Abortion in Lebanon- Interview with Rola Yasmine- I

Rola_yasmine_photoRola Yasmine, is the founder of The A Project (www.theaproject.org) in Lebanon. She is a trained Registered Nurse with a background in Sexual and Reproductive Health Research. She started the A Project because she felt that there is a need to look at sexual and reproductive health and services through a gender lens and feminist politics. She works closely with ASAP. In Rola’s words, “The A Project really is not abortion centric at all. But the A Project is a Hotline to talk about all things to do with sexuality and gender so you don’t get a washed down answer on how effective a condom is and it’s 3% failure rate. But you talk about the politics of how it’s really difficult to negotiate it sometimes. So it is to have the conversation within feminist politics. We also do trainings for health care providers.”

ASAP: Can you talk about the inter-linkages between sexual violence and abortion rights in your work with displaced/refugee women?

ROLA: I think actually focusing only on sexual violence may not necessarily be the only angle to talk about displaced citizens and violence against women. I think to some extent people want to see more of sexual violence in refugees because you want to pity women in terms of their position in that they are victims of sexual assault more often (which is true). But I think in terms of talking about violence against women, there is so much violence against women who are displaced that is not necessarily sexual by nature.

I think that institutionalized racism and xenophobia limit access to reproductive health services and limiting refugees’ access to all sorts of basic services that they used to get at home is violence against women. These are services that exist specifically for women and when you are purposefully removed from that basic right it is very violent. So there is so much violence against women that is not sexual necessarily that refugees feel just because they are women and a lot of it has to do with their reproductive health and with abortion services.

If you are a refugee, or your Palestinian or your Syrian or you’re a Sudanese woman, you have very few rights as a non-citizen and that in itself is very violent especially now that there is a million and a half people if not more from Syria in Lebanon, a country that is four and a half million so one fourth of the country is refugees.

There is systemic institutional violence in terms of refugee women accessing health and including abortion but also in terms of dealing with the repercussions of war and how they have to take the biggest chunk of it and in terms of how their gender roles put them at a disadvantage in that they have to be everything that the family needs.

ASAP: Can you give specific examples of refugee women’s experiences while seeking sexual and/or reproductive services?

 ROLA: It’s really violent when women tell me that they go to pharmacies to get contraception or to get misoprostol and pharmacists harass them not because they want to do abortions but because they are Syrian, suggesting to them “is this really the time for you to be procreating?” is the kind of sentiment they get not only from pharmacies but also from physicians, and midwives and doctors, not only Lebanese but also Syrian doctors and midwives in the middle class. So sometimes the conflict is even internal. There is a class difference, so there is the educated versus the uneducated and people assume that the uneducated don’t know how to have protected sex or that they don’t see the value in it, which is not true. There are two faults in that, one is that the educated middle class do not see that even in the middle and upper classes people have unprotected sex all the time and that women become pregnant and have unwanted pregnancies, they just have money enough to cover it up. They have money enough to keep it quiet and they don’t have to air out their “dirty laundry.” The lives of people in poverty are just so exposed and so transparent so it’s so easy to point at them and say “wow you guys are really behind.” But if you removed all that access and all that privilege from the middle and upper classes you would see similar things, so there is that kind of prejudice.

ASAP: Can you talk about women’s experiences accessing abortion?

ROLA: Mostly people who are displaced are treated like they really have no idea of what they are doing and so pharmacists are really harsh on them, it’s quite difficult to get access to medical abortion. People smuggle it in from Syria actually. But the issue with that is that how they take it is actually not the protocol that gives you a more effective termination. So that’s quite upsetting. We have met a lot of people who have had that. They have had cytotec but it doesn’t work. Sometimes people pay ridiculous amounts of money – ridiculous in relative terms, like you make $200-250 a month, may be that might be a lot in some places, but here your rent may be $200 and in the camps, in the places where the door is broken, and rats are walking in where its very poor living conditions and it still costs $200 for rent. And then you want to buy Misoprostol and it costs $50, that’s almost not worth it. Sometimes people have said you know what I’d rather keep the kids instead of paying $100 for methotrexate injections or to buy Misoprostol. For some people the short-term value of not losing a $100 right now is bigger than how to pay for all the costs of keeping this child.

