As we reported in June this year, blocking abortion access has a terrible human cost. The overturning of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which prevented states in the USA from banning abortion, now means that millions more women do not have access to essential healthcare. On this Safe Abortion Day, we celebrate our partner organisations around the world who are extending access to family planning and reproductive healthcare in their local communities.
The September 28th Global Day of Action for Safe Abortion explains that attacking abortion rights is also a violation of international human rights law – “starting with the overarching right to life and health, which includes all women and gender diverse people able to get pregnant, the right to decide the number and spacing of our children, and the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that human rights begin at birth.”
Erfaan Hussein Babak, Founder and Director of The Awakening, our upcoming Empower to Plan partner based in northern Pakistan, agrees. He joins the call for #SafeAbortionRegardless this September 28th by stating that:
“Access to safe and legal abortion is fundamental to every person’s right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health… the right to safe abortion must be advanced and recognized universally across all the communities, regions and countries globally.”
The Awakening was established in 2011 with the mission of empowering vulnerable and disenfranchised women in rural areas of Pakistan by building feminist leadership, advancing women’s human rights and mobilising for gender equality and social justice.
They achieve this through a variety of programmes that engage girls, boys, community elders and religious leaders in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, which encompasses the northern Swat Valley. With Empower to Plan funds, they will run girls’ and boys’ groups across the region, engaging young people on sexual and reproductive health, including contraceptive use. They will also demystify the stigmas around abortion and women’s bodily autonomy, while offering a safe abortion hotline called Saheli, or ‘female friend.’
Saheli will serve as a 24-hour resource for girls and women seeking help regarding abortion, family planning and reproductive health. An expert counsellor will be available to answer calls in confidence, while the organisation will also liaise with local pharmacies to ensure that there are available stocks of the Misoprostol abortion pill.
The Awakening reports that unsafe abortions account for approximately 10% of maternal deaths in Pakistan. Across the world, unsafe abortion is a leading – but preventable – cause of maternal death, with almost half of abortions occurring in unsafe circumstances. The World Health Organisation estimates that 97% of these take place in low-income countries.
The Awakening is committed to changing harmful social norms that oppress women and limit their fundamental rights. Their programmes recognise the need to engage men and boys and religious leaders in the fight for sexual and reproductive rights, creating a culture of gender equality at household, community, regional and national levels. They are hopeful about new legislation passed by the provincial government in 2021, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Reproductive Health Care Rights Act, which provides cover for abortion and family planning services. However, Erfaan says, communities and healthcare staff generally do not know about this and there is dire need to enforce the law.
“As men & boys, let us recommit ourselves to understanding that the right to safe abortion is inextricably linked to the health & lives of all women, girls & trans persons.” – Erfaan Hussein Babak
On this Safe Abortion Day, we at Population Matters emphasise our commitment to #ProtectChoice and support community-led organisations working tirelessly to ensure that reproductive rights are met, even and especially in the most challenging of circumstances.
You can #ProtectChoice for #SafeAbortionRegardless by supporting women and girls in northern Pakistan: donate to our Empower to Plan funding campaign with The Awakening here.