Youth campaign for decriminalisation of abortion in Southern Africa


Did you know that abortion rates are higher in countries where abortion is criminalised than in those where it is legal?

Girls and women who are prevented from accessing safe, legal abortions are also likely to face barriers to obtaining and using contraception. As a result, many women are forced to seek illegal and unsafe abortions with dire consequences, including but not limited to death or serious health problems.

Abortion remains a contentious health issue in Southern Africa, with religious, moral, cultural and political objections raised against women’s right to choose even though this right is protected in regional and international commitments. All the countries in the region permit abortion, albeit under very limited circumstances in most, but there are flaws not only in the laws but in their implementation.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, the highest number of abortion-related deaths occur in Africa. In Southern Africa, about 61% of maternal deaths are attributed to unsafe abortion. The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights has started advocating for the decriminalisation of abortion, and the SADC Parliamentary Forum is engaging parliamentarians in discussions, in response to growing concerns.

The Students and Youth Working on reproductive Health Action Team (SAYWHAT), a youth organisation based in Zimbabwe, recognises that young girls are most vulnerable to the risks posed by unsafe abortions. The organisation is planning to launch an aggressive regional advocacy campaign to raise awareness, exchange knowledge, promote safe abortions and call for the decriminalisation of abortion. SAYWHAT will be using a wide range of social media options to raise awareness and generate debate on abortion as one of the key sexual and reproductive health challenges young people face.

The ultimate goal of the campaign is to ensure decriminalisation of abortion in Southern Africa.


As part of the commemorations of the Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortions on 28 September, SAYWHAT will conduct activities including:

  • Social media dialogues
  • Safe Abortion Campaign Award for the most exciting, thought provoking and informative youth campaign on abortion
  • Meet the Experts platform in which youth interact with abortion experts including legal, medical and public health practitioners.

To ensure that the campaign is grounded in sound evidence, SAYWHAT will also be analyising national and regional research through an Engaging Abortion Research for Southern Africa (EARS) platform, which will be both online and physical. This data will play a key role in informing decision makers on policy gaps and socio-economic imperatives around abortion as a public health concern in the region.

At the end of the campaign, a Case Study booklet will be published to provide lessons and recommendations for future social media-based campaigns.


R-SRHR-F LOGO(full Colour)

Zimbabwe youth organisation SAYWHAT has been awarded a grant from the Regional SRHR Fund to develop and run its campaign for the decriminalisation of abortion. The Fund is supported by the Ford Foundation and Hivos Southern Africa.



For more about the situation in countries where abortion is legal and where it is prohibited, see this article in The Lancet: ‘Abortion incidence between 1990 and 2014: global, regional, and subregional levels and trends’. Sedgh, Gilda et al. The Lancet, Volume 388, Issue 10041, 258 – 267.

More on safe abortion campaigns in the region and globally.