The award has honored courageous people solving global problems for over 40 years, and Right Livelihood’s jury selected Brookman-Amissah “for pioneering discussions on women’s reproductive rights in Africa, paving the way for liberalized abortion laws and improved safe abortion access.”
Brookman-Amissah has been a powerful advocate for the right to safe abortion since the early 1990s. She served as Ghana’s Minister of Health and then as Ghana’s Ambassador to the Netherlands, allowing her to cultivate relationships with high-level leaders critical for her abortion advocacy work. In 2001, 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. Brookman-Amissah’s efforts supported law reforms in Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Benin, Eswatini and Kenya—as well as improved the implementation of abortion laws in Ghana, Zambia, Malawi, Senegal and Mauritius, among others.
“I feel indeed greatly honored by this award—a recognition of my work on the highly stigmatized issue of abortion,” Brookman-Amissah says. “But more than that, I am happy and hopeful that the award will help bring more attention—globally—to the tragedy of unsafe abortion and the needless deaths and suffering from this totally preventable cause, especially at this time when reproductive rights are still endangered in many countries.”
Each year, 35 million people around the world resort to having an abortion with unsafe methods. The Africa region has long had the highest rates of unsafe abortion, but work to liberalize abortion laws and support health systems in offering safe abortion services has made a dramatic difference. Brookman-Amissah’s efforts have contributed to a 40% decline in unsafe abortion-related deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa since 2000.
The courage to speak up for abortion rights
Brookman-Amissah became a champion for abortion access after witnessing first-hand the suffering and deaths of women in Ghana, and later in countries across the continent. But when she first began advocating, the topic was so taboo that the word ‘abortion’ was barely mentioned in government or international fora.
“For a highly stigmatized issue like abortion, it took some courage,” Brookman-Amissah says, noting that she endured repeated threats to her life by anti-abortion extremists. “But with my small team of committed and highly professional women and men, we forged ahead and managed to bring the issue of unsafe abortion to the forefront of health and rights discourse in Africa.”
Brookman-Amissah has worked tirelessly for decades educating professionals from all sectors of society—government officials, lawyers and judges, health-care providers, religious and community leaders, young people, activists, journalists, women’s movements and more—on the vital importance of abortion access for gender equity and healthy communities. Her dedication to the hard, years-long work of building coalitions for law change and engaging diverse stakeholders to expand safe abortion care is a shining example of Ipas’s proven comprehensive approach to achieving sustainable abortion access.
A lasting legacy
She retired from Ipas in 2014, but Brookman-Amissah continues to champion abortion rights through consulting work and training young advocates. Her lifetime commitment to this cause has helped ensure countless women and girls across Africa have bodily autonomy and are able to determine their own futures.
“Eunice Brookman-Amissah is a legend and reference point when talking about women’s reproductive rights and access to safe abortion in Africa, a continent where more than two-thirds of all abortions remain unsafe,” said Ole von Uexkull, Executive Director at Right Livelihood. “Her 30 years of relentless advocacy helped to move the discussion about abortion from taboo into the healthcare arena, influencing debates and legal reforms all around the region.”
The 2023 Right Livelihood Laureates will be honored during a televised award presentation in Stockholm on Wednesday, Nov. 29.
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