DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO – Very first public debate on reducing abortion stigma in Goma

On 28 March, the Collective of Youth Organizations for Solidarity in DRCongo, Coordination of North Kivu, together with our local partners the New Dynamic of the Civil Society North Kivu (NDCI), and Jeunes Solidaires du Quatres Coins du Monde (JS4), in collaboration with the Abortion Conversation Projects (ACP) and International Network for the Reduction of Abortion Discrimination and Stigma (INROADS), held the very first public debate on reducing abortion stigma in Goma. 37 people attended.

We posted a fundraising drive on GlobalGiving which is still running up to now. We know that issues around abortion are not among causes which can attract the attention of many people in order to donate, and we also know that abortion is controversial.

In order to prepare for the events, we held five meetings, of which three were internal and focused on planning and two were external with other organizations, in order to share information. One was with NDSCI and the other was with the Coalition for Pacific Cohabitation and Solidarity with Internally Displaced Persons. These meetings served as part of our knowledge sharing, which were attended by 69 people. The meeting information was also shared in more than 2,500 emails, on our website and on our social media, mainly Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. Our members also shared the details on their various social media, mainly Facebook and Twitter.

We targeted young people under 40 years of age, composed of 80% women from marginalised communities in Goma. This is because, based on our research, they are the ones most at risk and had no access to information. Following opening remarks, we shared what we had learned from our research — what women use in order to cause an abortion, cases of those who had been victims of the consequences of unsafe abortion, and not only what makes women seek abortion, but also how to access information about abortion in Goma. Participants reported how they got information, generally from Facebook, friends, during the activities of organizations, and from some pharmacies.

Participants said it was very difficult for women to access accurate information about abortion; they did not know where to access services especially those who chose to have an abortion. Participants shared information about services for those who have been victims of sexual violence, but they knew of nothing available for women who simply wanted to terminate a pregnancy. The medical people can also be a problem, they ask women why they want an abortion, who is the man responsible for the pregnancy and they require them to bring someone who will sign the form for them, all of which remove the confidentiality and create a barrier for many women, who opt for unsafe methods instead.

The participants also shared arguments about morality, religious belief, the laws that criminalise abortion, and the attitude of community members. The debate became passionate on issues on sexuality and the reasons why women need to resort to abortion, this took the debate up to 2:30 pm and even then participants did not finish what they wanted to say. The conversation continued also during the sharing of soft drinks and snacks, and people were encouraged to join a WhatsApp group which was set up.

The following recommendations were made:

– To include sexual education in the “reduce abortion” campaign,

– To explore and orient the campaigns towards a human rights perspective in order to address religious arguments,

– To expand activities and conversations to a wider audience,

– To advocate for the change of legal policies around abortion and sexuality in DRCongo,

– To engage local authorities, religious authorities, traditional leaders and also bring men in the conversation, and

– To educate women about their rights and work more with those who are vulnerable and marginalized.

We believe this Open Public Debate was a success. It created a space where people could engage on issues that are considered taboo, could get access to clear information on how to seek an abortion, what they can do beforehand and how to avoid unwanted pregnancies, receive knowledge and ideas that are different from local religious and cultural beliefs, and become ready to promote access to information among others in different communities.

We are working on collecting clear information on issues around abortion in Goma, DRC, in order to help all stakeholders to put in place appropriate responses. This survey has been made possible through a small seed grant from Abortion Conversation Projects, whom we thank.

SOURCE: Collective of Youth Organizations for Solidarity in the Democratic Republic of Congo (COJESKI-DRC), Coordination of North Kivu. E-mail: