Unbreakable: Building connections at the inaugural inroads Global Member Gathering

Two member mapping how abortion stigma shows up in the world

With a total of 61 participants from 30 countries around the world, the first-ever inroads Global Member Gathering took place in in Bangkok March 7-11. It was a truly global stigma-busting affair. Our understanding of the diversity of members in the room kept growing the more we learned about each other. By nearly every measure—age, race, geography, gender, personal history, technical experiences, competency, religion, sector of work—the gathering was bursting with complementary experiences and needs.

Who made inroads in Bangkok?

All the participants have been an inspiration to me, and the amount of work happening across the globe on abortion stigma is very motivating and strengthens my commitment to continue the work I do on abortion stigma in my context.

An abortion provider with more than three decades of experience navigating discrimination and stigma as she travels between countries to provide services where they are hard to access * A program officer doing standup comedy to normalize and destigmatize * A researcher at an INGO working with local teams in Africa and Latin America to evaluate and adapt stigma interventions * Former government officials developing local education programming for use in rural areas * A member of a collective democratizing information about and access to medical abortion for independent use * Community based organizations using arts to bust the myths and question stigmatizing attitudes in the community * An INGO intentionally working to use nonstigmatizing language and communication about abortion * Local group mapping abortion access and stigma in their community * A medical student reimagining how abortion can be taught and lead by the users of the service. * Community based group adapting techniques piloted in other regions to a locally appropriate outreach group and curriculum.

holding hands

Attendance was open to all inroads members, with financial support to attend provided through an open application process. Support was based on financial need, interest in sharing specific experiences and tools and learning from other members, involvement in the network, work on abortion stigma, and representative diversity from across the network. For this first gathering, we were able to provide more than 75 percent of applicants with financial support, and were very pleased to have several member organizations support their staff and partner organizations in attending.

In the same way that the cross-section of the attendees listed above doesn’t do the room justice, we know that the 61 people in Bangkok are but a small cross-section of the network’s more than 450 members. So we want to share with the whole membership and the rest of our movement some highlights from the week. And if this report whets your appetite to learn more, also take a peek at inroads’ Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook pages, and check out the Twitter hashtag #wemakeinroads for the real-time updates posted throughout the week.

global member gathering group photo

How do you spend (only) a week busting abortion stigma?

Reading the agenda for the gathering

We knew from our pre-meeting surveying and applications what members wanted to learn more about and what they could share with each other. We took that as our mandate for creating the meeting structure and content. The meeting was entirely participatory, using liberating structures, and principles of non-hierarchical organizing. The week was filled with small-group discussion, artistic inquiry, mission-building sessions, talk show panels, lightening rounds of sharing, abortion stigma-busting videos, member-led open sessions, and deep group discussion of our most difficult issues. We worked and shared with each other in a wealth of ways to ensure we truly understand each other’s work, and we now can start to integrate work being done on different levels and different manifestations of abortion stigma.

collective brainsorm, people put post-its on a white board

To understand more about the processes we used and the tools that were shared, please take a look at the set of resources available to members in the inroads Collaboration Workspace—and if you’re not yet a member, you can join to learn more!

Why do we keep asking: Asking for what you need and offering what you can give is a powerful thing

two members having a conversation about abortion stigma

My personal relationship with inroads started as a member. I was working on abortion stigma, abortion access and migrant rights in Ireland at the time and was excited to see just what exactly inroads would do. One of the most powerful values I have explored and committed myself more fully to as I have worked on stigma is the idea that the expertise about abortion, about our bodies, about our experiences, does not sit in the hands of “professionals” or even solely with providers of the services we fight for. For abortion providers, this reorientation of expertise is rooted in deeply trusting the ethical, moral, respecting-the-autonomy-of-others ideals, and being aware of what you as a provider can and should be an expert in: the technical skills to provide and your own experiences of being stigmatized. We are the experts, the stakeholders, and the makers of our own experiences, needs and services. So even though it’s been more than a year since I took the job with the network, I remember strongly the desire to find other people who were seeking out people in their local area who also saw the powerful, silencing stigma for what it was: something that can be changed and stopped.

Global Gathering

The members of the network know best what they have been working on. Members have stories of what worked and what really didn’t work when translating a research tool into Swahili or into language that worked with people from a different city or social group. Members made the tools. Members told the stories. Members fought for changes and have defended each other from attacks online and in local communities.

Inroads members are uniquely equipped to understand how abortion stigma manifests in their contexts and are building new knowledge and expertise on how to address and end abortion stigma. Our job as network builders is to bring you all together to share your lived experiences, expertise, and inspiration with each other. To support and encourage that, the inroads team also brings together an emerging body of intervention practice and evidence generation. These emerging understandings and innovations are influenced by the amazing work inroads members are doing, others in the broader field of sexual and reproductive health, rights and justice, and lessons from other fields who are tackling stigma.

We fully expect that when the next member meeting comes around, there will be new voices, new needs, and maybe some ideas or tasks that we’ll have tried and moved on from. We always want to hear what you want to get and give from the network, so please keep sharing and applying and joining and connecting because in doing so you are shaping the network and the direction of abortion stigma busting in the future.

What do we want? More! When do we want it? More often!

Members stanfing with their arms spread, inviting abundance

Inviting abundance at the Global Member Gathering

More languages. More participants. More time with each session. More time in regions. More social time with other members. More topics covered.

Based on the evaluations and post-gathering conversations, we know that members want to connect with each other *more* in some exciting, heartening, sometimes contradictory ways. We are using this feedback to make all of our future engagements just as productive with some tweaks to allow more time or space for what members want and need.

You should repeat it.

We plan to! The inroads’ secretariat’s work is of, by, and for members, and we hear loud and clear the call for more gathering together and mutual learning. We are happy to announce the plans for the 2nd inroads Global Member Gathering which will take place in 2018. We’ll announce the meeting survey, location, application process and other details as we arrange them. In the meantime there will be opportunities to gather and connect at regional and topical gatherings, a colloquium on intersecting stigmas from April 27th through May 11th, member meet ups at upcoming public conferences, and support for members to travel and provide assistance to each other. Look for announcements about these opportunities on the inroads Collaboration Workspace and this website!

What are members doing next?

In the scant five weeks since we reluctantly decamped and said our “til text time,” members have been making and building inroads. #wemakeinroads has been popping up all over the internetand globe. A video from a joint action at the iGMG was released and has been viewed thousands of times. Whatsapp is lighting up with conversation about the member meeting and tactics and events. Members have shared some of their next steps with each other and are connecting more and more on the inroads Collaboration Workspace, and we invite you to share your next steps in the comment box below, on the inroads Collaboration Workspace, or by tweeting at us @inroadsGlobe!

I am worried as well as excited. I am worried because there is still so much to do in my country and I am not sure when and how I will be able to do it. I am excited because I will be carrying loads of ideas back with me. I will move forward one small step each day.

I am going to take action. Before this gathering, I felt often very disappointed and thought things around abortion will never improve.

Push harder to relinquish our method and allow it to be absorbed by other organizations. I will also keep new places in mind when I plan and deploy our work…the “audience” for my work has expanded.

a hand holding a pen, writing down plans

I will design a research to get perceptions on abortion stigma. Design advocacy campaign for media to reduce abortion stigma in my country.

We continue calling for joint actions from this seamless web of membership.