Last Saturday, 22-year old Stella Matutina’s lifeless body was found dumped in a 30-metre rubbish pit in Gatsibo District. Investigations by the National Police show that her medical officer lover disposed her body after a botched illegal abortion.
According to the Executive Secretary of Rwimbogo Sector, John Mushumba, the tragedy occurred when the illegal abortion procedure, which took place at her boyfriend’s house, went belly up. Sensing that matters were critical, the boyfriend and the medical workers who attempted the procedure, tried to transfer her to the local clinic but she then breathed her last on the way there. According to the police, that was when they chose to dump her lifeless body in the pit and flee the area. The Police has now launched a manhunt for the individuals involved in her senseless and, frankly, unnecessary death.
On more than one occasion I’ve railed against the situation in Rwanda, where women are forced to undergo back-alley abortions, performed without proper medical equipment and personnel, because we’ve outlawed abortion in all but a few very specific circumstances. I’ve argued that forcing a woman to choose between a life-threatening shady operation and giving birth to an unwanted child was unfair. To both the mother and the child in question. If I didn’t discuss this case with a female friend of mine my column this week would have been another pro-choice piece. However, something she told me struck a nerve. When I asked her opinion on abortion she said, “an abortion should be something that no one wants for a woman”.
Her statement got me thinking; perhaps I was going about this all wrong. Instead of debating the pros and cons on legalising abortion, what we needed to discuss is why they were getting pregnant in the first place. A recent study by the National University of Rwanda’s School of Public Health and the Guttmacher Institute found out that a whopping 47 per cent of pregnancies are unintended. Even though the spate of unintended pregnancies is sometimes jokingly referred to as the ‘Kigali Proposal’ (the story being that a woman forces a man to marry her by getting pregnant), this is no laughing matter.
It is surely an indictment on not just the couple engaged in unprotected sex but the entire society when almost half of pregnancies are unplanned. No one comes off in a positive light.
To change this embarrassing situation it is not enough to ask why the couple did not use birth control. What we need to ask ourselves is, why are so many of us naïve about the birds and the bees? As parents, are we giving our children the ‘sex talk’? I can remember the talk that my father gave me when I was 18. His words have never left me. He said, and I quote, “you know that AIDS kills, right”? That was the end of it! In school, we learnt about reproduction in biology class and that was it. Not how to use a condom, not how to use birth control pills or IUDs. Our churches taught us that sex was sinful and shameful; what that taught us was that sex was something that shouldn’t be planned (because that would mean that we were sluts going to hell). At the end of the day, all this produced was an unhealthy and hypocritical relationship with sex that caused it to become an act that was unplanned and unsafe. As a society, we’ve hidden our heads in the sand like ostriches; we pretend that we aren’t having sex while everyone, Christian, Moslem, atheist, villager, city slicker, rich and poor is engaged in it. On a daily basis. Numbers don’t lie.
The spates of abortion deaths are simply a manifestation of our society’s uncomfortable relationship with sex. And, sadly, until we actually face this aspect of ourselves, Stella Matutina’s death will certainly not be the last The New Times reports on.
The writer is a post-graduate student