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Individuals, Partnerships and a Network: BIG Questions and Breakout Sessions at the inroads Global Member Gathering 2020 (Part 1)


The 3rd inroads Global Member Gathering (iGMG 2020), which took place in Mombasa, Kenya from 10-14 February 2020, brought together 122 members from across the world, and came at a moment five + years since the inroads network was formed. This was the largest inroads gathering so far, and with the largeness of the gathering came more challenges, strengths, and opportunities! During this gathering, members went deeper into issues and specificities of abortion stigma that the network has been working to address since the beginning and at the same time also raised larger picture questions such as values alignment, decolonization and systems understanding that confront us as an international abortion stigma-busting network. The five days were filled with invented spaces that contained both the micro and macro worlds: the everyday practical work that members do as well as the visions that guide their work.

Embroidering slogans to bust abortion stigma

The following blog-post is the first part of a photo and text series that moves chronologically through the major moments of the 5 day gathering. The first days were structured towards establishing boundaries and recognizing the vastness of experience and expertise in the room, so that members could then delve deeper into nuances of abortion stigma.

Grounding ourselves and Group agreements 

The gathering began on a sunny Monday; during a surprise welcome Giriama dance and song from a local group of performers, inroads members registered and filled out their name tags. For all meetings the inroads team asks participants to put their names and pronouns in lieu of their names and organizations so they can interact with people as themselves and not be bringing power, status, other issues that can cause posturing and miscommunication at meetings. The facilitating team set some  group agreements in order to lay the ground for a safe and accountable space.

Paige and Kati read out the group agreements
Setting group Agreements each morning
Kenyan members Jade, Phyllis and Lilian share with members the Kenyan context around stigma busting
Learning about the context in Kenya around abortions

An important introduction, in order to get to know each other was an Introduction to Kenya, which allowed participants to understand more about the context of the place in which the gathering was happening. Staged in the fun format of a talk-show, our staff member Sheila Odongo engaged Kenyan members Jedidah Maina, Phyllis Mbeke and Lilian Mvuyisi in a discussion about the Kenyan context around busting abortion-stigma.

Asking big questions


Members get to know each other
Getting to know each other and our work

In order to begin conversations and get to know the new and old faces in the room, we facilitated a round of Impromptu Networking, where participants imagined themselves sailing down the Mombasa channel and greeting other co-travellers from across the world. They then shared answers to the questions: “Who do you bring with you? What are you proud of?” with three people they met.

members raise the big questions
Sharing and interpreting our big questions

We introduced an activity called 20 Questions for busting Abortion Stigma where participants who were informed in advance raised one or two BIG Questions from a specific area of work. Following this, members had a chance to respond or elaborate on the nuances of these BIg Questions by responding to them on flip charts across the room in an activity titled Gallery Walk. These were some of the Big Questions raised.

  • How can we build more inclusive movements? 
  • How do we engage young people meaningfully in the work of busting abortions stigma?
  • How do we transition from seeing abortions as a service to a right?
  • How do we continue supra legal work while also addressing policy makers and legal systems?
  • What does a global network/movement of accompaniment and doula work look like?
  • Isn’t it time to think of abortion specific laws as stigmatizing?

Delving deeper into our work

The first two days attendees had a series of Breakout sessions. These were small group thematic discussions guided by experienced members who acted as discussants around specific topics and themes of our work. Each session started with sharing by the discussants but was soon followed up with a vibrant discussion of participants in the room. Here are some notes from some of the breakout sessions!

members engage in small group discussions
Discussing specific topics in smaller groups

1. Closed Session for People Who have had Abortions 

As inroads staff had learned from previous gatherings, this time around this closed session was consciously put in the agenda as part of the main program. It is important to acknowledge the need to centre people who have had abortion experiences in our discussions, and not speak of them as ‘others’. 

