It is on record that due to her disability (deaf-blindness) over the past period some unidentified men have been raping her and fathering the four children she is struggling to raise. This is just one of the many sad scenarios that a lot of women and girls with disabilities encounter under the veil of darkness and in organised cultural rituals that mercilessly tramples upon their rights.
Like Chirwa’s predicament, some of the rape victims and those whose lives are at risk with pregnancy have for so long waited in the dark for their voices to be heard whether the law would recognize their need for a legal and safe abortion.
In light of the foregoing, a consultative meeting organised by Centre for Conflict Management and Women Development Affairs (CECOWDA) in liaison with Forum for Development of Youth with Disabilities (DFDY) in Blantyre, revealed a number of disability issues that have to be incorporated in Coalition for the Prevention of Unsafe Abortion (COPUA)’s Communication Strategy.
The most astounding facts picked during the meeting are that in 2009 according to the research done by College of Medicine, 67,000 women and girls in the country had an abortion. The figure has soared to 141,000 abortions in one year as of December 2015 according to the follow up research by the same institution.
The worrisome development is that not all these abortions are done at certified health institutions by registered health practitioners. The underlying factor is that access to legal abortion in Malawi is very restricted.
Speaking during the meeting Executive Director for CECOWDA, Caroline Mvalo said sensitization on COPUA’s Communication Strategy has ignited new insights of what needs to be factored in to enhance practicality of its implementation.
Caroline Mvalo, Chief Executive Officer, CECOWDA
“We are seeing that we are making progress because the participants themselves have noticed that COPUA’s Communications Strategy is completely silent on issues of disability and it would be very helpful if it would be reviewed and incorporate disability issues. Further to that as CECOWDA and our partners we would like to see the Pregnancy Termination Bill presented in Parliament and is passed as a law. The main reason we are pressing on is that we would like to reduce number of deaths happening in our circles due to unsafe abortions by women and girls. Let me also emphasize that women and girls with disabilities are no exception and at times their lives are also at risk with pregnancies,” said Mvalo.
‘Nothing for us without us’
After several speakers and presentations on prevention of unsafe abortions and linkages to persons with disabilities, a consensus was reached that it was an oversight to have a strategy that did not encompass disability issues. Speaking to this reporter, one of the participants, Elizabeth Machinjili emphatically called for inclusion of the recommendations that the meeting agreed upon into COPUA’s Communications Strategy.
“Apart from grown up women, there are also young girls with disabilities who are abused by close neighbours and some even their own relations in the house. When these girls are found pregnant you look at the bigger picture where we will lose both the teen-mother and the child due to either her young age or the disability she has. It is for this reason that we are advocating that in committees where these issues are discussed more especially that concerns people with disabilities it would make more sense if our views are incorporated or indeed physically we participate in the same that’s why we are saying nothing for us without us,” said Machinjili.
According to Brian Ligomeka, Communications Specialist for COPUA, the meeting was fruitful as participants punched holes in the strategy. He said this was healthy enough as it brought out pressing issues be legal, gender or disability issues that will be incorporated.
Brian Ligomeka, Communications Specialist, COPUA
“Take home points are many but just to mention a few, sensitization of unsafe abortions should start from the grassroot level, people with disabilities should know about their rights, issues of abortions should be treated as private even among persons with disabilities and there’s need to increase access to sexual and reproductive health information, services and products across the country. There were also recommendations that COPUA should work hand in hand with The Federation of Disability Organisations in Malawi (FEDOMA) ,” said Ligomeka.
Termination of pregnancy remains illegal in Malawi. Section 243 of the Penal Code, allows the termination of pregnancy where it is necessary to save the life of the mother. The proposed Pregnancy Termination Bill widens the scope:
• To save the life of the mother
• To preserve the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman
• In cases of severe foetal malformation which will affect its viability or compatibility with life.
• In cases of rape, incest or defilement provided that this will be done within 16 weeks of gestation.
The World Health Organisations records that every day, approximately 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.
It is the envisaged global picture that no woman should die due to maternity issues.
CECOWDA with its partners and the country at large joins the rest of the world in mobilizing resources and implementing interventions that between now to 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, the UN target to reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100 000 live births should be realised.