On International Safe Abortion Day, “we learned how to love ourselves”

On September 28th, 2017, many people around the world concerned with women’s rights attended events for the International Safe Abortion Day. Besides participating in a global campaign articulated by respected international and local organizations, safe2choose also decided to join a smaller discussion group in Mathare, an informal settlement of Nairobi, Kenya, to understand the daily struggles faced by local women. 

The event was held in a simple school hall that was decorated with posters and signs displaying slogans such as “Stop rollbacks on our SRHR, funding saves lives“, that carried the #IResistWePersist hashtag, promoted by the Women’s Global Campaign for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR). It was an opportunity to witness first hand the incredible achievements of a local NGO, Fortress of Hope Africa (FOHA), which has also joined safe2choose’s call to action to say why safe abortion must be available to all women worldwide.

FOHA is  a well-established grassroots community project in the area that empowers young women about their sexual rights to make safe choices. They train groups of young women to be able to disseminate reproductive health information back within their community and be able to reach places that have no access to other kind of information. Gathering on September 28th, was a way to pay tribute to the International Safe Abortion Day with partners and newbies of their program.  

Dynamic young women started streaming in pretty quickly. Some of them were already familiar with the program, some were health providers, and some were young mothers who brought their babies along to be able to breastfeed them on time during the presentations. Four men also entered the room to make a total of about 100 participants. Each of them were given a t-shirt sponsored by safe2choose, with the campaign slogan #IresistWepersist, and its purple color totally filled the room creating a visible bond.

To guide the discussions, safe2choose.org, Howtouseabortionpill.org and Young Women Leadership Institute were invited to give presentations on safe abortion procedures and women’s rights. Realizing that not everybody could understand English, the three organizations used a mix of English and Swahili to be able to communicate their message properly. Besides the funny little mistakes, they all instantaneously won over the appreciation of the audience, who were mostly eager to learn more about how to have a safe medical abortion, reasserting the need to provide more information on this subject.

Before the event came to an end, the attendees had chance to speak. While girls focused on getting more details about safe abortion methods, the few male participants decided to share personal opinions. What we all thought was a great step forward with the inclusion of men in this conversation, turned out as an opportunity to witness the embodiment of Trump’s Sword of Damocles over our heads. Once again, we had to listen to the typical male statements about how the over-communication of women’s empowerment makes them feel left behind, or about how a pregnancy should not be a woman’s only decision.

Its funny how we should always be prepared to answer these same attacks and how we should probably be carrying around our gender inequality fact-sheets. But do not expect our strong Kenyan women to just sit and be taught without a word. “I wish you can teach other men to accommodate ladies, I wish you could understand”, responded one of the trainers to end the debate while every women in the room stood up and cheered.

FOHA has already done some incredible work on the ground with its drop-in center and different educational programs, but even just being a pioneer in organizing events to open the conversation on safe abortion and provide safe places to talk about is a great success. Everyone felt supported and felt like they belonged. A young mother perfectly summed it up: “today, we learned how to love ourselves”.

by Pauline Diaz