Written by Brian Ligomeka, Centre for Solutions Journalism, Malawi
Our organisation, Centre for Solutions Journalism (CSJ) is a human rights media organisation, which is advocating for abortion law reform in Malawi. We use media advocacy and key stakeholder engagement as part of our strategies. In media advocacy, we train journalists in SRHR reporting. Since September 2017, we have a weekly newspaper column called Sexual and Reproductive Health which is published in The Daily Times [of Malawi]. Since then we have published over 100 SRHR articles. We have also been running a fortnightly SRHR television programme called Freedom and Choices since February 2019.
The problem we faced was on how to sustain media coverage of SRHR, which emerged in March 2018, six months after we launched the weekly newspaper column. It is a challenge to be offering new, exciting and ‘wow’-content every week and keep the media interested in the issue., The problem occurred as our organisation was drumming up support for abortion law reform in Malawi through media advocacy. Issues included: How do we work with the media? How do we produce relevant media content and sustain audience interest during the abortion law reform process?
By building a good relationship with the media outlets and by thorough planning, this was the solution to the problem. During our planning stage, we discovered that we could cover abortion from many perspectives. Some angles included stories of abortion survivors, the magnitude of unsafe abortion, the cost of unsafe abortion, culture and abortion, change of stances by clerics, human rights and public health perspectives of abortion, linking contraceptive shortages and abortion. The list went on and on. The solution also included addressing the skills gaps of writers or contributors by training them. One key skills gap was their failure to embed key messages in their articles. We addressed this by formulating messages to be included in the articles. The other was differences in the statistics used on abortion and maternal health. That was addressed by advising all writers to quote research findings disseminated by University of Malawi and Guttmacher Institute. For international data, all writers were advised to quote data from the World Health Organization.
Through the media (and in other ways) we have been consistently advocating for abortion law reform in Malawi. This, along with the efforts of others who also supported the law reform, persuaded the Malawi government to draft the proposed Termination of Pregnancy Bill. We are now pushing for this Bill’s enactment.
In a conservative society like Malawi opposition to abortion law reform is significant, so it is essential to use a phased approach to build up understanding and support for a change in the law.
In our media coverage, we initially looked at the challenges in a phased approach starting with the problem of the low rate of abstinence, which results in teen pregnancies, failure of youths to access condoms due to government policies (the ban of condoms in schools and colleges), and the scarcity of contraceptives in rural areas. Then we looked at the problem of resulting unwanted pregnancies in Malawi and how they end up in unsafe abortions. After that our media coverage moved on to the legal framework and the failure of restrictive law to stop abortions. We proceed in that manner and then moved on to getting media coverage on post-abortion care and even looked at religion and abortion. The phased approach has been working well for us.
There is a need to establish a working relationship with media outlets. Some of the editorial staff you need to know are:
If you work on gender and SRHR issues, you should get to know journalists who cover human rights or health issues.
Other related resources
Please also see the How to guides on:
Brian Ligomeka is a communications expert and sexual and reproductive health and rights activist currently serving as a Programmes Advisor for the Centre for Solutions Journalism (CSJ).
Brian has led in the implementation of projects advocating for decriminalization of abortion and the promotion of sexual minority rights in Malawi. Brian has addressed hostile audiences on several occasions when discussing ‘taboo’ issues.