Madagascar has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Africa, prohibiting abortion access in all cases. Despite this law, country-level statistics show that the criminalised status of abortion is not preventing individuals from seeking it: 42% of pregnancies were unintended between 2015-2019, and 63% of those pregnancies ended in abortion. With no legal exceptions to preserve the life of the pregnant woman, this means that abortions are occurring illegally and in many cases in unsafe conditions.
Efforts to pass a reform to the law had previously failed in 2017, with international organisations leading much of the work. Recognising the need for locally-driven advocacy to improve women’s rights across the country, in 2019, a group of feminist activists came together to form Nifin’Akanga. The coalition of Malagasy activists, journalists, and service providers are working to decriminalise abortion, eliminate sexual and gender-based violence, and improve access to SRHR.
We said, let’s create a local movement. Because they say that it’s a ‘foreigners thing’. It’s a ‘white people’s thing’. It’s ‘not a Malagasy way of thinking’. And we said – oh, but it’s about our lives. […] Let us Malagasy women stand up and create a movement – saying it’s about us, not other people. If we die, our sisters die, our mothers will die. So, it’s a matter for local people too.Mbolatiana Raveloarimisa, Founder, Nifin’Akanga
Their first funding from AmplifyChange, a Strengthening grant in 2020, focused on evidence generation, mobilising partners from medical institutions and identifying champions in government to take forward changes in the law. To address the lack of evidence and data as well as real-life testimonies, Nifin’Akanga produced the largest national study ever done in Madagascar on abortion practices. They also produced a documentary film to support their advocacy for law change through fact-based actions. Collecting and highlighting personal stories of how the law is affecting communities across the country was a key tactic that helped bring new supporters and stakeholders to the cause.
It strengthens our activists because sometimes when the stakes are high, they just sometimes feel ‘why we are doing these things?’ But when we share the stories of other people, they say, yes, we are doing the right fight.Mbolatiana Raveloarimisa
COVID-19 exacerbated the already dire situation of gender-based violence and access to SRHR, and unsafe abortion continued to rise. In 2021, Nifin’Akanga and their partners, with support from a parliamentary champion, put forward a bill to change the law on the termination of pregnancy to include grounds for access when pregnancy presented a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or girl, in cases of serious foetal impairment, and pregnancy resulting from rape or incest. Nifin’Akanga used the campaign platform Change.org to conduct a petition to support the proposed law.
The proposal immediately faced backlash; religious leaders in particular led the charge against reform. Nifin’Akanga and partners were attacked in the media and digital spaces and faced ostracization from their families and communities. The proposal itself was never presented before the National Assembly for a vote; in May 2022, the president of the Permanent Commission of the National Assembly declined to advance the law to a vote, stating that the draft law was “incompatible with Malagasy culture and values”.
In the face of this roadblock, Nifin’Akanga realised the toll activism was taking on their team and partners. To ensure the well-being of themselves and other frontline activists, Nifin’Akanga set up self-care camps for women in civil society, bringing together advocates for abortion law reform with those working in areas like anti-corruption and human rights campaigning. The camps, now in their second year, centre activities to promote mental and physical wellbeing, safety, and mutual support for women human rights defenders.
Nifin’Akanga and their partners continue to advocate for law reform to ensure safe abortion for all through collecting research, leading campaigns, and producing media content. A growing network of advocates for improved abortion access in Madagascar is strengthening the movement for change. As the movement grows, so does the potential for advocacy success.