Women’s Action Group (WAG) today held a half day long workshop with Chiefs and Senators from various constituencies in the country with the aim of familiarizing them with the country’s Termination of Pregnancy Act (ToP) and access to various sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) services for women.
By Michael Gwarisa
The sensitization meeting is part of ongoing engagements with key opinion leaders with the aim of creating a conducive policy environment that supports equitable access for women and girls to comprehensive prevention and treatment services-contraception, safe termination of pregnancy and post-abortion care.
Speaking at the SAFE ENGAGE (Strengthening Evidence-Based Policy to expand access to safe termination of pregnancy) Dissemination and SRHR dialogue with the Chief’s Council and Senate, President of the Chief’s Council, Chief Fortune Charumbira said engaging traditional leaders should be done at the initial stages so that they become part of the process since they are the custodians of culture.
There is need for wide consultation regarding the Termination of Pregnancy Act in Zimbabwe. Consultations should start from the grassroots and traditional leaders who are the custodians of culture should also be a part of the process.
“There is need to engage traditional leaders at the initial stages of any research so that we become a part of the process and we also approach the subject from an informed perspective. Abortion is not an easy subject and needs us to approach from a knowledgeable perspective,” said Chief Charumbira.
Zimbabwe is currently operating under a 1977 Termination of Pregnancy ACT V (No. 29 of 1977). In the Zimbabwe context, abortion is defined as a spontaneous or induced termination of pregnancy before 22 weeks of gestation or delivery of foetus less than 500 grams foetal weight.
Women’s Action Group (WAG) Executive Director, Mrs Edinah Masiyiwa said the country was experiencing a surge in maternal deaths and most of the deaths were due to excessive haemorrhaging and infections due to illegal abortions.
“You might have seen that a number of women are dying because of unsafe abortion including those who deserve to have termination of pregnancy under the law. We feel it’s an issue we need to start talking about as a country and see how best we can save women’s lives.”
“Zimbabwe has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Sub Saharan Africa. We are now at 462 deaths per 100 000 live births. So, we are saying women are dying due to illegal abortions and even in our communities, these are very prevalent occurrences. Some die as a result while some may never be able to conceive for their entire lives as a result of aborting illegally,” said Mrs Masiyiwa.
She added that even though Zimbabwe has a law that allows for the termination of pregnancy in specific circumstances, it is not serving the people it is supposed to be serving. She also said traditional leaders play a pivotal role in shaping laws which have a direct impact on the society hence the sensitization initiative.
According to the SAFE ENGAGE project, thousands of women in sub-Saharan Africa die each year from pregnancy-related causes, including unsafe abortion. Unsafe abortions account for one in 10 maternal deaths in Africa, and more than one and a half million women are treated each year for complications from unsafe abortion.
Zimbabwe was identified as an important country for Population Reference Bureau – PRB’s SAFE ENGAGE project, which aims to expand access to safe and legal termination in multiple countries by providing decision makers with the latest data on unsafe abortion and its consequences, and building the capacity of advocates and other decision makers to use evidence to achieve policy goals.
Since March 2018, PRB in partnership with the Women’s Action Group and the Ministry of Health and Child Care, has been working with a national Task Force to develop and launch a multimedia presentation: Breaking the Silence: Expanding Access to Safe Abortion in Zimbabwe. The presentation is an advocacy tool that describes the problem of unsafe abortion in Zimbabwe, its health and financial costs, challenges posed by the law, and steps that decision makers can take to remedy the situation.
Meanwhile, Chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care, Honorable, Dr Ruth Labode said safe abortion in Zimbabwe was legal under certain circumstances but was still only accessible to the rich who clandestinely get services from upmarket health centres without even going through the meandering procedures as prescribed by the country’s TOP Act.
“Unfortunately, majority of the poor girls who can’t afford safe abortion end up going to backyard abortion clinics where they use various objects and concoctions to terminate the pregnancies,” said Dr Labode.