“Step into our stories” #StepIntoOurShoes – UGANDA

The following blog entry was submitted by Amanda from Uganda:

Abortion is generally illegal in Uganda and is criminalised up to 14 years in prison. However, it is permissible for a doctor under the penal code to carry out an abortion if it places the life of the pregnant person at risk.

Grace’s story

Grace (not her real name) was sixteen years old when she first became pregnant after being sexually assaulted by her boss for whom she had worked for one year as a housemaid. Grace was born to a poor family of eight children, in a remote village miles away from the city. She was neglected as a child and never had the opportunity to go to school. Instead she went to work as a housemaid for a wealthy family that lived in the city. Six months later, while her mistress was at work, her boss sexually assaulted her in the bathroom and told her to keep quiet. Fearing that she would become pregnant, he fired her with complaints of laziness and incompetence. Her boss was worried about his reputation and creating a scandal so he gave her a large sum of money to get an abortion to which she agreed. However, the hospital was not willing to carry out the abortion.

Grace returned to the village where it was done at a cheaper cost by a traditional healer who gave her some local herbs. It nearly cost her her life, subjecting her to severe pain in the lower abdomen and intense bleeding. She was rushed to a local clinic by her relatives who quickly learned that what they thought was a miscarriage had been intentional. Isolation, condemnation and stigma from her relatives and the entire community followed as more people learned about the abortion. Even to this day, after several years have passed, Grace still feels as if she is treated differently than all the other women. She often considers moving to another town to start a better life.

It is not only the shame but also the lack of empathy and ignorance that accompanies abortion, that creates barriers. In many African villages cultures are rooted in traditional fundamentalism and women are expected to be child-bearers, with the experience of childbirth being said to usher a girl into adulthood. It is viewed as an abomination to attempt an abortion and is seen as weakness since the clan leaders consider such women cowards that fear to embrace the endurance of carrying a baby and pain of giving birth.

As a transgender activist who supports the right to safe and legal abortion, I agree that society and communities at large need to respect the right to bodily autonomy and agency of women where no women or girl is forced into motherhood. I also believe that we need to address these rights at a national level and speak up against the oppression of reproductive and health rights such as access to safe and legal abortion.

-By Amanda, Uganda