Written by Sunungurai Dominica Chingarande, SRHR activist
Before November 2017 advocacy on abortion in Zimbabwe was a closed, challenging space due to a highly conservative, religious society and the high levels of stigma surrounding abortion. There was also the widespread belief that abortion was illegal. Abortion is legal in Zimbabwe but only under the limited grounds offered by the Termination of Pregnancy Act. Those grounds are: rape, incest and if the pregnancy presents a risk to the lives of the woman or the child. These limited grounds combined with the administrative challenges of accessing safe abortion have led to many unsafe abortions taking place in the country. There are many diverse CSOs working on safe abortion advocacy in Zimbabwe, and multiple different coalitions on the issue.
There were numerous challenges for advocacy in this situation. The election was unexpected (it followed the surprise departure of Mugabe) and because there was insufficient co-ordination amongst CSOs and a lack of agreement on advocacy messaging, the CSOs were not prepared with a strategy to take advantage of the opportunities which arose. Opportunities for influence were missed as politicians did not receive clear, high level demands and were left confused about what the safe abortion advocacy ‘ask’ was. Also, many progressive MPs lost their seats in the election, so the CSOs had to start again to build new alliances as they did not have established relationships with technical ministry staff, only with politicians.
During the election period there was, unfortunately, no time to tackle the challenges effectively. However, after the election, the CSOs reflected carefully on the shortcomings of their election advocacy. As a result, they made direct contact with the President, clearly stating their goals and following up on his election commitments – this drew a positive response from the President. The CSOs also quickly got to work to establish relationships with new MPs and began engaging key personnel on Parliamentary committees and technical ministry staff to make up for time lost during the election.
Sunungurai Dominica Chingarande is a professor of Sociology, with experience in gender and women’s empowerment issues including women’s sexual and reproductive health rights. She is the author of several publications including a book chapter on the women’s movement and the struggle for land in Zimbabwe, which traces the development of the women’s movement around land issues in the country. She has also written a training manual on the inter-linkages between culture, gender, women’s rights and HIV and how advocacy in highly sensitive cultural contexts is developed.