By Shambhavi Saxena:
Stigma is quiet. It looks like lowered eyes. It feels like a knot in the stomach. It is all the weight of unspoken rules and taunts and whispers across the room, and the pointed fingers of people around deciding the course of our lives for us, and it needs to stop. Ending the stigma around abortion has been one of the hardest things to fight for in a world that treats women’s bodies as incubators. But sheer grit and determination has led a host of people to keep the conversation going, especially through interesting and arresting mediums of art and expression.
For instance, in Adelaide, an organization called Reproductive Choice Australia brought the issue of abortion stigma to the streets with a flash mob. Even if you grew up watching Bollywood numbers where everyone in the vicinity miraculously coordinates their dance moves, seeing a flash mob unfold in front of you is always going to grab your attention, and people usually stick around to find out more.
In another time-zone, as part of a University of Michigan exhibition, artist Heather Ault took visitors through the history of contraception and abortion with her poster series, ‘4000 years for choice’. With colours that really pop from the canvas, Ault’s posters are informative and cover a wide range of cultures.
Podcasts are easily accessible on any handheld device, and a running series like The Abortion Diary is making full use of this growing medium. The website is an “intersection of self-expression, healing, and the art of story-sharing and story-listening.” Founder Melissa Madera, has collected over 110 stories from 9 states in the US, some of which date back to the 1950s. Given the sensitive content, the episodes can be listened to in the privacy of your headphones, without any interference. It is also possibly the most portable form of expression that can be listened to even while commuting, hitting the gym, or doing the dishes. More importantly, The Abortion Diary is letting women take control and tell their stories in their own voices, stories that could become a part of the healing process for themselves and others.
Founded by Megan Smith, the Repeal Hyde Art Project’s mission is pretty clear. Targeting the regressive Hyde Amendment, which prevents American women from using Medicaid (a program for low-income people) to pay for abortions, the project encourages people to write their reasons for rejecting the amendment on bird-shaped pieces of paper, which are then to be placed in public spaces. As their tagline goes, it is “Art to create dialogue and awareness”.
Over and above all of these are organizations that support and promote individuals and groups that seek to create change. The Abortion Conversation Project offers grants to those working to end the stigma, including the Repeal Hyde Art Project, and other organizations in the US, as well as India and Pakistan.
All of these are in their own right breaking down the Great Wall of Silence that has been responsible for the mental and medical ill-health of every individual denied the right to safe abortions. Through creative and collective efforts, we can move towards transformative action that will allow women alone to have control over their own bodies.
With inputs from CREA.