One Syrian woman from the North, she was a widow with 2 children, one with a serious health condition, Hydrocephalus, but it was untreated. She married again, thinking that “may be I need to be married to take care of my children.” So she married a divorcee and he handed his kid to her to take care of him and they were all living in the camps. He was quite violent and severely abusive and would keep threatening her with divorce although he gave her nothing. She was looking for an abortion, but it was a little difficult. Because she is from the north and she went to a few gynecologists and she is quite clever actually so she pretended that she wanted the pregnancy and she wanted to know how far along she was and didn’t say anything about termination because she knew she would kind of get escorted out. When she finally asked for termination, she faced resistance, and generally women who are veiled are judged on a few levels.

There’s usually a financial benefit when women get married at least that’s what they are thinking when they are displaced, and widow right? So they think there’s a benefit. The benefit is there’s somebody at home, there’s a breadwinner. But most of the time women in that situation get really exploited into unpaid labor. So they get remarried thinking that this guy is going to take care of them. Most of the time this guy is not really working, not trying to bring home money or take care of family issues you know that gender issue of men and what they try to sell into patriarchy that you know we will be your care takers. You know what they do is they have a lot of masculinity and they are very authoritative, but they are just kind of collecting wives to serve themselves as lords of their home.

And at this point this is a guy who lives in a tent in the North. He is also Lebanese so he is not really benefiting her in any means. He used to beat her quite severely and she had needed an abortion and started taking all sorts of over the counter medication. She couldn’t find a way to actually do it (terminate) and it was quite bad and it was really tricky for her to come down all the way to Beirut because you know also with people who are displaced they don’t know where they are. They have no benefits of the geography. It’s not anywhere that they can recognize so everything sounds new. It’s like going to a new place. If you are a tourist it’s exciting; but if you are trying to get food and water it’s a different story.

A friend of hers who was also widowed and unmarried, had also been raped in the camp and were trying to terminate and it was really difficult for her because she was unmarried. The first question in people’s minds is; so how do you justify the pregnancy out of wedlock? She couldn’t tell people that she had been raped because it was a powerful guy apparently in the camps. He’d been to jail a few times for drug selling and dealing and people were just a little bit afraid of him and she can’t explain rape. Because when you tell people you were raped, they will think may, be she was doing sex work because a lot of people are blaming Syrian women for sex work at this point. In her case for example, she refused to drink water for 2 and a half months because she thought she could dry out the pregnancy because she knew there should be water for the amniotic fluid. So she thought if she drank less she would terminate. She was very malnourished. She took deworming medications. She took anything that was over the counter as well. And she was still terrified that the guy would come back and that he had claims over her body because he had raped her. She is super tough. She blamed herself for not fighting the rape properly, which is ridiculous. She didn’t even think about the trauma of rape she was just thinking of 1. How do I get rid of this and 2. How do I take care of my kids?

Watch This Space for more conversations with Rola Yasmine!

 

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Reflection from the 4th Youth Refresher Institute for Safe Abortion Advocacy- By Pushpa Joshi

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The 4th YRI for safe abortion that took place from 28th March to 30th March in Mumbai was really an unforgettable learning experience for me. I really felt sorry for myself for not being able to attend the 1st day of the advocacy institute due to cancellation of the flight on 27th March. Though we missed the 1st day, we definitely enjoyed the rest of the training.

The sessions were eye openers and extremely useful for the young advocates like us. I was overwhelmed by the role-play session; we learned how to deal with possible difficult questions and arguments, especially by anti-abortion advocates. The sessions conducted by senior Youth champions from previous institutes were remarkably inspiring. Refresher institute provided an opportunity to learn and share with such versatile young and talented mentors in the same space and encouraged me to work more rigorously for the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women.

The sharing from the youth champions from different countries of Asia, including Phillippines, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Nepal and India made the training more diverse and enlightening. It gave us insights on the everyday plight and struggle of women and girls for reproductive justice. From that, I gained an understanding that the problems being faced by the women regarding reproductive health and safe abortion all over the world are more or less the same. Even though Nepal has comparatively progressive laws on women’s access to safe abortion safe abortion, but even now 47,000 women still die every year due to unsafe abortion. This shows that having legal and safe abortion access is not enough as dominant stigmas and lack of information adversely affect women’s access to safe abortion services.

