Tackling taboos about abortion
The Safe Abortion Action Fund (SAAF) which is hosted by IPPF was set up in 2006 in order to support grass-roots organisations to increase access to safe abortion. One such organisation which received support under the last round of funding is called Volunteers for Development Association Uganda (VODA).
Teachers and community volunteers provide support for young people in schools. They are critical in reshaping the social norms and stigma surrounding teen pregnancies.
For many young girls, an unwanted pregnancy can limit their education and significantly restrict their life options. In Uganda, teachers are now helping to provide counselling for girls on contraception and safe abortion.
Prior to VODA working with schools to provide teachers with training, the rate of deaths from unsafe abortion was significantly high. This was even the case in primary schools. Now the prevalence of unwanted pregnancies has dropped and girls are more aware of their sexual and reproductive health.
I’m Deborah. I’m 27-years-old and I'm a teacher as well as being a community volunteer with VODA Uganda.
There is a problem with unsafe abortion and teenage pregnancies in this area. Young girls have been getting pregnant and some of them have been dropping out of school. Some have even died because of unsafe abortions. When VODA came in, they taught us about teenage pregnancies and unsafe abortion. So we came in to teach young people in the villages so that they can be aware of these issues.
Many girls secretly use injectable contraceptives after being told to do so by their parents. When these parents realise that their daughters are sexually active, they fear that they could get pregnant before they complete school. They do it secretly because they fear stigma. They do it that way to avoid rumours that may circulate if they know that one’s daughter was taken for family planning while she is still at school. Many people in our community think that a teenager who is on contraceptives is spoilt.
When I had just come to this area, incidents of unsafe abortion were high. But when I began working here and the girls came to know about me, I began counselling them about safe sex, contraceptives and condoms. I told them that if you think you cannot have protected sex, then you need to use contraceptives. But we also warned them against sexually transmitted infections. Using contraception has reduced the number of girls engaging in unsafe abortion.
There are different local methods used to abort. Some of them would get complications that needed medical attention after trying these methods. Some would also secretly try to go to health centres after the abortion had gone wrongly or they had even nearly died. Now some of those that have unwanted pregnancies do approach me and I counsel them.
In the past, if one talked about abortion or unwanted pregnancies, I would harshly judge her saying that she wanted it. But having become a volunteer with VODA I have learned sometimes the pregnancies are due to defilement or rape, so I came to understand that not all those that get pregnant want to have a child.
Sometimes abortion is inevitable. For example, when a girl has been raped by her father, uncle, brothers or close relatives. How would a girl carry that baby?
It is very important to educate young people about unsafe abortion, especially when they have reached that stage when they can get pregnant. That will help them to prevent having unwanted pregnancies and also to avoid unsafe abortion. It is important to give young girls contraceptives because some will have premarital sex. So such girls must have contraceptives if they are to avoid getting pregnant.
I am Mily and I am 38-years-old. I am a volunteer for VODA Uganda and a teacher at a primary school in Kasawo. I have been teaching here for eight years.
Before VODA was here, there were a lot of school dropouts from girls. They were getting unwanted pregnancies whereby they were forced to leave school. There was no one to counsel them. They were using local medicines for unsafe abortion. But when VODA came in they started to advise about unsafe abortion. We are working together with doctors and nurses from various hospitals so girls could get good care.
VODA workers approached us and explained how it could help our children to stay in school. Then we had a workshop and our head teacher selected who would manage this.
Before VODA came in unsafe abortion was rampant. Many of the girls were dying. Here at this school we had a girl in P4 - we were not even expecting that girl could be pregnant. Unfortunately, we heard about it when the girl was already dead. She was trying to have an unsafe abortion.
Before VODA came, there was no sexuality education or counselling to do with STIs. That is why our children were dying because they feared to tell their parents.
We thought that pregnant girls should leave school without further assistance. But as a volunteer, I thank VODA because now I know that that girls can be helped and they can continue with their studies.
I am Frida and I'm 18-years-old. I am a peer counsellor at school and have counselled many girls about unsafe abortion.
I came to know about VODA on a careers day at school and by attending training workshops on unsafe abortion. At our school, I’m very well-known as a youth counsellor. I help other girls who are sexually active with unwanted pregnancies.
The training I received from VODA has given me self-confidence. Before, I couldn’t stand in public. But now I can stand in the presence of even one thousand people and I can talk. I’m not shy anymore.
The problems are that girls can't access services like post-abortion care and family planning, like the pill. Girls are poor. Some services need money yet some girls don’t have money. They are getting pregnant because they have less information about unprotected sex and they are sexually active. To help them there needs to be places where they can find such services.
From my training with VODA I now want to be a social worker so that I can work with people. I have realised that I can handle people well.
Read more stories about the amazing success of SAAF in Uganda