DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: JOURNAL ARTICLE – “Better dead than being mocked”: an anthropological study on perceptions and attitudes towards unwanted pregnancy and abortion in the Democratic Republic of Congo

by Doris Burtscher, Catrin Schulte-Hillen, Jean-François Saint-Sauveur, Eva De Plecker, Mohit Nair, Jovana Arsenijević

Sexual and Reproductive Health Matters 9 December 2020;28:1, 1852644  (Open access)

ABSTRACT: Unwanted pregnancy and unsafe abortion contribute significantly to the burden of maternal suffering, ill health and death in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). This qualitative study examines the vulnerabilities of women and girls regarding unwanted pregnancy and abortion, to better understand their health-seeking behaviour and to identify barriers that hinder them from accessing care. Data were collected in three different areas in eastern DRC, using in-depth individual interviews, group interviews and focus group discussions. Respondents were purposively sampled. All interviews were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. Transcriptions were screened for relevant information, manually coded and analysed using qualitative content analysis. Perceptions and attitudes towards unwanted pregnancy and abortion varied across the three study areas. In North Kivu, interviews predominantly reflected the view that abortions are morally reprehensible, which contrasts the widespread practice of abortion. In Ituri, many perceive abortions as an appropriate solution for reducing maternal mortality. Legal constraints were cited as a barrier for health professionals to providing adequate medical care. In South Kivu, the general view was one of opposition to abortion, with some tolerance towards breastfeeding women. The main reasons women have abortions are related to stigma and shame, socio-demographics and finances, transactional sex and rape. Contrary to the prevailing critical narrative on abortion, this study highlights a significant need for safe abortion care services. The proverb “Better dead than being mocked” shows that women and girls prefer to risk dying through unsafe abortion, rather than staying pregnant and facing stigma for an unwanted pregnancy.

VISUAL, Ipas, 9 November 2020