Stigma is Systemic
By Garima Srivastava, ASAP Asia
“Efforts to increase women’s access to and control over safe, legal, affordable abortions will be limited unless we incorporate a stigma lens and practice into our work and that we need a global community of practice and action to make this happen.” Leila Hessini
Abortion stigma is defined as a shared understanding that abortion is morally wrong and/or socially unacceptable. Stigma gets manifested in multiple ways including in media, policy, throughout institutions, within our individual beliefs, or cultural and religious settings. Before we seek to address the stigma women face, it is important to understand how stigma manifests and why it is difficult to talk about abortion. What about abortion is construed as illicit and shameful?
Stigma is perpetuated through a social process that involves labeling, stereotyping, separating and discriminating against women who have abortions and anyone associated with terminating pregnancy. Abortion stigma is systemic and plays out across multiple levels including: discourse and language, laws and policies, structures and institutions, communities and individuals. Addressing stigma therefore will take understanding and interventions at multiple levels to improve. It’s thus important to understand abortion stigma through an intersectional approach that takes into account the social, cultural, political, and economic processes that affect our lives.
One of the main reasons why abortion is stigmatized is because terminating pregnancies violates socially constructed ideas of female sexuality and motherhood. Abortion stigma is used to control women, and it’s a way to punish women who deviate from the social norms of what a woman should be. It thus is a means of social control that dehumanizes and devalues women. An intersectional approach requires us to move away from the usual pro-choice, anti-abortion debate and shift the conversation to a rights based one that acknowledges that abortions do not happen in a vacuum and that there are socio-political and economic contexts that these choices are made within. Combatting stigma requires us to employ strategies that capture the nuances of intersectional identities, inequalities and privileges of different social groups.
Stigma manifests in multiple ways and how people experience it depends on who they are, where they live, and how they identify. Understanding the complexities and encouraging conversations about abortion can help inform strategies to reduce stigma, which has direct implications for improving access to care and better health for those whom stigma affects. Watch this video to see how encouraging conversations around can go a long way in combating stigma.
Abortion stigma is created to control women but we as advocates can deconstruct it through our contributions by reflecting on how we may be experiencing, creating or perpetuating it in the language we use and the women’s stories we tell. We can envision and create a world where women rights are affirmed and women are respected for the choices they make.