Hivos International

Igniting women’s empowerment through reproductive health rights

Every day, over 200,000 women become pregnant unintentionally in the world. The vast majority of them belong to low-income and marginalised groups in countries where ending pregnancy is illegal.

In Tanzania, reports indicate that about 18 percent of maternal deaths are due to unsafe abortions and that half of the women admitted to hospital with emergency obstetric complications (EmOC) in 2011 experienced induced abortion. Unsafe abortions are one of the major preventable causes of maternal mortality and morbidity. Unfortunately, for many women in Tanzania the only way they can have an abortion is to risk their health and life by resorting to unsafe means.

As a progressive broker of women’s rights, Hivos continues to improve access to contraceptives and safe abortion services through the InfoLife project in Tanzania. InfoLife empowers women and adolescent girls with adequate information that enables them to make informed decisions about their bodies, sexuality which in turn helps prevent unwanted pregnancies.

*Priscilla lives in a rural community in Nyamagana district, Mwanza Province. As a teacher in one of the secondary schools, Priscilla knows only too well the high rates of school drop-outs associated with unwanted pregnancies. Every year about ten girls drop out of the school due to unwanted pregnancies, with three to four of them having an abortion that end up in severe complications or death.

In 2015, with the support from InfoLife project, Priscilla organised informative sessions on sex education with her fellow teachers in school as part of their activism to end unsafe abortions. Using the curriculum, girls would then be educated on reproductive health rights. Emanating from these discussions was a clear quest by girls to understand their femininity, which would in turn aid them in making informed choices on living healthy reproductive lives. ‘’From these sessions, ten to twenty girls have consulted us (teachers) on menstruation, pregnancy, sexuality, contraceptive use and options for safe abortion’’, she said.

Priscilla added that by the end of December 2015, only two unwanted pregnancies were reported in her school for the first time in five years since she joined as a teacher. When asked why she teaches young girls to have safe abortions, Priscilla said, “I am happy and proud to be the teacher I am, because education empowers girls. But I am even happier to help these girls get a second chance to live, and move on towards achieving their life goals after slipping to pregnancy.”

Making such a bold statement is a heroic act by an empowered woman ready to stand up for her rights even in the context of highly stigmatizing community attitudes and repressive laws against abortion.

The InfoLife project raises awareness on the use of modern contraceptives and STIs/HIV preventive services. In doing this, the project empowers women like Priscilla to contribute to social change in favour of contraceptive use and safe abortion by mentoring and coaching girls to make responsible reproductive choices.

With projects such as InfoLife, Hivos East Africa has supported organisations such as Women Promotion Centre to prevent unsafe abortion by providing access to sexual and reproductive health services. 

*Priscilla- the real name of the person has been changed