Written by: Bonita Sharma
After 14 years of legalization of abortion which led to reduced maternal mortality related to unsafe abortion and improved women’s health in Nepal, it is really sad to state abortion is still stigmatized in the country which has restricted women’s access to safe abortion. As a result, unsafe abortions and the consequences surrounding still persists.
Media has known to be effective tool for promoting women’s sexual and reproductive health rights in Nepal. However, to my disbelief, the rising stigmatization of abortion services as being dangerous procedure by the popular national media houses in Nepal has been a major factor in fueling individual, family and societal stigma in the country.
Recently, an article titled “Abortion at a young age” with a picture of a distressed pregnant woman was published in a national daily newspaper which was shared 1900 times online. The article solely focused on high number of young women accessing abortion, rather than analyzing the reasons behind why unwanted pregnancies occur and their reasons for its termination. Not a single sentence in the article focused on the role of men in causing an unwanted pregnancy. Not surprising as the majority of the sentences depicted deeply entrenched patriarchal mindset of the writer who tried to ignored reproductive health and rights of women and young girls guaranteed by the constitution and presumed women to just have reproductive roles
Another article published in a popular online news portal was titled “The scary reality of abortion in Nepal”. The article which was shared 9950 times basically stressed on following statements which majority of them were baseless assumption.
Assumption: Among the abortion service users, number of high school girls and unmarried is the highest.
Reality: National statistics have shown that majority of the service seeker are the married reproductive aged women who have had one or two children and had history contraceptive failure.
Assumption: Abortion causes Infertility in future.
Reality: Unsafe abortion can cause infertility in future.
Assumption: Abortion risk women life to risk
Reality: Safe abortion is 10 times safer than the normal child birth.
And Many more ……………………!!
I would also like to share some of the responses of the readers in the comment section, which are as follows;
Male 1: “Ban abortion!”
Male 2: “Abortion service needs to be made very costly and only expensive government health institutions should provide it. An orphanage must be established for those people who do not want to raise their unwanted child so that people can come and leave their unwanted children”
Male 3: “Change the age of marriage. Women must be married off at an early age”
Male 4: “Go on women; make a misuse of women rights like this”
Male 5: “Before marriage SEX is forbidden. An abortion is totally wrong instead of giving birth to a child. Just think of being an aborted child, if your mom had abortion before your birth you would not be here in this earth. So, doing abortion is forbidden.”
And many more …………………!!
Rather than providing positive, factual and in-depth information, both news articles were giving incomplete and misleading information to the public. The readers were also making a moral judgment of women for having an abortion. There is a misleading notion among general public spread by the polarized media houses that women who have an abortion and women who have children are totally different types of women whereas the fact is these might be the same women at different stage of their life. Women have abortion for myriad of reasons, whatever the reason be, it is her life and her story that she chooses to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. No one can better decide as what is best for her and her body than women herself. However, the prevalent patriarchal system in the Nepalese society limits women’s decision making role in the family. Women do not get to choose or decide even their reproductive needs. They are usually entitled to their husband’s or family member’s opinion rather. How can we be in a position to be judgmental and decide what a woman should or should not do until and unless we have been through the same?
Nevertheless, the power of media in fostering positive changes in lives of millions of women is well documented across the globe and it stands true in the case of Nepal as well. It was the role of media back then when we were convincing policy makers through years of advocacy, lobbying and campaigning, for prioritizing women’s health and well-being by legalizing abortion in 2002 A.D. The credit for improving women’s health following legalization goes to media too. So, in the present context, the responsibilities of media as well as the concerned stake holders have increased manifolds in reducing the growing stigma and van guarding the rights which were guaranteed 14 years ago. We cannot slide back when we are at the crux of moment full of promises to achieve universal access to Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights by 2030. There should be sustained coordination among multisakeholders to project dreams into ground realities for changing the lives of millions of women and girls across the country. All of these start with positive media role in promoting women’s health.
So, isn’t it time all of us especially media personnel step into the shoes of those women who went through abortions for various reasons for a change and understand the realities of abortion, make it stigma free and establish it as women human right?
Edited by: Smriti Thapa, Coordinator