The Ultimate Pairing

The words “data” and “party” wouldn’t necessarily seem synonymous. One suggests evidence, research, and numbers, while the other is associated with celebration, entertainment, and festivity. Yet what I found at IWHC’s recent data party is that the two can very much go hand-in-hand when participants are able to authentically collaborate on a shared goal. In this case, Accra, Ghana served as the backdrop for an engaging three-day dialogue about how the Global Gag Rule continues to wreak havoc on the lives of women and girls around the world.

Now in our third year of a qualitative study on the policy, the data party brings together IWHC staff and grantee partner experts from the Center for Research on Environmental Health and Population Activities (CREHPA) in Nepal, the Critical Studies in Sexualities and Reproduction at Rhodes University in South Africa, Education as a Vaccine (EVA) in Nigeria, and Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health (TICAH) in Kenya. Over the past three years, our partners have conducted more than 200 interviews with civil society organizations, health service providers, anti-abortion groups, and government agencies to study the impacts of the Global Gag Rule.

The data party functions as an appetizer of sorts, where trusted colleagues share in-depth analysis about the latest findings in their country. Together with nine participants from these four grantee partners, we dig into this data and begin to piece together trends that are shared across country lines as well as specific country-level impacts. Ultimately this work will come together for the main dish, a detailed report that captures the latest effects of the Global Gag Rule. Last year’s version, Crisis in Care, helped draw attention to how the policy is killing women and fracturing communities in Nepal, South Africa, Nigeria, and Kenya. The upcoming report will build upon that work and provide additional documentation of its disastrous impact.

IWHC has been instrumental in supporting this research by providing flexible funding and technical assistance to our partners, convening the data party for the past three years, and, alongside our partners, developing and utilizing the report to educate policymakers and advocate for sweeping legislative change.

As a new staff member, I have read a lot about the Global Gag Rule, but this was my first chance to hear about its impact directly from partners in different regions of the world. I was struck by the complexity of the work and the ways in which the policy is an equal opportunity disruptor, regardless of the extent to which abortion is criminalized within a certain country. And while there were shared pains across the board, there are also very specific challenges in each of these four countries. Nepal may have liberalized abortion laws, but the Global Gag Rule still has a dismantling impact on the training and services the government is now no longer able to provide. A novice like me might not think Nigeria’s already restrictive abortion policies would be further harmed by the policy, but I’d be very wrong. The policy is further dividing civil society and creating even more stigma around abortion—both of which will take years and years to undo.

The full findings are still in development and will be released in the co-authored report coming next year. In the meantime, I can’t help but feel humbled and hopeful at the simple fact that we came together to share these learnings with one another. If we at IWHC can play a part in ending this deadly policy and advocate alongside others to one day pass the Global HER Act, we will only have been able to do so because of accurate on-the-ground assessment. I feel fortunate to have had that opportunity with our grantee partners at the data party, and to me, this is indeed cause for celebration.

Photo: Michael Bonfigli for IWHC

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