A short report covering the conference to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Asia Safe Abortion Partnership during the 24th and 25th of February 2018.
By Lakmini Prabani.
Cover image credit: ASAP
The conference was organized to commemorate the 10 years of movement building of Asia Safe Abortion Partnership. It was also to commemorate the power of partnership through celebrating the amazing, dedicated and passionate youth champions and their journeys.
Dr. Unnop Jaismaram made the welcome speech.
Sarah Soysa from YANSL delivered the keynote speech. She emphasized on the undeniable truth that access to safe abortion has a great deal of positive impact on women’s autonomy. She further stressed the need of developing strategies in local contexts to include the right to safe abortion, and the need of building and connecting abortion into the SDGs to ensure social and economic justice.
Next up, the Yes We Can! panel discussion served as a platform for youth champions from India, Nepal, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The participants reflected on their role as advocates for abortion autonomy agency, and as partners for abortion rights. They also highlighted the work they do through local advocacy networks which are initiated and supported and guided by ASAP.
Priskila Arulpragarasam, also from YANSL, spoke about the work YANSL does as advocates on SRHR, safe abortion rights and gender equality.
Fighting for the good fight for abortion autonomy agency isn’t always an easy road. Sarah moderated the panel discussion “when the going gets tough” where the struggles and challenges of youth champions were discussed. The speakers highlighted that the greatest opposition for abortion they face is patriarchy. They stressed that this could be dismantled through the power of partnership.
Rola from Lebanon emphasized the importance of recognizing the multiple intersectionalities that make people with uteruses vulnerable and to build the right to safe abortion conversation about sexual and reproductive health and rights. Nikzad from Iran stressed that despite abortion being legal in Iran under certain circumstances, many do not have access to it.
Nearly all the speakers reiterated that ensuring abortion autonomy agency was difficult in countries where human rights were under attack.
Srimithi from Nepal highlighted that Nepal is the best example where data proves that maternal mortality rates drop when access for abortion is available and services increase. She also emphasized that young women around the world face the patriarchal expectations of 4Ms which are marriage, motherhood, money and masters.
The conference also shared experiences and true stories of people trying to buy condoms, medical abortion pills and pads from pharmacies in Asia. The stigma attached in accessing such services runs so deep in our societies and especially in areas on gender lines. Tanzila Khan from Pakistan expressed “I can’t by condoms, not because of stigma, fear or shame but because I can’t get into the store. It isn’t wheelchair accessible.”
Anecdotes like this highlighted how important universal healthcare needs to be.
John O Brian from Catholic for Choice said “There are coalitions and then there is hell. Power of partnership is possible only when you avoid the seven deadly sins as avoiding pride, envy, embracing temperance, sharing of resources and diligence.”
Rola from Lebanon delivered the keynote speech at the 2nd day of the conference, where she emphasised that hetero-patriarchy should be kept away from an individual’s body. She also highlighted the importance of merging LGBTIQ movements, class movements, and abortion movements in order to be able to strenthen partnership and create a more powerful impact.
The session on intergenerational mentorship looked at how mentorship works within countries and among youth champions.
YANSL’s Prabani Perera pointed out how ASAP supported and guided youth champions who now work towards achieving safe abortion rights in both national and international platforms. She added that ASAP assisted YANSL in capacity building, related to technical, financial, and advocacy skills to push the agenda of reproductive justice and gender equality. Speaking further, she elaborated on how YANSL initiated a mentorship programme thanks to funding received by the Women’s Fund Asia.
The striggles and barriers Sri Lankans face in trying to legalise abortion, was addressed by Dr. Kapila Jayarathne.
At the panel discussion on Doctors as agents of change, the discussion looked at the conscience, access and life and the important role that medical students could play as safe abortion rights advocates. There also was a panel discussion where it talked about whether the men can be feminists. John O Brian emphasized that “feminist isn’t label, feminist is what we have to do and that’s really what matters to me. That I stand up against justice and oppression at every level.”
The conference declaration was delivered by Sarah, Yu Yang from China, and Niksad from Iran.
The conference concludes with one message from the youth champions which gives us all hope and courage to continue fighting this battle.
“I am not a liberal snowflake. My feelings aren’t fragile. My heart isn’t bleeding. I am a badass believer in human rights. My toughness is in tenderness. My strength is in the service of others. There is nothing fiercer than formidable, unconditional love. There is not a thing more courageous than compassion. But if my belief in equity, empathy goodness and love indeed makes me or people like me snowflakes, then you should know winter is coming.”