The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists together with the Population Services Zimbabwe (PSZ) held a three day media training workshop to improve the knowledge and attitude towards safe abortion in Zimbabwe.
By Patricia Mashiri
The training termed the Value Clarification Attitudes Transformation (VCAT) was also centred on discussions around religious and cultural beliefs around abortion, the legal framework that guide abortion in Zimbabwe and how to report sensitively on the issue so as to change the attitudes of the society .
Mrs Edna Masiyiwa, the Women’s Action Group (WAG) Executive Director who is also a VCAT champion said abortion in Zimbabwe was a class issue where those who are financially sound can access safe induced abortion with no or minimal complications compared to the poor who go for lesser and least safe abortion methods.
Six out 10 of all unintended pregnancies end up induced abortions. Around 45% of all abortions are unsafe and 97% take place in developing countries. Unsafe abortion is leading but preventable cause of maternal deaths and morbities. Lack of access to safe untimely affordable abortion is a public health issue. Those who do not have suffer more,” Mrs Masiyiwa said.
She highlighted that the Termination of Abortion Act of 1977 has gaps an weaknesses which needs to be addressed so as to ensure safe abortion for everyone
“The abortion act is restricted it is neither illegal or legal. It allows termination of pregnancy three circumstances which are rape, incest and multiple fetal impairments. The restrictive law presents a set of challenges to survivors of sexual violence,” she said.
One of the weaknesses of the Abortion is the judgment and certificate of termination may take long and be granted when it is no longer safe for the pregnancy to be terminated.
Discussions with the media personnels highlighted that they still have a long way to go in changing the societal perceptions and attitudes towards induced abortion. The issues to do with religion and cultural values were topical.
Religious sects believe that abortion is a sin against God. They perceive it as murder. When one aborts they are considered as having broken one of the ten commandments which says “thou shall not kill.”
Where as in the African traditional religion abortion is also considered as murder. When one aborts it is said avenging spirits or ‘Ngozi’ will deal with them for the sin they would have committed against their gods.
Meanwhile, Mufaro Musiyazviriyo, a VCAT champion said responses from communities they work with shows that there is stigma and discrimination to girls who would have aborted by the society.
“Abortion is considered as a taboo and in most cases girls and women who would have aborted or said to have aborted. It is considered a taboo to terminate. In churches in comes with a heavy punishment popularly known as ‘kuiswa pasi peshamhu”. One will be not be allowed to perform an duties and reduced to be a mere back bencher,” Musiyazviriyo said.
Civil society organisations have been fighting for the amendment of the Termination of pregnancy act as a number of teenagers have been dying during child birth and a lot dropping out of school.
Meanwhile, the Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1977 states that it is illegal to terminate a pregnancy unless it has been sanctioned by Government authorities which includes, the court and state hospitals agreeing that the pregnancy in question was as a result of unlawful intercourse (rape/incest). The Act also allows for termination of pregnancy if the pregnancy endangers the life of the women or the child to be born will suffer from a physical or mental defect of such a nature that they will permanently be seriously handicapped.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists under the Making Abortion Safe (MAS) has since enrolled champions to address unsafe abortions in Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Nigeria, Sierra Leon and Sudan. According to UNESCO 2006, the VCAT is a technique that encourages people to relate their thoughts and feelings in order to enrich their awareness of their own values.