As abortion rights come under renewed attack in the United States, spaces for transnational organizing are more critical than ever. Feminist movements need to organize urgently across borders as our lives depend on it, because they do!
By Tshegofatso Senne, Josephine Kamara, Rosa Bransky, Giselle Carino and Fadekemi Akinfaderin
The recent news of a majority vote of The Supreme Court to reverse the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, which protected abortion rights, will potentially change the lives of millions. Should this vote be adopted, States will have the discretion to restrict or facilitate access to abortion. The implication could extend beyond the US geographical borders, as historically, laws such as this one have the potential to trickle down to countries all over the world, as the Trump’s reintroduction of the ‘global gag rule so viscerally shows.
“If you’re not mad, you’re not paying attention” is what I’ll say to those who act as though #RoeVsWade were just a US domestic issue (which would be bad enough: injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere). Africans especially should be mad, scared, & supportive of#Afrifem.
Across Africa, the impacts of this new assault on bodily autonomy will be felt profoundly. Interlocking issues of donor financing, colonial-era laws and statutes, neo-colonial evangelism, and broader cultural beliefs about gendered bodies and gendered roles have governed our lives and bodies for so very long.
Conversation on safe abortion is restricted in many African countries, sadly the continent has the highest rate of unsafe abortions globally, with 92% of women of reproductive age having restricted access to legal terminations. Countries like Senegal, Egypt, Madagascar, and the Republic of Congo have banned the procedure entirely; 19% of all women prisoners in Senegal are imprisoned due to abortion.
Nevertheless, we have and will continue to witness positive developments in expanding and guaranteeing access to abortion care on the continent. The most recent is the Republic of Benin, through the introduction of a new law, expanded the conditions for accessing abortion to include “aggravate or cause a situation of material, educational, professional or moral distress incompatible with the interest of the woman and/or the unborn child.” Angola, one of the six countries with the most restrictive abortion laws, has liberalized to include “threat to health or life of the mother or the fetus and for survivors of rape”, even though it is still criminalized. The Democratic Republic of Congo, by adopting and official gazetting the Maputo Protocol in 2018, liberalized its abortion laws and became the first country in Francophone Africa to broaden access to abortion services.
Women, girls, and gender diverse people have had abortions throughout history. As long as the world keeps turning, we will have abortions. We have abortions for reasons complex and personal, connected deeply to our individual stories, and we have abortions for reasons complex and collective, connected deeply to our social stories, to the systems and structures that govern our wallets and our bodies, our choices, and our life trajectories.
But this question has always been a question about power and where it resides! How are the repercussions of deciding to terminate a pregnancy more than those a rapist or abuser faces in countries with anti-abortion laws? How is it that anti-abortion laws are more easily implemented and sustained than those meant to keep us safe?
Equally, this question has never really been a question about life. As reporter and researcher Nicole Froio recently noted, banning access to abortion will only make the lives of the most marginalized women, girls, and gender diverse people harder. A downward spiral of worsening economic outcomes, locking families out of opportunities for upward mobility, denying access to educational opportunities, and trapping people into low-paying jobs and unending poverty.
Nor, indeed, is this just a fight about our bodies. In the United States, abortion is a profoundly symbolic issue that contains within it coded beliefs about personhood, identity, belonging, of the nature of the human condition; a fundamental (and fundamentalist) vision of and for the world. These coded beliefs and ideologies transcend the abortion debate, underpinning and reinforcing a raft of regressive anti-rights movements in the United States and around the globe.
“It means people who are against the recognition of rights, who are anti-rights, in any country in the world, will actually now start referencing the US court as an example of jurisprudence that should be followed,” says UN Special Rapporteur Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng. “And this is why this is so dangerous.”
What do we do as feminist activists in the face of such audacious attacks on our dignities and freedoms? How do we keep fighting? How do we begin to build and sustain power if we cannot fully uphold our rights to body autonomy, the right to make decisions that serve the futures we dream of, and the options to break the generational traumas of forced births?
In the words of Mona Eltahawey,
“Those of us from countries that criminalize abortion, which are intent on punishing us for daring to take ownership of our bodies and our sexual desire outside of the norms, and that police our bodies and punish us for sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman also need those conversations. And it is incumbent on those of us who can, must talk. Not everyone can talk and survive.
And remember, women you know have had an abortion, even if they have not (yet) told you. One in four women has had an abortion, including me.”
That is where we must start. We talk as we have always talked. Those of us who can speak must speak loudly. We gather. We shout. We strategize with each other. We strategize across borders because we know that when they come for one of us, they come for all of us. Because like oceans we are all connected. We must organize. We make demands like the Sierra Leonean People’s Alliance for Reproductive Health Advocacy (PARHA) did on International Women’s Day this year. They said that patriarchy, misogyny, and regressive colonial-era policies are killing us, that we are bleeding out on cold floors because of these laws and policies. We shift the center of gravity. Even as our feminist siblings across the Atlantic are fighting a fight we thought they had won, our rights to safe abortion are in reach. We have seen it with the changes in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. We know it is possible. It must be. Because our lives depend on it.
Join us. Come and strategize for a world of safety, dignity, and bodily autonomy for all of us at the 10th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights in Freetown, Sierra Leone, 27th June — 1st July. More info here: https://acshr2022.org/