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In pictures: The Benin community working together to tackle abortion stigma
Head of Youth and Stigma project and fundraising at the Association Beninoise pour la promotion de la famille (ABPF)
Since joining ABPF in 1995, Geneviève has worked closely with community leaders to reduce stigma around abortion.
Talking about the importance of young women having choice and access to abortion care, Geneviève says, “the law only applies in three circumstances, meanwhile everyday people need to access these services. Reproductive rights do exist, but that is something many people choose to ignore.”
ABPF youth champion with the Young People’s Action Movement
27-year-old Hélène acts as a link between young people’s activities and the ABPF board. She has advocated for abortion rights at conferences locally and internationally.
“In my school there were a fair number of pregnant girls so I was already looking for a way to help. Every week I went to different classes to educate them about abortion and stigma. When my mother found out, she told me this was a movement of depravity! But after a while my mum became a member of the association and came with me, and even my dad. Now they say they are proud of what I’ve achieved.”
In the small town of Cocotomey-La Paix, Simon works closely with ABPF supporting their work to reduce abortion stigma within local communities.
“It’s a project for social development, and I am all for that. It’s going to limit harm done to these girls. Parents don’t talk about this with their children. It’s taboo. This project helps us negotiate this difficult parent-child question. There is no development without health, and the politics of health are very complex.”
26-year-old Kader says his first youth meeting at ABPF was a positive experience.
“They told me that there was a jam session at the event. What I liked is that it was run by young people. Everything that I know about reproductive health I learnt at the centre. A lot of young women I know got pregnant very early. I know people who have died because of unsafe abortion. We can avoid so much of it if people have the right information.”
“Stigmatization complicates our work. Fourteen and 15-year olds come here without their parents and it’s hard to work with them. The girls are so scared that they can’t really explain what’s happening to them. They come here after going to the traditional healers when that hasn’t worked and they are bleeding or have an infection. Here, with the Youth and Abortion Stigma Project, we have awareness sessions. The young people and those supervising give out their numbers and tell them to call if they have a problem.”
“Her friends told her to take laxatives and other products, to put things in her vagina, to wash with hot water, to move about a lot.”
21-year-old Amour talks about a friend who confided in him when she discovered she was pregnant. “When we talk about abortion in Benin, it’s something people don’t want to hear about. It’s not well seen. Talking about sex is a problem. It’s still taboo. Thanks to the Youth and Abortion Stigma Project, I had benefited from training on how to talk to girls if they came to ask about abortion.”
Flore says some of her students go to her for support and advice: “They are quite shy because at home the subject of sex is always taboo. They are reticent; they think it’s a shame. We will only correct this problem over time. There is chatting and whispering in class ‘you know what she did?’ Can’t we support these children instead of stigmatizing them?”
19-year-old Ida attended a workshop on abortion and stigma for teachers and students at the Fiyegnon collège d’enseignement général. “It really helped. If we take our own decisions we will make it to the end, we will get what is right for us.”
When Beninese community leader Simon Gnansounou was first approached by volunteers from the Association Beninoise pour la Promotion de la Famille (ABPF) seeking support to provide abortion-related information and care in the town of Cocotomey-La Paix, he was sceptical. Now he is an advocate for safe abortion access and care, within his community,
Many women and girls in Benin who are considering an abortion tell no one. Since 2014, the Association Beninoise pour la Promotion de la Famille (ABPF) has been running a project, supported by the Packard Foundation, specifically aimed at tackling abortion stigma so that women and girls seeking a safe abortion can access the right information and services.