imagine being scared to go to the doctor or to the police because a male threatening figure could hurt you even more at a time you needed their help. All of these threats were exacerbated around the subject of abortion.
ln 2017, abortion was still a very controversial subject worldwide as not everyone had yet accepted the normality of such a medical act and autonomous choice. Actually, not everyone had accepted that women were the sole decision-maker over their own bodies. I know it seems like such an unbelievable idea today, right?
Everywhere in the world, illegal or legal barriers preventing women from accessing these particular medical services were far from being the only challenges. I can’t even begin to tell you how many murders, kidnappings, beatings and all sorts of intimidation women who just about spoke the word had to go through.
But violence wasn’t only physical. It was sometimes more subtle, characterizing itself in the forms of judgments, harassment, stigmatization and rejection, that would also leave deep psychological cuts on women’s souls.
Everyone was a potential threat when it came to reproductive health. From their male partners, to gynecologists and even governments who were all supposed to protect them. It wasn’t easy to find supporters.
That is why many international organizations decided to join forces and launch a collective campaign during the 16 Days of Activism campaign of 2017. You wouldn’t know about it, because it doesn’t exist anymore. It lasted two weeks, from November 25th, the International day for the Elimination of Violence against Women to December 10th, Human Rights Day; and it encouraged people to participate in different actions against gender-based violence.
It was such an important step to be part of this campaign and this larger movement for women’s rights and their bodies’ autonomy. I wish you had seen the struggles and the rises, but I am so relieved that you live in a world that respects women’s decisions.
The 2017 campaign was about identifying every person in a woman’s entourage and giving them personal advice on how to be a good shoulder for a woman who is going through an abortion. It didn’t necessarily mean changing their views on the subject, not yet at least. But it was about practicing empathy, to be able to respect somebody’s decision over their own body without subjecting them to any sort of violence.
This campaign was a milestone in the global fight against gender-based violence. More than 20 organizations came together as one to spread a message of kindness to the world and eventually, not too long afterwards, all violence against women was over. And I am proud to have seen and been part of it, together with Centre for Social Concern and Development (CESOCODE), Dandelion Kenya, Fem_RSA, Fortress of Hope Africa (FOHA), Global Doctors for Choice, HowToUse, Ibis Reproductive Health, Ipas Alliance Africa, Kisumu Medical and Education Trust (KMET), Marie Stopes Kenya, Medical Students for Choice, Réseau d’Action et d’Information pour les Femmes (RAIF), safe2choose, Safe Abortion Action Fund, Save Ghana, The Federation for Women and Family Planning, Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health (TICAH), Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights Africa (WGNRR), Women on Waves, and Women on Web.
I wanted you to know how far we have come and remind you to never forget how lucky you are that such great women and men stood up for your rights and fought the misogynistic and patriarchal societies we used to live in.
By Pauline Diaz (Somewhere in the future)