“Safe abortion, my right; safe abortion, my choice. I say it loud, ‘cause I’m proud of it. Safe abortion, my right!”
Advocates working with the National Coalition for Reproductive Justice sing these bold words in communities across Lagos, Nigeria. Their catchy rhythms and lyrics educate other women on reproductive health and their rights, including accessing safe abortion and postpartum hemorrhage and postabortion care. IWHC’s newest grantee partner, Generation Initiative for Women and Youth Network (GIWYN), supports the National Coalition and trains its members to raise awareness in communities where access to sexual and reproductive information and services are hard to find.
Abortion is criminalized in Nigeria except when the life of a woman is at risk. In some northern regions of the country, where sharia law is widespread and Boko Haram is active, abortion services are not accessible at all. Administrative barriers, coupled with widespread patriarchal beliefs and practices, make access to abortion extremely limited for women, and even more out of reach for girls. To procure a legal abortion, a woman must obtain permission from a physician and a gynecologist, and many times providers demand consent from her husband too. Unmarried women or those who fail to gain their husband’s consent are often left with no safe options. The country has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, due in large part to unsafe abortion.
GIWYN runs a hotline called “Ms. Rosy,” which provides accurate and nonjudgmental reproductive health and rights information to callers, including information on abortion. Since its launch in 2014, the hotline has received approximately 135,000 calls from across Nigeria. Because abortion is so severely restricted in Nigeria, GIWYN uses a harm reduction model. Trained professionals provide callers with accurate information on how to use misoprostol, which is available over-the-counter and can be used to terminate pregnancies. For women who face innumerable barriers to accessing abortion services, using misoprostol is safer than the methods these women may resort to otherwise.
I met Sybil, GIWYN’s Executive Director, and Amarachi, Hotline Manager, in 2016 at a feminist roundtable in Lagos. I was immediately struck by their unabashed approach to women’s sexual and reproductive rights, especially since the women’s movement in Nigeria seems to have divergent approaches to abortion. Some activists incorporate abortion rights into their work, while many do not; they would rather stick to more broadly accepted issues, such as economic empowerment and political participation. GIWYN is going against the grain and is committed to working on one of the most important, yet controversial, women’s rights issues. Our partnership is timely as we anticipate a potential chilling effect as the Trump Administration’s policies on international reproductive health are implemented.
IWHC has supported work in Nigeria since 1988, providing close to $5 million to women’s rights organizations. We have seen many of our local partners become visionary leaders on sexual and reproductive health and rights at the national, regional, and global levels. This new partnership presents IWHC and GIWYN with the opportunity to expand access to safe abortion across the country. IWHC has three other grantee partners in Nigeria: Education as a Vaccine; International Center for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights; and Action Health Incorporated.
We welcome GIWYN into the IWHC family and are thrilled to be working alongside its fierce advocates!
WATCH: Advocates in Nigeria Sing Safe Abortion Anthem