Gender Development Projects should Target the Whole Community (1-3)
‘The timely, thought-provoking essays of this book provide valuable evidence of the impact of different gender and faith perspectives on practical development issues while also highlighting the complexities and ambiguities of religious influences. Development workers, researchers and social activists will gain from these studies a greater awareness and more critical understanding of how different religious beliefs and practices, whether of Christianity, Buddhism or Islam in the Middle East, Asia, Africa or Latin America, can either be a potential barrier or alternatively a strong incentive for social change.’
Legal policy reform
Abortion is categorized as a criminal act under most Latin American penal codes. As such, it is regulated under protocols adopted by executive bodies, which could potentially be changed through various legal means. An important insight is that activists need to identify the right point in the legal process at which to apply pressure for reform, and this varies in different countries.
Activists in Mexico City, for example, worked with a legislative body, whereas Colombia petitioned for abortion reform through the superior court. In some contexts, legislative change can also be implemented through broader policy reform, that is, by proposing comprehensive health bills, which include the decriminalization of abortion, as has happened recently in Uruguay.
Building and working in coalitions
In addition to legal reform, coalition building is an important component of regional efforts to expand access to abortion. In the last decade, coalition building has benefited the abortion rights movement by enabling it to expand its base of support beyond the women’s movement. As it works to strengthen the debate on abortion by shifting the discourse from ‘women’s interests’ to the broader issue of heath, rights, and democracy, it is expanding its base of support.
Activists are broadening alliances by engaging new partners from the medical, legal, and human rights communities. This was certainly the case in Mexico City where activists garnered support from a broad spectrum of the population, demonstrating a critical and diverse mass in support of reforming abortion.
Alliances with doctors and medical associations are particularly valuable for two reasons: as highly respected members of the community, they lend legitimacy and gravity to the movement, and, from a purely pragmatic perspective, without their support and willingness to perform abortions, access to abortion would be even more limited. Again, Mexico City provides a good example. By working to erode long-standing resistance from the medical community to support or perform abortions, the abortion rights movement was able to bring them into the coalition in support for reform, and engage them as vibrant activists, which certainly aided in passage of the bill. Indeed, their success was such that even Mexico’s leading anti-abortion activist grudgingly conceded the medical community was no longer an ally because of their overt support for abortion.
Framing the issue appropriately for the context
Another companion to legal reform work is advocacy with governments and health ministries. Legal contexts and advocacy strategies vary between countries, but activists for abortion in Latin America as a region counter a common opposition: the Catholic Church supported by conservative political parties, and, increasingly, evangelical Protestants. To counter their cultural and moral influence, many abortion activists have begun promoting ideas about the separation of Church and state as a core part of their advocacy efforts.
Others, like Monica Roa in Colombia, have used international law as the legal framework for their work, refusing to engage directly in religious, or even medical, discussions on abortion. As discussed earlier, Roa’s strategy was to emphasize that the state of Colombia was in violation of international law.
Debating the merits or shortcomings of abortion based on the viability or the humanity of a foetus would have diluted her arguments and detracted from her case.
Still others, like activists in Uruguay’s feminist movements, are working to frame abortion within the context of public health. In 2004, the abortion rights movement presented the Uruguayan parliament with a comprehensive reproductive-health bill that would legalize abortion in the first trimester. The bill went through a series of fits and starts and now faces its final hurdles; in 2007 the Senate passed the bill and it now awaits a vote from the House of Representatives, where it is expected to pass. Leftist President Tabare Vasquez says he will veto the bill, and the abortion rights movement is working to refine its response strategy in anticipation of the veto.
Public education and awareness-raising
In addition to lobbying for legal reform to ensure that women eligible under existing law have access, advocates in Latin America are working to ensure that women are informed about the legality and availability of abortion and can access services. This has involved educational and outreach campaigns for women community leaders and youth, as well as intense media work to educate and sensitize populations about health and rights as they pertain to abortion. In Peru, where abortion is legal for the ambiguously termed ‘therapeutic’ reasons, organizations like the Center for the Promotion and Defense of Sexual and Reproductive Rights (PROMSEX) are working at the grassroots level to inform women and community leaders about specific exceptions covered under the category of therapeutic abortion.
Capacity-building and technical assistance
Another important area of work is the provision of clear guidelines to ensure that the law is implemented, in countries where safe legal abortion is available.
This requires knowledge and technical assistance, supplied to public-health systems and used in training health-care workers and providers. Where it is legal, abortion is supported by clear guidelines for implementation. Some NGOs, for example Catholics for the Right to Decide, of Brazil, are filling gaps by working to improve the quality of legal abortion services, and to increase the number of hospitals offering legal abortion. WHO has written a technical guide to safe abortion, recommending strategies for designing effective programmes, and its materials support this work.
By Ursula King Bristol University, 14/05/2012