Media asked to help shape narrative on abortion

A consortium of civil society organizations (CSOs) implementing Breaking the Barriers Project has made an impassioned appeal to journalists to help in shaping the narrative on abortion in Malawi.

Breaking the Barriers Project is being implemented with financial support from Amplify Change – a United Kingdom (UK)-based fund that aims to empower young people, men and women to realise their sexual and reproductive rights.

In Malawi, the project is being implemented by the Malawi Human Rights Resource Centre (MHRRC), Malawi SRHR Alliance, Centre for Solutions Journalism (CSJ), Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) and Coalition for the Prevention of Unsafe Abortion (COPUA).

Speaking at the opening of a day-long training workshop for members of Bwaila Media Club in Lilongwe on Wednesday, CHRR Executive Director Michael Kaiyatsa bemoaned reluctance by the Government of Malawi to table Termination of Pregnancy (TOP) Bill in parliament.

Kaiyatsa observed that despite the law restricting and criminalizing abortion, many women still access abortion services clandestinely.

Kaiyatsa: We want journalists to help us in moving the government and MPs to debate and enact TOP Bill into law–Photo by Watiapso Mzungu

“The Government of Malawi should therefore consider decriminalizing abortion and allow women access abortion services openly,” he said, adding that his organization is currently pursuing a case in which a little girl was impregnated after being defiled, but was denied access to safe abortion thereby endangering her life.

“This is a small girl who is still young and not ready to give birth. If you were a parent of that girl, what would you do? Wouldn’t you consider terminating the pregnancy, knowing that the pregnancy endangers her life? The parents and the girl are suing the government for denying her the right to safe abortion. There is no clarity on what preserving the life of a mother means,” he said.

The CHRR director further argued that the law is not clear on what ‘preserving the life of a mother’ means.

Kaiyatsa said not even a single legal luminary has ever defined what it means when the law says when the life of a mother is in danger.

He stated that it is the opinion of the CSOs that every woman is in danger and eligible for termination of pregnancy.

“We are advocating that the government should provide clarity on what preserving the mother’s life means. It’s unfortunate that there’s no political will among members of Parliament to debate the Termination of Pregnancy Bill in the august House. Yet it is an important bill because its aim is to preserve the mother’s life,” he narrated.

He vowed that the CSOs will continue pushing to ensure that the TOP Bill sees the light of the day, stressing that only then will Malawi comply with the international instruments it has signed, including the Maputo Protocol, which obliges countries to provide safe services to women whose pregnancies pose a risk to their health.

“Gender Equality Act also says women have the right to choose when to have children. They also have the right to choose to terminate pregnancy. We therefore think that the media has a very critical role to play, especially in shaping the narrative on safe abortion. We need you to shape perceptions on abortion. We are losing a lot of lives. Help us to move the government; help us to move the parliament,” emphasized Kaiyatsa.

Josephine Phumisa – a freelance journalist – assured the CSOs of the journalists’ commitment to partnering with the activists in disseminating correct information on safe abortion with an aim of changing people’s mindset.

“I believe we will achieve the goal,” said Phumisa.

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