A bold new effort to coordinate and catalyze the safe abortion movement across Francophone Africa is under way.
A three-year, $2.6-million grant awarded to Ipas Francophone Africa will establish Le Centre ODAS (Organisation pour le Dialogue pour l’Avortement Sécurisé / Organization for Safe Abortion Dialogue), which will serve as the hub of a new regional network across Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Togo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Co-funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Foundation for a Just Society International, the award designates Ipas as the founding host of what is envisioned as a bold and action-driven network to expand access to safe abortion care in Francophone Africa, where there are an estimated 1.8 million unsafe abortions each year.
“This is a groundbreaking moment,” says Sosthène Dougrou, director of Ipas Francophone Africa. “For the first time, we will bring together the full diversity of those working for abortion rights across the region—young people, advocates, governments, parliamentarians, and global, regional and local partners with technical expertise. Le Centre ODAS is the hub that will coordinate and bolster this unprecedented work in the Francophone Africa region.”
Le Centre will provide technical and operational support and serve as a convener—offering training opportunities, sharing best practices, coordinating strategies and mobilizing funding—so that members of the network will have the resources and skills to support an ambitious effort to expand abortion access throughout the region.
In 2015, an assessment of safe abortion needs and opportunities in Francophone Africa conducted by Ipas found “a vast unmet need” for safe abortion care. Even though most countries have legal provisions for abortion—such as to protect the life and health of the woman and in cases of rape, incest and fetal abnormalities—in many countries these laws have not been translated into actual services for women. There also are strong cultural, religious and political opponents to comprehensive abortion care, in addition to other barriers, such as stigma and lack of awareness of the legality of abortion.
“Le Centre ODAS will work to solve these systemic issues,” says Muadi Mukenge, chief of development and external relations for Ipas. “The demand for a sustained, committed movement for abortion access is urgent, and Ipas is proud to collaborate with regional champions to meet this need. We look forward to sharing our technical expertise.”
Kathryn Andersen, chief scientific and technical officer for Ipas, says the initiative will be driven by Ipas’s sustainable abortion ecosystem framework and will bring to bear Ipas’s decades of experience working across all technical areas of women-centered abortion access. “This is a tremendous opportunity to advance a broad and multi-faceted common agenda for increasing access to safe abortion, and to foster innovation that is rooted in local needs and realities. One of Le Centre’s priorities will be ensuring that policies and programming are designed with women and youth from the region.”
Janet Holt, a program officer with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s Global Development and Population program, says, “We hope this is the start of accelerated progress for women’s autonomy, health and rights in the region— and that it will prove to be an example for how abortion advocates can successfully collaborate at the national and regional level.”