Mali: Young woman advises fellow citizens to choose legal abortions

| July 23, 2023

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Sitan Traoré is a young literacy teacher in Kita, a town more than 400 kilometres from Kayes in Mali. Every Thursday evening, she takes advantage of her literacy classes to engage in discussions on abortion. Ms. Traoré makes her fellow citizens aware of the possibility of having a legal abortion when necessary in order to reduce the risks associated with secret abortions. Berthe Diarafa Sissoko is a midwife. She believes that women resort to secret abortions because of ignorance of the law and the prejudices of Malian society. Ms. Traoré urges women to seek a legal abortion if necessary to preserve their health.

It’s 2:30 on a Thursday afternoon in Kita, a town 400 kilometres from the Kayes region of Mali. Sitan Traoré, a literacy teacher, settles into her classroom at the Kayes Teaching Academy. She teaches reading and writing to adult men and women who haven’t had the chance to go to school. In addition to her literacy classes, every Thursday, Ms. Traoré discusses the importance of legal abortion with the learners.

She says: “During the discussions, one of the learners who had been raped confessed that she had resorted to secret abortion because of prejudice. Today, she can no longer give birth because her uterus has been damaged.”

Ms. Traoré takes advantage of her literacy class to raise awareness among her fellow citizens of how legal abortions poser a lower risk to women than secret abortions. She says: “I raise awareness in my community so that women don’t suffer the trauma of an unsafe abortion. I live with the after-effects of a secret abortion, and I wouldn’t wish that on another woman.”

Ms. Traoré explains that she is a victim of secret abortion. She says: “I was 17 when I got pregnant. My boyfriend and I opted for a secret abortion because abortion is forbidden in Mali. I lost blood for months, suffered trauma, and almost lost my life.” Ms. Traoré says she resorted to a secret abortion because of prejudices about pregnancies outside marriage.

Today, thanks to medical and psychological care, Ms. Traoré is healthy. She is educating her community to abandon secret abortions. During discussions, she uses her story to explain the consequences of secret abortions. She tells her students that despite the ban on abortion in Mali, in cases of rape or incest, a woman or girl is allowed to have an abortion after consulting a doctor. She says, “In talking to my community, I realized that they didn’t know that legal abortion was possible in certain situations.”

Berthe Diarafa Sissoko is a midwife at the Centre Médico-Social in commune V, Bamako. She says: “In addition to the legal prohibition, Malian society is not in favor of abortion. It is very attached to religion. When a woman dares to have an abortion, her community considers her an outcast. I salute Ms. Traoré’s courage in defying these taboos to raise awareness through her story.”

In addition to the prejudice they suffer, women who have secret abortions suffer risks to their sexual and reproductive health. Ms. Sissoko says that after a secret abortion, a woman’s health can be seriously compromised. The woman may have a ruptured uterus or severe haemorrhage. Other consequences include damage to the genital tract, perforation of the uterus, and infections, which can cause infertility. Women may also suffer from psychological trauma related to the abortion.

Amos Goïta is a sociologist and lecturer at the University of Ségou. He believes that women and girls are increasingly resorting to secret abortions despite the risks, due to ignorance of the law and prejudice. Mr. Goïta states that the secret abortion rate for women and girls in Mali increased from 19% to 23.3% between 2014 and 2019.

He advises women who have been victims of rape or incest to consult a gynecologist in order to benefit from a legal abortion if necessary.

Ms. Sissoko welcomes Ms. Traoré’s initiative. She believes that raising awareness of the risks of secret abortions can help people understand the dangers and abandon the practice. She says that, in addition to Ms. Traoré, awareness-raising is also taking place in Mali’s health centres.

Ms. Traoré concludes: “Life is sacred. But abortion is necessary in certain situations to save a woman’s life. That’s why we must continue to raise awareness in our communities of the need to choose a legal abortion in such situations.”

This resource was produced through the “HÉRÈ – Women’s Well-Being in Mali” initiative, which aims to improve the sexual and reproductive health well-being of women and girls and to strengthen the prevention of and response to gender-based violence in Sikasso, Ségou, Mopti, and the district of Bamako in Mali. The project is implemented by the HÉRÈ – MSI Mali Consortium, in partnership with Farm Radio International (RRI) and Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF) with funding from Global Affairs Canada.