By Sarah Soysa for the #4FRIDA project
Abortion is restricted in Sri Lanka and talking about abortion rights itself leads to a lot of stigma and discrimination. FRIDA Advisor Sarah Soysa shares her experience of mobilizing resources and funds to campaign around this issue as a young feminist activist.
Video from the IT’S HER RIGHT safe abortion advocacy campaign in Sri Lanka. The video tells real life stories of why people decide to have an abortion but face challenges in having a safe procedure. There are more than 600- 700 abortions happening every day yet the law related to abortion is Sri Lanka is restricted.
“How can I find money to fund abortion related awareness raising programmes and advocacy work?” This was the biggest concern I had when I first started volunteering. Safe abortion has always been an issue close to my heart because many women and girls I personally know have had the unsafe, awful abortion experience in Sri Lanka.
I was volunteering and was the chairperson at the Youth Technical advisory panel in The Family Planning Association of Sri Lanka (FPA) some time ago. We had a vibrant, energetic passionate team of young people in our committee ready to do anything for rights! As a consequence we initiated and conducted many youth focused sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) projects BUT not any specific activity or a study related to abortion or any material related to abortion.
In the past, money that was allocated for SRHR rarely went towards issues of abortion simply because it was not sensible for the organisation to get into trouble with the law of the country by going against it with the situation of the country. Nevertheless FPA Sri Lanka has now become the pioneer organisation working towards safe abortion advocacy in Sri Lanka and their contribution towards the cause is greatly appreciated! Not only this organisation, many other organisations I worked and volunteered for never had the ability to provide us with money to talk about safe abortion issues, or research about the implications on young people as a result of legal and socio cultural restrictions towards safe abortion.
Surprisingly after Women Deliver 2013, I got the opportunity to work with Asia Safe Abortion Partnership where they actually gave money to young people in Asia to continue their work on safe abortion. This was an amazing moment where we could actually do something in the country towards relaxation of abortion laws. We did a study with university students on their attitudes and perceptions on abortion and contraceptive usage and several advocacy campaigns and advocacy videos. IT’S HER RIGHT campaign was the ultimate product of this seed funding we received.
I used my passion, talent and motivation to speak up about abortion in different forums and sensitize more people through social media. I got a lot of threats, blame and disrespect as responses but at the same time I received calls and messages asking for guidance and information on medical abortion and other abortion related complications every week, which made me more motivated to keep doing my advocacy work. Unfortunately many stakeholders, the state and most NGOs still find it difficult to view abortion as a right of a woman. he restrictive law related to abortion is a violation of women’s human rights, despite the fact that Sri Lanka has ratified most of the existing treaties etc including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). There is minimal attention paid to making safe abortion legal because there is low maternal mortality in Sri Lanka. Ironic! Because it looks like mortality rates have to go high in order for the state to legalise safe abortion!
Seeing how my fellow workers at The Grassrooted Trust raise funds to follow their passion and work towards issues that are not funded or supported by the state or other NGOs/INGOs due to political and legal reasons, raising their own funds engaging in super creative innovative fundraising and transformative work has kept me motivated to do something more! Even though it is hard! Their Shear Madness campaign is a great example for innovative fund raising where they shaved heads, raised funds and supported the economic independence of marginalized communities.
I received an email recently from the same organisation Asia Safe Abortion Partnership, saying that they would like to provide funding for a safe abortion hotline in Sri Lanka! Dreams do come true! Passion will always find a way! With my passion and the motivation of seeing other activists work towards defending certain rights of people that are not generally defended, made me say “YES” I would love to start a safe abortion hotline in Sri Lanka!
And we are going to kick start our hotline in 2015 hopefully!
You can do anything as long as you have the passion, the drive, the focus, the support and the MONEY! 🙂
Sarah Soysa is a current advisor for FRIDA. Read her profile here.