Cultural De-colonization versus Liberal Approaches to Abortion in Africa: The Politics of Representation and Voice

Malvern Chiweshe, Catriona Macleod


Political discussions on abortion in Africa take place in the context of most countries having restrictive abortion legislation and high levels of unsafe abortion. In this paper two major political positions regarding abortion in Africa: a de-colonisation approach based on a homogenized view of “culture”, and a liberal approach based on “choice” and rights are outlined. Using the Questions and Answers sessions of a United Nations event on maternal health in Africa as an exemplar of these positions, the paper argues that neither approach is emancipatory in the African context. A de-colonisation approach that uses static and homogenized understanding of ‘culture’ risks engaging in a politics of representation that potentially silences the “Other” (in this case women who terminate their pregnancies) and glosses over complexities and multiple power relations that exist on the continent. A liberal approach, premised on choice and reproductive rights, risks foregrounding individual women’s agency at the expense of contextual dynamics, including the conditions that create unsupportable pregnancies. The paper argues for a grounded reproductive justice perspective that draws on the insights of the reproductive justice movement, but grounds these notions within the African philosophy of Hunhu/Ubuntu.(Afr J Reprod Health 2018; 22[2]:49-59).

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