Through Youth Advocacy Network in Nepal with regular mentorship by Asia Safe Abortion Partnership (ASAP), we are and will always be working for women’s access to information and stigma free safe abortion access.I am reminded of a quote by Martin Luther King Jr. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, being a youth champion of ASAP from Nepal, I am not only responsible to advocate within Nepal but with collective effort and support of youth champions from across the region I will continuously work for reproductive justice for women from all over the world.

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Word Of The Month: Advocacy

 

tweetathon announcement1This month our theme has been Role of Information and Technology and Online Activism- So, the apt word of the month would be Advocacy. We therefore would like to repurpose this post by Dr. Suchitra Dalvie’s 

What do we understand by this word which is used so widely in our work in sexual and reproductive rights?

Mahatma Gandhi said –“Be the change you want to see in the world”.

But sometimes it is just not that ‘simple’ and we need to make the change happen outside of ourselves—especially when we want policy and law to change. For this we need to engage in advocacy.

_DSC0604To advocate is toTo speak, plead, or argue in favor of” and someone who does that is an advocate–One that argues for a cause; a supporter or defender: an advocate of civil rights. Or One that pleads in another’s behalf; an intercessor: advocates for abused children and spouses or  A lawyer.

Advocacy is thus a political process by an individual or group which aims to influence public and policy and resource allocation decisions within political, economic, and social systems and institutions.

Advocacy can include many activities that a person or organization undertakes including media campaigns, public speaking, commissioning and publishing research or polls or the filing of an amicus brief.

Research is beginning to explore how advocacy groups in the U.S.[2] and Canada[3] are using social media to facilitate civic engagement and collective action.

There are several forms of advocacy, each represents different approaches in a way change is brought into society. One of the most popular forms is social justice advocacy. This includes a range of interventions including questioning existing policies and implementation and proposing policy solutions. Advocacy processes are ideally inclusive and participatory and representative and open up space for public argumentation.

Advocacy for safe abortion rights is gaining momentum across the world with women and their supporters organizing into campaigns, both online and offline.

These groups are challenging the current criminalization of abortion, asking for amendments to existing laws which will allow more women to access safe abortion, challenging the public sector investments being made in ensuring universal access and encouraging doctors and nurses to stand up as advocates for addressing these issues in the public domain.

The advocacy campaigns and forum encompass ideological issues, budgetary allocations, attitudes, access and laws. Some country level campaigns include mass actions such as petitions, demonstrations, flash mobs. The media is a powerful and important partner in such advocacy efforts.

The ultimate goal of advocacy is to change policies and implementation in the desired direction. Since many advocacy goals are long term, measuring impact can be a challenge.

Some examples of advocacy efforts for safe abortion rights:

http://www.september28.org/safe-abortion-advocacy-resources/

http://www.youthcoalition.org/html/home_article.php?id_art=157&id_cat=1

http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/topics-issues/abortion

http://www.ipas.org/~/media/Files/Ipas%20Publications/PAACURRE09.ashx

http://www.ids.ac.uk/files/dmfile/1Intro39.3ws.pdf

ASAP will be soon doing some rigorous online advocacy in the week of May 28th which is also the International Day of Action for Women’s Health. Watch this space for some exciting updates on activities of our youth champions from across the region!!

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Mother by Choice!

UnknownThis mothers day lets get something straight- having abortions doesn’t reduce your chances of being a mother, it doesn’t make you less of a mother, you don’t have to be a mother, women are not born to be mothers- Being a mother is a matter of choice!

Read Here- Debunking Abortion Myths About Mothers For Mother’s Day

Having cleared that lets now reflect on why we celebrate Mothers Day is it about gifts and flowers and stigmatizing those women who choose not to be mothers or is there a larger more rational reason to celebrate this day?

