Harmonizing National Abortion and Pregnancy Prevention Laws and Policies for Sexual Violence Survivors with the Maputo Protocol: Proceedings of a 2016 Regional Technical Meeting in Sub-Saharan Africa
In April 2016, the Population Council, in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Consortium for Emergency Contraception, convened a regional meeting in Lusaka, Zambia, geared toward supporting countries in East and Southern Africa in meeting their obligations under the Maputo Protocol. These obligations include expanding access to women’s reproductive health services – especially women survivors of sexual violence. Government and civil society representatives from six countries participated: Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, and Zambia. Countries were selected based on to their being priority settings for the projects that sponsored the meeting, coupled with the fact that they were each far enough along in addressing post-rape care to be able to develop concrete policy, programming, and/or legal action plans by the end of the meeting. The meeting was the first activity in a joint project of technical assistance by the conveners, aimed at strengthening access to comprehensive post-rape care for survivors of sexual violence. It aimed to sensitize Member States to their obligations under the Maputo Protocol to expand women’s access to emergency contraception (EC) and safe abortion services, and to inspire them to do so by providing information, research evidence, and a platform for discussion. The meeting deliberations fostered a better understanding of opportunities to broaden access to EC and safe abortion for survivors in the region. Discussions on EC in this regard centered on strengthening EC delivery in the clinical context, decentralizing EC services, increasing community awareness, and overcoming policy barriers. Safe abortion discussions focused primarily on legislation, policy, and integrating these services into existing services for sexual violence survivors. Country-specific action plans were developed to address gaps and weaknesses. The regional technical meeting concluded with a discussion of practical steps that participants could take to facilitate legal, policy, and program reform with respect to pregnancy prevention and safe abortion in their respective countries. The steps revolved around three mainly areas, namely: establishing an evidence base to inform action; creating forums for discussing the issues; and drafting action points to carry the momentum from the meeting forward. This paper details the proceedings from this regional technical meeting – proceedings that are of interest to the field of sexual and gender-based violence (and reproductive health, more broadly) as challenges faced by countries in implementing the Maputo Protocol are outlined, and evidence-informed and practice-based strategies for addressing these challenges are provided.