Pro-choice marchers demand change

20 July 2020 | Health

JANA-MARI SMTIH

WINDHOEK



Hundreds of Namibians took to the streets countrywide over the weekend in a historic protest march demanding an overhaul of Namibia's 45-year restrictive abortion law to ensure access to safe and legal abortions for all girls and women.

Speaking to the more than 300 participants in Windhoek on Saturday, renowned Namibian eye surgeon Dr Helena Ndume said her pro-choice stance took root after she witnessed the deaths of young girls from dangerous backstreet abortions, as well as the severe injuries sustained by many. She underlined that the Abortion and Sterilisation Act of 1975 does not stop abortions, but instead forces girls and women to obtain life-threatening back-alley terminations if they cannot afford safe abortions in South Africa. “That is why I joined this march. Because of these poor people. In Ombili, in Hakahana, those whose voices are not heard,” she said.



Life and death

Sociologist Ndeshi Namupala said sexual and reproductive health and rights for women are issues “of life and death, not a mere matter of choice.”

Namupala noted that anti-abortion arguments ignore the reality of poor and marginalised women and girls in Namibia who have little say in planned pregnancies.

“Don't have sex if you can't afford a child is not an argument.

“We know that not every woman, not every girl, is in a position to negotiate for sex, let alone safe sex. We know that for most of the young girls, their first sexual encounter is a forced sexual encounter.”



Limited choice

She said the anti-choice movement does not “consider the existing conditions of women from marginalised communities who face financial difficulties, domestic violence, lack of social support and access to contraceptives.”

Namupala said it is a reality in Namibia that “women, especially poor women, are dying of unsafe abortions because they do not have private doctors and they do not have a family to send them to Cape Town for safe abortions.

They do not have any economic means to have a safe abortion.”



Equality

Sociologist Lucy Edwards underlined that women in Namibia “are not free, because freedom is the right to choose. And we don't have that right to choose, so our struggle is not over.”

Edwards praised the pro-choice movement now under way, and the support of many men who joined the march and online protests over the past month which has garnered thousands of pro-choice supporters.

The weekend's march signalled increasing pressure on Namibian lawmakers to address the current law, after a petition was launched by activist Beauty Boois on 12 June. That petition has received close to 70 000 signatures.