It is naive to think that the restrictive laws we impose on the bodies and sexualities of women do not have far reaching consequences on our societies. The majority of issues we cover on the sexuality blog, even issues that do not directly affect women can often be traced back to women’s right issues, particularly the right of autonomy over one’s body. This is especially true in Africa’s third world countries, where a lack of access to education and opportunities that would otherwise enable women gain some independence have kept them at the mercy of the men in their lives and at the mercy of the government at large. This force dependency and the restrictive laws under which these women are expected to live continue to force them to commit so incredibly heinous acts of self preservation. Acts they would otherwise not need to if healthcare options, especially contraception and sexual health education were available to them.
In 2015, the United Nations released a report on the West African country of Senegal, urging that the country’s predominantly Muslim government consider the option of decriminalising abortions. Senegal’s current laws forbid abortions no matter the circumstances and offer strict punishment for women accused of performing abortions. The UN report asked that abortions be allowed in extreme cases of threat to the pregnant mother’s life, rape, incest and when a foetus has been diagnosed with a life threatening congenital defect. The report argued that when women have no recourse, they will take matters into their own hands and resort to illegal abortions or worse, infanticide. The Senegalese government ignored the UN report and kept its laws.
In 2017, the New Yorker visited Senegal on the invitation of El Hajj Diallo, president of the Mbeubeuss landfill waste collectors collective in Dakar Senegal. Diallo has begun, with the blessing of his collective to push for Senegal’s restrictive abortion laws to be reformed. His reason is very basic, the landfill was beginning to record a staggering number of discarded foetuses, either prematurely aborted or died shortly after birth. The report that followed is quite horrifying. 51,000 women were estimated to have committed abortions in Senegal in the last few years, and one in five women serving jail sentences in Senegal’s prisons were convicted of infanticide.
51,000 illegal abortions, is directly equivalent to 51,000 women who put their lives at risk rather than conform to Senegal’s restrictive laws. That number will only rise, if Senegal doesn’t turn its ear away from religious lobbyists and prioritise the lives of half of its citizenry.