A ‘legend and reference point’ for reproductive rights in Africa, Brookman-Amissah’s 30 years of trailblazing work improved abortion access across the continent
Over the course of her career, Ghanaian physician and longtime Ipas leader Dr. Eunice Brookman-Amissah has earned an impressive array of titles—Ghana’s Minister for Health, Ghanaian Ambassador to the Netherlands, Ipas Vice President for Africa, and many more.
Today she adds a new title: Right Livelihood 2023 Laureate. At a televised awards ceremony in Stockholm, she will be honored for 30 years of trailblazing work that paved the way for liberalized abortion laws and improved abortion access in Africa.
This is the first time the prestigious award—known as “the alternative Nobel Prize”—has been awarded for work on abortion and reproductive rights. It is creating excitement and hope among abortion rights advocates in Africa and around the world.
Joyful reactions from around the globe
In Kenya, news of the award arrived at an appropriate moment: just as the Kenya National Nurse Association was launching a new reproductive health/advocacy chapter. Monica Oguttu, a Kenyan nurse, midwife and reproductive health rights advocate who is a member of the Ipas Board of Directors, was at the meeting and reports, “A spontaneous celebration broke out. We were so thrilled to celebrate this honor of Dr. Brookman-Amissah, who has been an incredible role model and ‘super champion’ for abortion rights. Her resilience gives hope to everyone fighting for women’s reproductive and abortion rights.”
Elly Leemhuis-de Regt, former senior advisor on sexual and reproductive health and rights at Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is one of the many colleagues who worked with Brookman-Amissah over the years. “The fact that this award is being given for work on abortion is amazing,” she says. “It will help normalize talking about abortion and reproductive rights and women’s rights, and hopefully energize the communities working on these rights”.
The executive director at Right Livelihood, Ole von Uexkull, calls Brookman-Amissah “a legend and reference point” for reproductive rights in Africa. In announcing the award, his organization noted that when she began her advocacy work in the 1990s, “the term abortion was too taboo to mention, let alone champion at high-level forums. Nonetheless, she tirelessly raised the issue to empower women, enhance their autonomy, improve their health, and ultimately, create an environment where they can thrive personally and professionally…Her advocacy has contributed to a 40 percent decline in abortion-related deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa since 2000.”
Her work with Ipas helped build a powerful coalition for safe abortion in Africa
Anu Kumar, Ipas president and CEO, says Brookman-Amissah’s contributions to Ipas “have had a lasting impact on the organization and we continue to build on what she started. She is an inspiration to many in Africa and around the world.”
Brookman-Amissah joined Ipas in 2001, after serving as Ghana’s Minister for Health and then as Ghana’s Ambassador to the Netherlands. She became Ipas’s Vice President for Africa, establishing and leading the Ipas Africa Alliance for Women’s Reproductive Health and Rights, which worked across the continent on high-level advocacy for abortion law reform.
There were many milestones along the way. Looking back, Brookman-Amissah—who retired from Ipas in 2014 and continues to work on sexual and reproductive rights issues—says an important aspect of her work with Ipas in Africa was “bringing abortion out of the closet and making it a national and regional issue.” Forging high-level partnerships with groups such as the African Women’s Development and Communications Network (FEMNET) was also critical, as these partnerships helped create a coalition of key stakeholders in support of abortion law reforms across Africa. In addition, Ipas staff and leaders helped build the evidence base to support advocacy and implementation of programs to provide safe abortion.
Brookman-Amissah is particularly proud that Ipas contributed evidence to the World Health Organization (WHO) that there was a demand in the Africa region for help in addressing unsafe abortion. WHO’s first technical and policy guidance on safe abortion was released in 2003 at a regional conference on abortion for African policymakers that she led in Addis Ababa.
Brookman-Amissah (front row, fourth from left) with other African women leaders at a 2007 workshop in Nairobi
Throughout her career, Brookman-Amissah organized multiple regional conferences on the topic of safe abortion access. Pictured here at the 2016 Africa Regional Conference on Abortion: From Research to Policy
Now she’s helping forge the next generation of abortion rights advocates
Despite the advances in expanding access to safe abortion in Africa over the past three decades, Brookman-Amissah says abortion access is still a critical issue. “Abortion is still stigmatized and is criminalized in many countries. And women are still dying each day because they don’t have access to safe abortion,” she says. As she told the BBC news in a recent interview, “Many health ministries don’t have the required services even when the law allows for abortion, so this leads to a lot of women undergoing unsafe abortions causing loss of lives.”
This is one of the reasons that Brookman-Amissah’s work today focuses on young advocates in particular. “They are the key to keeping up the fight for abortion rights,” she says, “and I hope the knowledge and experience I share with them will encourage them to keep breaking down the many barriers to abortion access that still exist.”
As Brookman-Amissah continues her work for reproductive rights, her colleagues have no doubt that it will be done with her signature style. As Elly Leemhuis of the Netherlands puts it, “When she enters a room, you see an elegant, smiling lady. And you immediately know, this is a person you must listen to. That is how she entered many rooms, got doors open that otherwise would have remained closed, and raised the issue of abortion—a topic that otherwise would have been left unspoken.”
Read more about Dr. Eunice Brookman-Amissah
The Global Battle for Reproductive Rights – excerpt from New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg’s book ‘Means of Reproduction’
Right Livelihood: photos, videos and biography of Dr. Brookman-Amissah – on RightLivelihood.org
Ghanaian awarded for work promoting safe abortions – in BBC News
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