ASAP Project: Transforming COVID-19 Into an Opportunity
FIGO’s Advocating for Safe Abortion Project (ASAP) - celebrating achievements and transforming COVID-19 into an opportunity.
Since its inception in April 2019, the Advocating for Safe Abortion Project (ASAP) has made some clear progress towards strengthening access to safe abortion for women and girls. Every year more than 35 million women have abortions in unsafe conditions, and the need for this intervention, as well as for the prioritisation of essential sexual and reproductive health services in general, could be exacerbated even further by the COVID-19 pandemic. For these reasons, the five strategies used by ASAP are today even more relevant than ever.
Strengthen management and organisational capacity of FIGO’s member societies
All 10 member societies involved in the project have successfully established a Project Management Unit (PMU) and equipped it with the right skills to implement the ASAP’s activities. The project team at FIGO HQ supported capacity building efforts through developing key resources, conducting monitoring visits and trainings, facilitating experience sharing, and providing continuous support remotely in the areas of project management, advocacy, communication and M&E.
The societies on their side brought all the technical expertise around the specific theme of safe abortion, including the legal, medical and social aspects hindering or enhancing the availability of services for women and girls in their specific context. To ensure the sustainability of the member societies’ advocacy role, some societies like SOGOCI in Cote d’Ivoire have also established regional chapters to increase the capacity to raise awareness, deliver trainings and collect data around abortion at local level.
Contribute to increased acceptance of safe abortion
Stigma around abortion and women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health (SRH) is known to be one of the main barriers to the provision of safe abortion services. ASAP dedicates key resources to awareness-raising and sensitisation activities. In Mali, work started in-house to clarify the relationships between Islam and abortion to the doctors of the society (SOMAGO) through the support of a well-lit Imam.
The Ugandan Society (AGOU) engaged media as a key stakeholder to reach the wider community; abortion-related pieces were published on local newspapers and broadcasted on radio and TV, triggering greater public debates around the topic. Similarly, media played a key role in the launch of the Safe Choices campaign in Zambia. The campaign, developed by the local society (ZAGO), aims to raise awareness around safe abortion among adolescent girls through IEC material and community dialogues.
Communication and sensitisation about legal framework and guidelines
Information sharing and sensitisation around the legal and medical aspects of safe abortion have also proved to be essential for a greater access to services. In Peru, our member society (SPOG) has worked closely with the local NGO Flora Tristan to raise awareness among local women on their right to access therapeutic abortion services, and the consequences of teen pregnancies and unsafe abortion.
KOGS, our Kenyan society, held a very successful webinar (attended by 189 participants, mostly KOGS’ members) to provide information and facilitate discussions around the national legislation, unsafe abortion and post-abortion care.
In all countries, our project has not worked in isolation. A key achievement so far has been the establishment and strengthening of advocacy networks that enhance collaboration with other like-minded professional organisations, NGOs, and women’s rights groups. At times, these networks include the local Government, such as the ACAC Advocacy Network in Cameroon where the Department of Family Planning (MoH) leads the network together with the local society (SOGOC).
Collaboration with local institutions has proven to be essential for the advocacy objectives of the project, and the fact that our Kenyan society (KOGS) has been consulted by the Senate on the design of the Reproductive Health Bill has been a great example of how highly FIGO’s member societies are considered for their professionalism and knowledge.
Generation and use of evidence
Despite it being a strong cause of maternal mortality, data around abortion at local level is still scarce and inconsistent. ASAP includes a component of research and data generation that is essential to basing our advocacy on solid evidence. The Panamanian society (SPOG) has prioritised in the first year of the project training health professionals on the existing national Health Management Information System to ensure systematic collection of reliable data on women’s SRH and, in particular, perinatal and abortion issues. With a similar objective, the member society in Mozambique (AMOG) conducted an assessment of facilities, commodities and health systems’ readiness to highlight the gaps hindering the implementation of the national guidelines on safe abortion.
The COVID-19 pandemic that boomed at the beginning of 2020 has had a huge impact on the project. All 10 societies, and our FIGO HQ office, had to adapt to new ways of working given the travel restrictions and social distancing measures imposed by most countries. Our teams have taken this challenge as an opportunity, rather than an obstacle, to show resilience and commitment in promoting safe abortion. We have learned how to organise virtual meetings, trainings and webinars and as such the pandemic has shown us how we can be even more connected regardless of the physical distance.
We have created a global Project Newsletter to share best practices and some PMUs have used the time in confinement to strengthen their advocacy strategies. In Benin (CNGOB) the project team has prepared a very detailed Advocacy Plan analysing the local context, identifying key stakeholders and defining advocacy and communication objectives.
However, the pandemic has reinforced once more the importance of this project. In some countries, opposition groups have used COVID-19 to undermine women and girls’ SRHR and the right to Safe Abortion. This is why FIGO and some of our member societies have issued statements that affirm how, now more than ever, ‘Access to reproductive health services for prevention of unsafe abortion is a time-sensitive health care provision required by women and girls and that they must be provided for.’ (Zambian society –ZAGO’s statement on COVID)
And now on to our next task: to properly celebrate International Safe Abortion Day on the 28th of September. Watch out for our global webinar on telemedicine and self-managed abortion (24th of September) and for a number of activities at national level.