Purposeful Celebrates a Landmark Step Towards Decriminalising Abortion in Sierra Leone.
Announcement comes as Sierra Leone hosts the 10th African Conference on Sexual and Health and Rights where feminist organisations are gathered in support of sexual health and reproductive rights
Freetown, Sierra Leone — Today at the African Conference on Sexual Health and Rights in Sierra Leone, President Julius Maada Bio announced unanimous cabinet support for the drafting of a Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Act for Sierra Leone.
Under a law that dates from 1861, abortion is prohibited in Sierra Leone. Because abortion is illegal, it is frequently performed without medical supervision and often in unsafe settings. As a result, health officials point to studies that estimate unsafe abortions make up at least 10% of the nation’s maternal deaths. Sierra Leone still has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world.
In response to this landmark moment for women, girls and gender-diverse people in Sierra Leone, Purposeful, an Africa-rooted global hub for girls’ organising and activism, released the following statements:
Chernor Bah, co-CEO of Purposeful:
“Today we are thrilled that President Bio has announced his approval for drafting a Safe Motherhood and Reproductive Health Bill, which we hope will help reduce our country’s maternal mortality rate by opening access to safe and legal abortion.
“This monumental step forward is a victory for our communities and the coalition of women’s rights organisations and movements in Sierra Leone who have been advocating for legal, policy and social change to decriminalise abortion.
“However, we know that decriminalisation of abortion will not make it accessible to everyone who needs one overnight, and the stigma within our communities will remain. We are however inspired to see our country emerge from a legacy of violence against women during more than a decade-long civil war and demonstrate global leadership in ensuring safe, healthy pregnancies and abortion care access.”
Josephine Kamara, a feminist activist with Purposeful:
“This is a landmark moment for girls and women in this country, and it shows we are now building a world where we can live in the most basic of dignities: to make choices over our own bodies. As we now move from approval to drafting, let’s not forget that it is feminist movements that got us here.
“As a teenager I nearly bled to death after a backstreet abortion. Let this generation be the last to experience the horrors of what happens when women’s most basic reproductive health needs are pushed underground.”
Purposeful is part of a coalition of more than 20 women’s rights organisations in Sierra Leone called the People’s Alliance for Reproductive Health Advocacy that has been advocating for years for reproductive rights, including the right to abortion. The victory was within reach in 2015, when Parliament passed the Safe Abortion Act, but the president at the time, Ernest Bai Koroma, refused to sign it into law. Since that time, PARHA stepped up efforts in communities to advance social decriminalisation of abortion while simultaneously working in partnership with the administration of President Bio, including the Ministry of Health, on issues related to sexual and reproductive health and rights and sexual and gender-based violence. The announcement today shows that President Bio and his administration are listening to women’s rights organisations and to the needs of women and girls in Sierra Leone.
Purposeful is an Africa-rooted global hub for girls’ organising and activism. We believe that another world is not only possible, it is already being built right here and now, in the ways that girls are organising with each other, imagining with each other, pushing us all a little further towards liberation.
The 10th African Conference on Sexual and Health and Rights was organised by Purposeful with support from Fòs Feminista with the goal of convening women’s rights and feminist organisations from across the African continent to discuss abortion access, among other topics. At this conference, Fòs Feminista’s partners launched a new African liberation bandana to represent the struggle for bodily autonomy, abortion access, and reproductive rights in solidarity with other movements around the world.