Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights: 25 Years of Taking a Stand for Access to Safe, Legal Abortion for All Women and Girls

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WIA joins Aika van der Kleij, coordinator of the Women's Global metwork for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR) in retracing the steps of the network, since the time it was founded in 1984 and in envisioning an even more challenging future.

The Seeds of Solidarity

WGNRR has a long history. Its origins were with a group of primarily European/ Socialist--Feminist women who came together to share information and strategies, and to find mutual support in their fight for safe and legal abortion. They formed an International Campaign for Abortion Rights which was coordinated by a group in London. With the influence of Latin American women then living in Europe, this group later expanded to include the issues of access to safe and legal contraception and sterilisation, and changed its name to International Contraception, Abortion and Sterilisation Campaign (ICASC).

In 1984, ICASC organised the fourth International Women and Health Meeting (IWHM). Women from Asia and Africa as well as from Latin America, Europe and North America participated. This meeting made the decision to change the organisation from ICASC to Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR). With this name change came a change in focus too. In addition to addressing issues of contraception, abortion and sterilisation, there was an emphasis on the context in which such services were made available to women.

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In the next IWHM held in Costa Rica in 1987, WGNRR members decided to launch the Campaign on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity with actions focused on an International Day of Action on Women's Health. May 28th was chosen as the date marking the day the decision to launch the campaign was made.

In this same meeting, many women proposed that work should be started in the area of maternal morbidity and mortality. Because deaths from unsafe abortion is a significant aspect of maternal mortality, it was decided that the focus of the campaign be the legalisation of abortion. However, women from several countries thought the best way to introduce abortion issues in their countries was through addressing maternal mortality and morbidity since abortion issues could not be tackled openly.

In 1990, another members' meeting was organised at the 6th IWHM in Manila, Philippines. By then, the Global network had grown and included members from Africa, Asia-Pacific and Eastern Europe. Broad policy decisions were taken regarding the future direction of the campaign. They particularly reaffirmed reproductive rights as a political movement. The campaign on Maternal Mortality and Morbidity (MMM) 19881998 was continuing, with its annual Call for Action focusing on a specific theme.

A Growing Tree

May 28 has become the day on which an increasing number of women's groups, and national and regional women's health networks organise a wide variety of activities focusing on different aspects of the Campaign and women's health. The themes take on different profiles in different regions, with varying regional involvement and actions. The Coordination Office (CO) plays the role of motivator for local activities. The selection of topics involves consultation with various groups, participation in meetings, and calls for ideas.

Because the topics change yearly, the level of involvement of the members varies, depending on the relevance of the issue to their respective organisations. Some members focus only on May 28th while others work on the issue for months. For example, Latin America focused on abortion from May 28th--September 28th annually. Abortion was and continues to be one of these topics.

Each year, background information and campaigning materials are sent out to members in three languages. Several members take the initiative to translate the information into their local languages. The method of campaigning on the 28th of May and onwards depended on the members in the different countries. …