Sexual Gender Based Violence Linked To High Unsafe Abortions in Zimbabwe

HIGH cases of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) have been linked to an increase in cases of unsafe and illegal abortions by young girls and women in Zimbabwe, a top government official has said.

By Michael Gwarisa

Speaking at the Health and Wellness Day that was organized by the Women Action Group (WAG) in Mabvuku, Ministry of Women Affairs, Community Small and Medium Enterprise Development Provincial Development Officer Mr Ernest Chimbodza said Zimbabwe was losing lives of young women and girls to unsafe abortions every year.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Health & Wellness Day that has been organized by Women’s Action Group in collaboration with our Ministry of Women Affairs Community Small and Medium Enterprises Development comes at the backdrop of an increase in number of Gender Based Violence cases in our country. Gender Based Violence has been on the increases during the COVID-19 lockdown. The effects of this scourge is another pandemic on its own.

“National reports indicate over 70% increase in GBV during the lockdown period as compared to the pre-lockdown period. The violence has affected women and girls more. These statistics are a cause for concern for the Ministry and all stakeholders that are making efforts to end GBV,” said Mr Chimbodza.

“I am sure each one of you have heard or experienced a case of teenage pregnancies, obstetric fistula among teenage mothers, child marriages, unsafe abortions, unplanned pregnancies, post-traumatic stress disorders. All these are negative impacts of GBV on a woman’s health and mental wellness.

“We cannot remain silent whilst all this is happening around us. We are losing lives to unsafe abortion every year and gender-based violence is contributing to this high maternal mortality as women and girls fall prey to perpetrators of sexual violence, end up with an unwanted pregnancy which is later terminated in unsafe conditions.”

He also said in 2016 alone, close to 66,000 cases of unsafe abortions were recorded in Zimbabwe.

“This was revealed in a study conducted by Guttmacher Institute. Unsafe abortions continue to contribute significantly to maternal mortality which makes the subject critical in reproductive health. We therefore cannot continue to talk about GBV and not talk about its linkages to SRHR and the negative health outcomes on women and girls.

“Concerted efforts are being made by various advocacy organisations to ensure our laws fully protect the health and wellbeing of women and girls. For example, policy reviews are being proposed by various advocacy groups to address some of the administrative gaps within the 1977 Termination of Pregnancy Act as a way of protecting the lives of women and girls and reduce unsafe abortions that continue to take place.”

District Development Coordinator for Northern Eastern Region Ms Benedicta Mubaiwa said during the lockdown period most unwanted pregnancies may have been recorded which could lead to illegal and unsafe abortions.

“During the lockdown period which came as a result of the COVID-19, children and young people did not have much to do. There are no recreational facilities the only entertainment that was there was indulging in sexual activities and the end result is unwanted pregnancies.

“Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) such as WAG and others should go into the communities and teach young people on the dangers of unwanted pregnancies and unsafe abortions. Growing up as young girls, most young people our age were given concoctions to get rid of pregnancies and they would die in the process. The same is still happening today but this can be avoided with proper and correct information,” said Ms Mubaiwa.

Meanwhile, WAG Executive Director Ms Edinah Masiyiwa said the country has a Termination of Pregnancy Act (TOP) which allows termination of pregnancy under at least three circumstances.

“When someone has been raped, the case must be reported to the police and then the hospital within 72 hours where they receive post exposure prophylaxis. If it happens that the girl or woman conceives after the rape, the law allows that pregnancy to be terminated.

“The Termination of Pregnancy Act also allows pregnancy to be terminated if it is proven that it poses a risk to the health of the mother. Termination is also allowed if the health of the unborn child is also in danger either due to a sickness or deformity. Termination is also allowed if the pregnancy is a result of incest,” said Ms Masiyiwa.

She however bemoaned the high unsafe abortions prevalence in the country. She also said Post Abortion Care services are provided in Zimbabwe, however this was not a license for women and young girls to carry out unsafe abortions. She also called on women to take up contraception to avoid unintended and unwanted pregnancies.

Women’s Action Group is working on community programmes aimed at increasing access to SRHR and GBV services for women and girls with the support from Amplify Change.

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