Competing discourses impacting girls’ and women’s rights: Safe Abortion and Fertility control in Ethiopia, Zambia and Tanzania

This three-year project examines global and national policy discourses surrounding fertility control and abortion, as well as local practices and moralities related to these issues among adolescents in Ethiopia, Zambia and Tanzania. Fertility control and safe abortion exemplify the controversies over sexual and reproductive health policies and the gendered socio-cultural and religious norms affecting girls’ and women’s rights. The dynamics between the law, policies and access to fertility control and safe abortion services differ between Ethiopia, Zambia and Tanzania. Although all three countries have ratified the major international and regional conventions and protocols on the rights of women, including the Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa, the laws regulating access to safe abortion services reflect differing legal histories. For example, judicially, abortion is legal in Zambia but illegal in Ethiopia and Tanzania. In practice, however, Ethiopia is the most liberal of the three countries in terms of legal provision of safe abortion services, and the case of Zambia shows that a liberal abortion law is not a sufficient condition to secure access to legal abortion. Hence, the association between the status of the law and access to safe abortion continues to be unclear, and is a central question for comparison in this research project. Concretely, the project aims to generate comparative knowledge of the interplay between policy, legislation and socio-cultural conditions framing girls’ and women’s reproductive choices. Furthermore, it aims to explore adolescent girls’ struggles and agency to handle their fertility within the given legal, socioeconomic and religious frames, and finally to examine men’s involvement in the reproductive arena with particular emphasis on the power dynamics between men and women pertaining to fertility control and abortion.

Project Management Team

Principal Investigator
ASTRID BLYSTAD is professor in medical anthropology at the University of Bergen (UiB), Norway. Her research interests are in reproductive health with an empirical focus on adolescent sexual and reproductive health, childbirth and infant feeding practices, HIV, mother to child transmission of HIV, female genital cutting and pelvic floor disorders. Her work arises from more than 25 years of research in East Africa. Methodologically her research is grounded in the ethnographic tradition, and in recent years has evolved to combine this with other qualitative and quantitative methods (mixed methods designs). Her theoretical interests are located within socio-cultural theory, social constructivism, critical theory, gender theory, phenomenology and institutional ethnography. Blystad is principal investigator of several externally funded multidisciplinary research projects. Profile picture professor Astrid Blystad
Co-Principal Investigator
GETNET TADELE is Associate Professor of medical sociology/anthropology at Addis Ababa University with more than two decades of research experience on child rights, adolescent health, sexual and reproductive health including HIV/AIDS, podoconiosis and aspirations of rural youth. His publications include numerous articles in prestigious journals and a number of chapters in internationally-published books. He has received a fellowships, academic grants and visiting professorships, and has taught and/or researched in Nigeria, Senegal, Netherlands, UK, US, Australia, New Zealand and Norway. He is a winner of Addis Ababa University’s 2015/16 “Distinguished Research Award”. He also received the 2016 People to People’s Community/Social service recognition award for his contribution to community development. Profile picture Getnet Tadele






Polycarp Africanus

Institute of Social Work

Andrea Melberg


Haldis Haukanes


Kristine Onarheim


Karine Assgaard Jensen




Nega Jibat

Jimma University



Charles Michelo


Emily McLean


Ingrid Miljeteig


Ingrid Solheim


Thera Mjaaland




Karen Marie Moland




Margarete Nzala Munakampe




Andrea Pembe

Muhimbili Univ. of Health and Allied Science



Richard Sambaiga

University of Daar es Salaam




Mulumabet Zenebe




Joseph Zulu




Countries: Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zambia