‘And for how long will we let ideological agendas kill women in silence?’

I want to share with you a speech given by a young Moroccan doctor and sexual and reproductive rights activist by the name of Imane Khachani. I’ve been extremely fortunate in securing an interview with Dr Khachani – ! – which I’ll share with you quite as soon as it’s conducted. This is a video I found during the course of my research, and it’s well worth a viewing. A transcript follows.

Transcript of “Imane Khachani on Young People and Sexual & Reproductive Health” from WomenDeliver on YouTube:

Title card (green writing on a white background): There’s an arrow in the top left corner pointing downwards right, next to the title ‘Accelerating Action on the MDGs’ and the subtitle ‘Delivering for Girls, Women, and Babies’. In bold below is ‘Imane Khachani, member of the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights’.

We change to a shot of Khachani, who is standing at a podium. Behind her are a person in a suit and tie, and a black background with the bottom of a screen on it, on which are visible a hand, a piece of paper with writing on it, and ‘Invest in girls and women’.

Khachani: Thank you. Salam alaykum [Peace be upon you – thanks for the translation, Melinda!]. Great. I want to hear that louder [making an “up the volume” gesture and laughing]. Thank you. It’s such a pleasure to be here for me and to see you again: passionate women’s health advocates, youth sexual and reproductive health and rights allies, and, of course, very, very dear friends. My name is Imane Khachani, I’m a physician from Morocco, and I’m here on behalf of the Youth Coalition for Youth Sexual and Reproductive Rights.

I’m of course very happy to see you, but I have a bit of mixed feelings seeing you because, if we meet again today, it’s to share the grave concern over the unacceptably low progress made on reducing maternal mortality. And I look forward to the day I’ll see you to share drinks and laughter over those good old days we were working for MDG5. But, as it turns, this is not happening, and ten years after the 2000 summit, MDG5 is the one MDG that is most off track.

Hundreds of thousands of women, particularly young women and adolescent girls, continue to die from totally preventable pregnancy and childbirth related causes, and millions of others to suffer lifelong complications. I can possibly not find the words to describe the frustrations these realities generate in me, first as a woman, second as a physician, and third as a sexual and reproductive rights activist. And I can see the same frustrations in the eyes of so many of you very dear friends present here.

But as I look into this vast audience, I can also see power. I can see power to make the difference in the lives of the millions of women and adolescent girls. I see power to, one, eradicate a crime. It’s a crime, that of child marriage. Through legal reforms on age of marriage, and effective implementation of this reform, so that adolescent girls do no longer die of pregnancies their bodies are too immature to bear. I see power to make girls’ access to quality education, including comprehensive sexuality education, a priority. Because there’s no investment more effective for achieving development than educating girls. I see power to repel archaic laws that are divorced from young people’s sexual and reproductive health realities, that deny their sexual and reproductive rights, and their autonomy over their own lives and bodies. I see power to provide young people, especially young women, with quality, accessible, and affordable comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, including lifesaving contraceptives. Contraception is lifesaving, with no restrictions, no constraints whatsoever.

I see power and I see wisdom to recognise that unsafe abortion is a reality. And it’s a reality that moralistic discourses fail to end. It’s there. [Applause starts to break through the speech.] It’s a reality that kills over sixty- [Khachani pauses for applause] it’s a tragedy that kills over sixty-eight thousand women annually, half of which are under the age of nineteen. For how long will we ignore these figures? And for how long will we let ideological agendas kill women in silence?

Last, but not least, I see power to invest the money needed for all of that. In our past-slash-ongoing financial crisis context, this is a big challenge. But, as you gather with your fellow policymakers back home to set funding priorities and allocate budgets, remember that the tragedy of young women dying in pregnancy and childbirth could have the face of your mother, of your wife, of your daughter, of your sister, of your granddaughter, if you have any, and ask yourself what wouldn’t you do for them. Consider that all girls are your daughters, that all women are your mothers, all women are your sisters, all women are your wives – but this is just a metaphor for the last one [laughs]. Give, give, unwanted pregnancy, give haemorrhage, give postpartum sepsis your close one’s face. Try to feel how denied access to contraception or to safe abortion, how missing [inaudible] or absence of an ambulance is experienced by millions of women and men worldwide.

And with this in mind, set your country’s priorities and allocate your budgets. And with that, maybe I’ll be able to see you soon, someday, and we’ll cheer to the good old days, fighting for an MDG that’s proudly fulfilled. But don’t take too long. 2015 is just around the corner, and women and girls can no longer wait, and they can no longer die.

Thank you.


6 comments for “‘And for how long will we let ideological agendas kill women in silence?’

  1. Melinda
    March 13, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    After “thank you,” she says salam `alaykum, which is a greeting in Arabic. It literally means “Peace be upon you” but is used as “Hello” in Morocco and many other Arabic-speaking countries.

  2. March 13, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    Thanks, Melinda! I’ll edit to add that.

  3. March 13, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    Wild applause.

    I get so tired of anti-choice forces claiming the moral high ground around the issues of contraception and abortion. I am a moral person, and I support comprehensive education and reproductive health care for women, because my moral code demands it.

  4. Alison
    March 13, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    Exactly, Jennifer. I get so frustrated with people who try to claim morality based on treating women like second-class citizens, like property. That’s no morality I know…it leads to pain and suffering and struggle.

    This was powerful, it’s always so refreshing to hear these things spoken strongly and proudly. I wish it happened more often, from more people! But I am thankful for those fighting this fight, and they help keep me motivated in it as well.

  5. Tony
    March 15, 2011 at 12:44 am

    She’s beautiful. I know that shouldn’t matter, but what the hell.

    Here is a link to the Millennium Development Goals #5

  6. March 20, 2011 at 8:16 am

    Such a powerful and moving speech. It had me tearing up. Thank you for sharing.

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