Winner of the 2018 Camille Lepage Award
Physical integrity, in the sense of personal autonomy and self-determination over one’s own body, is a fundamental human right, yet the right is denied to many women around the world who do not have access to contraception and/or safe abortion.
In countries where lives are governed by rules set by tradition and religion, such rights are some of the most difficult to defend and can be a major source of social stigma. Access to abortion is highly politicized, and is a question of power: who has the power to decide on a woman’s fertility and reproduction?
Even though safe procedures exist for medical termination of pregnancy, an average of 164 women die every day from unsafe, illegal abortions (according to the World Health Organization), and nearly 90% are in developing countries. Every year more than 25 million unsafe abortions are performed, almost half of all terminations.
Women without counselling and abortion facilities, often without easy access to modern contraceptive methods, and with little knowledge of female sexuality and reproduction, are forced to carry to term unwanted and sometimes life-threatening pregnancies, or otherwise to resort to high-risk solutions. Many of these cases are juveniles, victims of rape, or women with health problems.
Studies have shown that restrictive legislation does not prevent abortions, but rather prevents access to safe medical care, and thus puts women at risk, in particular poor and uneducated women. Such laws bring higher maternal mortality rates, on average three times higher than in countries with legal abortion. In 2019 abortion is still banned or substantially restricted in 123 countries.
Today, a century after women in some countries were first granted the right to vote, there are still threats to women's rights, even in developed countries such as Poland, Italy and the United States of America, to name only three, where laws thought to be well established are proving to be fragile. I undertook this work not just to tell the stories, but also as a reminder that change is not fully and permanently accomplished until it is accessible to all and understood and accepted by the majority.
Certain names and locations have been changed to protect the women concerned. The report on Egypt was funded by the Camille Lepage Award (2018). The report on El Salvador was funded by the Jean-Luc Lagardère Foundation grant.