Marginalization and exploitation of women have become an age-long phenomenon and have continued unabated, but the most disheartening is the obvious denial of women’s right to their body autonomy and right to abortion. This was the fulcrum of the workshop organized by Irise, an Initiative to resist institutional slavery and exploitation in conjunction with 1Billion Rising. The event took place at Favoured Plaza, Agor-Palace-way, Lagos. CYRIACUS NNAJI reports.
One theme resonated stridently at the workshop and it was the fact that Women have right to their body autonomy in as much as they are the people that bear the brunt in the case of unexpected pregnancies.
In addition was right to abortion. They argued that they were not promoting abortion but women should be allowed when a pregnancy possess a danger to the woman. Aside that, they also argued that apart from such extreme cases government should also consider other social and personal issues best known to the woman to carry out abortion if the so desires. In as much as the women do not advocate wholesale abortion they stressed the need to save women from unsafe abortion due to stigma.
Part of the mandates of the workshop was to find out those institutions inhibiting women from having autonomy of their bodies as well as finding solutions to them, and topping discussions were religion, culture, community, inexistence of accessible and affordable health care facilities, as well as absence of well trained medical personnel and security challenges.
The workshop which attracted women from all walks of life proffered solutions to the numerous challenges discussed; among which were legislative enactments to address constraints hindering women who have reasons to do abortion, ensuring good health and reproductive health facilities that are not just accessible but must also be affordable; adequate manpower competent enough to handle abortion related cases; addressing security and judicial challenges, reorienting communities and religious organizations to become involved in openly addressing issues of abortion on a more dispassionate manner so that even their members would not die avoidable dates resulting from unsafe abortions.
According to Omodele Ibitoye, Founder Iris and Convener said “Inhibitions make people carry out abortion secretly and that can lead to all that we feared, all the myths people talk about abortion as a result of people doing abortion secretly in unsafe environment, by unskilled practitioners.”
She said individuals, laws, religions pose challenges especially in Nigeria, and Africa that are very religious and traditional. “There are lots of cultural and religious myths surrounding abortion, they make people feel that abortion is unsafe. That is another reason unsafe abortion is on the increase and people are losing their lives.”
Speaking as a professional counselor and importance of listening to women with abortion stories Ibitoye said “I am not trained to advise, I am trained to help people to discharge on oppressions and on hurts. Everybody was born intelligent, people are intelligent enough to figure out solutions to whatever issues they go through, but because the society has told us we are not intelligent enough, that is why we run around seeking advice.
“What I do as a counselor is to train the trainer, if a woman walks up to me and said, I have abortion problems my job is to listen to her with rapt attention, believing her story, because it is her story, I have no right to discriminate or condemn her, everybody wants to be listened to, if all can take time to listen to each other I think the world would be a beautiful place,” Ibitoye stressed.
She disclosed that no two stories are the same, “No two stories are the same, no matter how similar they are. I advise when someone comes to you with abortion story, unsafe abortion story or a botched abortion story; helping them discharging on the hurt and helping them take charge of their lives, they will re-emerge and regain their intelligence and figure out solutions to whatever they are going through. Helping them heal is more important.”
On the permissibility of abortion by law in Nigeria she said “I want to correct the impression that abortion is not legal in Nigeria, it is legal but it has legal restrictions, and these restrictions are not fair to women and girls, for example in the northern part of Nigeria, where there is insurgency and women are being raped, where a child of eleven years is raped, and you know children’s body are not developed enough to carry a full time pregnancy. Because abortion has restrictions, these little children were meant to carry the pregnancy, and a lot of them lost their lives because of these legal restrictions.
“My advice to government is to make laws that will make women have access to good contraceptive information, good health care services, abortion care services, I think that will help reduce the incidence of unsafe abortion and mortality in Nigeria.
Ibitoyo also spoke on role of Irise in empowering women “What is important to us is to help individuals grow, empower women and men with the skills to help the society, an empowered people build strong society. Every year we empower people, teaching people counseling skills, men and women with a view to go into the society, communities and help others heal from whatever thing they are going through.
“From internalized abortion stigma, and help them understand that abortion is not illegal, little drops of water can make a mighty ocean, so when we educate 20, 30 women, equip them with right tools to go into the society, we empower and train the trainer who can go to the communities and train others.
She said that a lot of women live in fear, “women should be empowered, it takes a lot of efforts to bring out Nigerian women, a lot of them are afraid, they would say their husbands might not like it, a lot of women are still living in fear, because of what religion tells us”
She decried the role of some medical professionals on issue of abortion “We went for advocacy and we talked to a lot of doctors and these doctors because of religious beliefs threw away medical ethics and began to preach to us that abortion is a sin, so when a woman wants access to safe medical care and abortion, she goes through a doctor and a doctor said according to my religion or my culture what you are trying to do is a sin, you have killed that woman, the next thing for her to do is to commit suicide. So religious myth and cultural myth should be done away with and women should be given body autonomy.
Success John, a researcher on Institutional Slavery and also Facilitator at the workshop delivered a paper on Telling Your Story; while Mary Jane another facilitator had a paper on Ending Stigmatization.
Juliet Ifunanya, a participant said of her experience “I am excited to be part of this workshop today. It is a big privilege because most women outside still live in the dark and they don’t have this kind of experience, we came out and pour our mind on something.
“I say kudos to the organizers and the women behind this innovation, they deserve some accolade. It is meant to make women know their right, not in a negative way but positively. Even if you cannot give advice, the listening aspect is there, when somebody listens to you, you pour out the pains inside you. As I am going out, I am also going to bring that positive attitude to my friends, my peers, whomever I need to listen to and with the watchword here: be my sister’s keeper, that is what I learnt today.”