2. Nurturing Activism: Retreats, Rituals and Networks

The discussants talked about the essential values to create a community of activists for busting stigma: trust, safe space, inclusiveness, grounding in principles and values, making connections and collective work. The discussants, who were from diverse backgrounds such as abortion doulas, clandestine feminist groups and hotline workers, spoke about challenges that arise in networks. These were namely finding the middle ground between security and accessibility. To address this, some members suggested keeping people with most power up at front while others talked about having a well-designed vetting process. In addition, keeping funding from forcing the work to take a certain direction was another major challenge.  

3. Making inroads into Healthcare: Working towards Radical care

All discussants felt that although they had started processes of SRHR or abortion-centric sessions with doctors and medical professionals, they still had a long way to go as this is one of the toughest groups to shift mindsets and bust stigma in. In addition, curriculums which are not gender-sensitive or rights based make this stigma exponential. Part of busting this stigma is also fighting for comprehensive care and not just post-abortion care. And also fighting to be able to create good content about abortion options, as right now a lot of health care providers provide barriers to disseminating this info.

4. Funding the Gaps

Gathering in a circle to learn from each other

This group emerged to address the scarcity of funding for abortion work,  the stigmatizing nature of abortion funding and also ways to shift the narratives of funding such as by identifying areas of abundance in our work. The three major questions looked at during this session were:

  • In what ways can funding be destigmatized? 
  • How do we address the challenges to funding?
  • How do we change from a perspective of scarcity to abundance? What do we have lots of ?

5. Looking Closer at Stigma Scales

Challenging the limits of our collective wisdom

In this session, discussants shared from their experiences of designing stigma scales and using them in varied contexts. The challenges and limitations of stigma scales that came up had to do with language,  identity, and the difficulties of quantifying certain experiences. The group further delved into working on these challenges of stigma scales namely by addressing the need for inclusive language, pre-cognitive interviews to make sure the words are relevant and understood and also trying out alternatives like social media or maybe just smaller parts of the scale in contexts where it seems necessary to think beyond the scale.

6. Holistic Security & Digital Security

This group came together to share insights and experiences about thinking of legal, emotional security, physical security, digital security. While certain discussants made it clear that there is no such thing as being fully ‘secure’ and therefore, what can be done is defining the threats, making a plan for holistic security and knowing the risks. Participants shared from their different contexts and experiences. 

7. Destigmatizing & Liberating Practices in Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE)

The discussants started everyone off by talking about how CSE is stigmatizing in the way that so many times abortion is not even a part of it. In schools, several times teachers avoid certain chapters, so this community stigma often cuts out abortions. Oftentimes institutions who are responsible for CSE are the ones propagating abortion stigma. Participants discussed practices they are incorporating to move beyond the stigma which include: one-stop centres, videos & digital media

8. Busting Stigma around Later Abortions

The discussants acted out an example of a call between someone seeking abortion care and an abortion accompanist. The premise was of coaching the care seeker through the process, providing as much information as possible about what would happen. Because of laws and resources in their country, they are able to provide pills and information, but are currently unable to act as doulas or accompanantes for the self managed abortions. They said that for later abortions after 22 weeks, they always recommend going to the hospital/ seeking medical care after the beginning of the procedure, especially if medical attention is free.

9. Disability and Abortion Stigma  

Speaking from our lived experiences

Disabled people face a world where access to appropriate health services is hard. Stigma affects disabled people not just in terms of access but operates as a larger system of society’s attitudes, including patriarchy, to people with disabilities. No two human rights compete. There is no contradiction between a person’s right to reproductive choices and a disabled person’s right to independent living choices. However, it is important to acknowledge that differently abled people will have different requirements in relation to abortion rights and reproductive justice.

members raise the big questions
Communicating our dreams and realities

There were also breakout sessions about De-stigmatizing Movements, Re-imagining Faith  and Human-centered & experiential design. And two plenary sessions were organized about the Ethics around Abortion Storytelling as well as on Decriminalization of abortions. 

The mix of big group and small group interactions on the initial days of our gathering created inquisitiveness and desire for deeper engagement and connections on the days to come. 

Do read the second and third part of this blog-post series to learn from other moments of the gathering!