Written by Brian Ligomeka, Centre for Solutions Journalism, Malawi
In Malawi, abortion is only permitted if the mother’s life is in danger. Despite that, around 140,000 women and girls in Malawi experience abortions each year (Guttmacher, 2015), the majority of which are unsafe.
Abortion legislation is currently under review, and this could broaden the range of conditions under which abortion services can be provided. Media can play an important role in bringing about change. This is why we decided to use the media as a tool to advocate for a revised abortion bill.
We provided hands-on training to diverse stakeholders (religious and traditional leaders, women activists, health professionals, etc.), on how to write articles on safe abortion and talk about abortion on the radio and television.
Participants then worked on their own stories, which we edited for publication. To ensure consistency in the coverage of abortion issues, we paid for space in The Daily Times – a national newspaper – where we ran a weekly column.
We first ran articles on youth sexual and reproductive rights and family planning, before moving on to articles focusing more directly on abortion. This phased approach helped us to avoid backlash.
We have measured real changes in abortion perceptions. Our survey amongst students showed that 60% had changed their views after being exposed to our media content.
Previously opposing religious leaders now mention thinking that abortion is acceptable on some grounds. We gained support from 40 Members of Parliament who made public statements or signed anonymous commitment forms in support of law reform.
Today, the bill is with the Ministries of Justice and Health, and they will present it to the cabinet before it can be tabled in Parliament. This is a work in progress but we can now count on public support!
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.