Not much people are aware of the radical feminist history behind ‘Mother’s Day’; “The American incarnation of Mother’s Day is the result of years of women’s activism that coincided with other women’s movements — like women’s suffrage and labor movements — around the turn of the 20th century. In the years leading up to the Civil War, West Virginian Ann Reeves Jarvis began organizing ‘Mothers’ Day Work Clubs’ to help improve health and sanitation through women’s education.”[1]

Mother’s Day was founded by Jarvis, as a celebration of motherhood, honoring the role women play as Mother’s in shaping the society both at a personal and political level. It in no way reinforces the stereotype of Women as Mothers and natural caregivers- it only celebrates one of the many roles that women perform. Mothers’ Day should therefore be about empowerment and celebrating the maternal bonds, between women and family. No, not all women have maternal instincts, and they don’t have to be mothers some day.

Motherhood should be about choice; raising a child is an all-encompassing phenomenon, therefore motherhood needs to come as a choice for those who are willing to take on to that role. Whether a woman wants to be a mother or not is a private decision and women who obtain abortion to end an unwanted pregnancy should be respected for that decision and not stigmatized and shamed; for at least they acknowledge that “they’re unwilling or unable to parent (at that particular time or possibly ever), and they know children deserve to be loved and cherished. We should give them the same respect they’ve shown the institution of motherhood by doing so—conception is a biological function, but parenting is not.”[2]

Having the freedom to choose I was able to decide when I wanted to be a mother and have a child that I know was wanted, so I am able to provide for all the love and care that the child rightly deserves. But is it true for women who are forced into motherhood everyday?

This Mother’s Day lets Resolve that no women or girl should have to go through pregnancy against her will!

 

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/mothers-day-history_n_5280493.html?section=india

[2] https://rewire.news/article/2016/05/02/becoming-mother-made-even-pro-choice/

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Non Mother’s day

Now that M Day has come and gone, and all those who are mothers have been given gifts/ cards/ flowers/ breakfast in bed by the children who love them………….let us move on to the world where a mother could be someone who was forced to give birth to a child she never wanted, due to a sexual encounter she could not control and is now being forced to raise it at the cost of her education/ job/ career/ leisure pursuits/ anything else that she cannot prioritize because she has a biological dependant who will starve if she does not care for it.
What if she is 10 years old ? Will she be celebrating Mother’s Day next year ? You may have seen the news of the 10 year old girl from Paraguay who was rushed to hospital and the doctors thought she had a tumour. http://www.news.com.au/world/south-america/pregnant-10-year-old-raped-by-her-stepfather-denied-abortion-in-paraguay/story-fnh81jzo-1227345070987

They realized that the girls was pregnant — and her stepfather was the father. Now the shocking story has triggered further outrage in Paraguay after the health minister blocked the abused girl from having an abortion.

“In Paraguay, every day two girls between the ages of 10 and 14 give birth. These cases are a consequence of sexual abuse, and in most situations, repeated sexual abuse from which the victims have not received timely, appropriate protection,” said UNICEF child protection officer Andrea Cid.

What if she is not 10 but 42 and has just delivered her 8th child, has barely survived bleeding to death, and already has to start doing work around the house to look after the other seven……….
What if she is a single mother in a society which treats her like an outcast, her parents have disowned her and she has no job prospects…………

All cultures glorify motherhood. To be a mother is projected as the ultimate goal and we are told it is the most important job in the world. It is unpaid because what you get in return is love etc etcUntitled1Whereas the reality is that it is very hard work, it changes one’s life completely in unimaginable ways and for some, it can even mean the end of their life if they do not get adequate care during pregnancy and labour

Maternal mortality stands at around 210 per 1,00,000 live births and is of course much higher than the average in some countries in Asia and sub Saharan Africa.Untitled2
So let us snap out of this fairy tale romantic notion of motherhood and look at the reality of women and girls who get pregnant but then do not want to be mothers. In fact many of them want to be good mothers…….to the children they already have ! Or they want to be good mothers……..but cannot do it now –because they are still studying or aren’t financially independent or are not in a stable relationship

Untitled3If the mother knows best, then why can she not be allowed to decide when it is best for her to be a mother ?

A mother should be someone who wants to be one and whose children are wanted and who can both celebrate Mothers’s day as a joyful one, for it is indeed the unpaid labour of mothers which makes the world go round !

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