Building Support for Safe Abortion in Asia, One Network at a Time

In Asia, approximately 27 percent of all pregnancies end in abortion. This is a key reason why, for 10 years, the Asia Safe Abortion Partnership (ASAP) has sought to reframe abortion as a human right and build a regional movement to improve access to safe and legal abortion services.

Asia is home to 50 countries, diverse in culture, gender norms, and abortion policies. Seventeen of the 50 countries allow for abortion without restriction of reason, though they may require parental or spousal permission and employ gestational limits. While legality is essential, it does not always translate to access, particularly for poor and marginalized women. In India, a country where abortion has been legal since 1971, 50 percent of abortions are estimated to be unsafe. Alternatively, in the Philippines, which is one of three Asian nations that prohibit abortion without any legal exception, approximately 1,000 women are believed to die annually from abortion complications. Regardless of national policy, there is a clear demand for access to safe and legal abortion services.

ASAP works to fill this need through education and rights-based advocacy. Through its Youth Champions and Country Advocacy Networks, ASAP has developed an international and intergenerational feminist force that fights for women’s fundamental rights to autonomy and dignity. While anti-choice forces threaten reproductive autonomy across the region, there is much to celebrate in ASAP’s 10th anniversary. Its members come from over 20 countries, representing the diversity of the women’s movement and broad range of abortion laws and access in the region. From Afghanistan to Thailand, China to Lebanon, ASAP has conducted workshops and produced videos that engage health care professionals, advocates, journalists, and students on issues related to unplanned pregnancy, safe abortion, sexual education, menstrual management, and violence against women.

ASAP, like IWHC, is committed to long-term feminist movement building. It has trained 400 Youth Champions in the last six years, equipping them with the knowledge and skills to advocate for their rights. Youth Champions receive a training toolkit to share with their peers as a means to expand knowledge of sexual and reproductive health and rights within their own communities, and grow the movement. ASAP trainings also include activists for issues such as disability rights and land rights, which broadens the intersectional analysis of the women’s movement, and helps to incorporate sexual and reproductive rights into other human rights movements.

With ASAP’s support, these youth advocates have established eight Country Advocacy Networks in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam that provide a vital voice in the women’s movement of their respective countries. Using their knowledge of the local reproductive health landscape as well as human rights, the Country Advocacy Networks are able to identify their own priorities and strategies to advance sexual and reproductive health, and develop advocates and allies in their communities. These networks facilitate broader partnerships and amplify ASAP’s gender and rights-based approach to sexual and reproductive health throughout the region. IWHC’s grant directly supports this work, expanding network capacity through trainings and ongoing organizational support to maximize the impact of these burgeoning feminist groups.

In some countries, the political situation—restrictions on civil society, security concerns, conflict, etc.— can limit the official status or effectiveness of Country Advocacy Networks. Nevertheless, ASAP seeks to support advocates within its networks. In countries with highly restrictive abortion laws such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Lebanon, and Sri Lanka—as well as some with more liberal laws—ASAP has provided technical support and resources to establish hotlines that provide women with information on self-administered medical abortion in a confidential and judgement free environment.

As a supporter of ASAP for five years, IWHC shares its passion for an intersectional rights-based approach that links abortion rights to economic rights, disability rights, the right to education, and more, providing women and girls with the skills to participate in the decisions that impact their lives and determine their futures. Together, IWHC and ASAP work to ensure the continuity of the feminist movement through training next-generation leaders in rights-based advocacy.

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