Making safe abortion available in rural Pakistan

ACP has heard of some remarkable activities in Pakistan regarding abortion advocacy and phone counseling.

Peace Foundation Pakistan is a registered NGO that has been working in sexual and reproductive advocacy since 2010. They sponsor eight women’s abortion advocacy groups in the Sindh province of Pakistan. The Peace Foundation uses mobile phones to make women aware of their sexual and reproductive rights. This strategy works well for women and girls of rural areas, where social traditions disapprove of safe abortion and free use of contraceptives.

The rate of unsafe abortion increases day by day; women are losing their lives in silence and they can not share complications of their pregnancies, because they know there will be no sympathy for them in society. Even women are against abortion. 

The Peace Foundation, with the support of Women on WavesWomen on Web, and Asia Safe Abortion partnerships, started a telephone hotline in April of 2010 to help women adopt safe abortion practices, and prevention after abortion.

Peace Foundation now has five female counselors. All team members were trained by Women on Web and Women on Waves, The Netherlands, before the project was launched.

 There are two free mobile 24/7 help lines with counseling for safe medical abortion in Urdu and in Siraki languages. Counselors refer women seeking medical abortion where should they go and what should they do. Counselors always follow up calls and have found that the feedback was positive. Women reported that they had no friends to support them in rural areas. Midwives, Nurses and female health visitors had previously had no support until the Peace Foundation enabled them to provide misoprostol for saving women’s lives in rural areas. More than 900 women and girls contacted the hotlines for safe medical abortion counseling.

 Community meetings:

Peace Foundation conducted three community meetings with women advocacy groups in Sindh with the objective of the providing information about safe medical abortion and how to use misoprostol for medical abortion. When community meetings were called in rural areas, 65 women participated in the meetings. All women were vocal persons and leaders in their villages. During meetings, women got material in local languages to understand about medical abortion. Female teachers were also involved in discussions about how to provide information to women.

Women took great interest in the meetings, sharing their sufferings during complicated pregnancies. Women discussed biased attitudes of male partners. Referral directories and material on medical abortion were also distributed for further use.

 Abortion Service Providers meetings:

There were two local abortion service provider meetings. It was a unique opportunity for abortion service providers. They were working secretly and had fears about working openly. They gathered and discussed norms, values and attitudes of service providers and service users. Mostly providers were using surgical methods to terminate pregnancy and Peace Foundation trained them in safe medical abortion using misoprostol. 28 service providers met and discussed different aspects of abortion services. A network of safe abortion service providers was also established to discuss mutual issues and a forum for defending each other in case of any complications.

 Two meetings with civil rights organizations:

There were two meetings with civil rights organizations with 42 attending both meetings. The Peace Foundation won their support in delivering our services in rural areas. CSOs also assured that the Peace Foundation can work without any fear.

 The Peace Foundation has found challenges to their mission from existing social traditions and general perceptions regarding pregnancy and termination of pregnancy. Old people and men, in particular, have reservations and did not permit females to participate in meetings. Teams were accused of promoting sinful actions and being anti-religion or promoting extra marital relations, as well as a Western agenda. Teams could not travel in late hours because of threats. Security agencies have also investigated us, visiting monthly and demanding photos and details of our team visits and biographical data of our team. Once, our bank account was frozen.

Aslam of Peace Foundation provided ACP with this information. It has been edited for ease of reading.