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‘Surprised, motivated, inspired, open’: sharing from inroads Partnership Fund grantees

Posted 23 January 2016 12:00 AM by Katie Gillum


Global work can be hard to visualize because we work across different contexts and thousands of miles. We often rely on numbers to convey scale and on lists to convey scope.

But we all know that numbers and lists just don’t capture the transformation that comes from face-to-face meetings, joint strategizing and problem-solving. As a global network, we at inroads daily face the challenge of how to make visible the amazing work and community of inroads members. As managers of the network, Katie and Kati see the connections everyday; one of us gets off the phone with a group in Africa doing abortion stigma drama work, and a few hours later we receive an email from a member working with youth in Latin America using arts and requesting any ideas for other interventions. An abortion stigma scale that someone in Europe would like to use is being tested by someone in Asia. The shared by dispersed actions and the complementarity of network members; work is both surprising and invigorating. Short of sending excited, exclamation filled messages to every email address we have in our stigma-busting community of practice, the best way to amplify the power and energy of the network is to bring people together in physical and virtual spaces to see each other and see the work and effort we’re all undertaking simultaneously.

So let us start with lists, and move on to images, quotations, and summary, as we share more about the first gathering of inroads Partnership Fund projects in Lima in November.

23 people | 10 countries | 7 research and mitigation projects | 3 days

Sharing. Dancing. Singing. Facilitating. Reciprocating. Filming. Speaking. Asking. Listening.



We began by working to understand what brought each of us to the room and what it was that drove the work personally and on all of the respective projects represented in the room.

We mapped out our work and connections and began to see overlaps, beyond the geographical and methodological, in motivation, in groups served, in personality, and in end goals.

To know that we are not alone…there are a lot of projects all over the world that are working to end stigma and discrimination.



With seven different projects under way in different settings and regions, we were faced with the challenge of giving everyone enough time to present the nuance, breadth, and context of the work they are doing while taking advantage of being in the same place to do that sharing and getting to real dialogue about the work. To get a bit of both, we started with unmercifully short basic presentations for two or three projects followed by a “fishbowl” discussion with the featured projects discussing with each other the shared issues and specific questions. The remainder of the group observed and offered additional questions as an audience.


We definitely have continued these discussions for many hours or days longer; the inroads team is working to build more ways to do this type of active, real-time sharing on a more regular basis.

"I feel hopeful and inspired. To realize what some countries have achieved to advance the rights of women using all sorts of strategies is evidence that even in Bolivia, we can do it.

Getting real: What does abortion stigma look like and what is and isn’t working to mitigate it.


As our understanding of each other’s work grew, we talked about the concrete manifestation of abortion stigma in the five different levels at which abortion stigma works, and about the challenges of doing abortion stigma work while being affected by stigma ourselves.

Participants identified shared struggles: lack of sustained funding for abortion and for integrated efforts, bureaucratic inertia, conservative social settings, local discomfort with “difficult” issues, lack of stigma tools and resources in a local language, challenges with recruiting people to join and get active in the work of busting stigma. Many of these struggles are common with all social change preventing the initiation, evaluation, or sharing of work; but the pernicious silence and pervasive sense that not everyone will be on your side compound these struggles for all of us.

To get a start solving these problems, we then partook in consulting with small groups providing new framing or some possible solutions to each of our problems

It raised in me many questions… and gave me more room. Helped me to be aware of the need to go deeper on abortion stigma and to ask myself: What are the stigmas I still believe?

Focusing on theory, skills, and piloting interventions


Though some were more interested in measurement and others in the nuts and bolts of delivery, everyone in the room wanted to understand new interventions for tackling abortion stigma. So on our second day, we delivered a Training of Trainers workshop with three separate modules followed by group critique sessions.

What motivated me are the entry points in the different work settings of abortion stigma reduction.

The framework for tackling the issue of abortion stigma was particularly useful in helping me to unpack stigma. I also found the pathway exercise interesting and it could be a powerful way to connect people to the movement from a more personal and meaningful way. I will use both of these exercises in our training sessions and adapt them in different contexts.

And to respond to the requests we had in advance, we held several stand-alone technical skills sessions on stigma and arts, storytelling for change, and measurement which led to excited conversations, laughter, and clear next steps for starting to use the arts and measurement in abortion stigma mitigation.

This is a new kind of advocacy. A quieter way of doing things. Over time, audiences relax and grow used to talking about abortion.

Creating and then putting strategies into practice


After two full days of sharing on their respective projects and experiences, each participant shared with the group their amazement at the wealth of knowledge and resources that exist in each other. So the final activity was a series of open conversations: requested, offered, and facilitated by participants. This moved the conversation from “what has been or could be done” to what will be done and how to do it. It also brought to the room a clear sense of solidarity and shared purpose.

The diversity of the resources in the room, the intensity, the anger, the desire and the zeal to go on!



As abortion stigma is so frequently silent—baked into the most mundane parts of our worlds, and tied up with the general discomfort that settles around sexuality, gender, and bodies—working to mitigate it can feel incredibly isolating. The act of coming together and so thoroughly enjoying and celebrating each other’s work is an act of breaking stigma in and of itself. Not only will we end abortion stigma, we will enjoy doing so!

Creating metaphors and patterns for our work


I may use this flow of training on abortion stigma: awareness/philosophy, definition/reality, explaining what to do.

We intentionally organized the overall flow of our meeting to resemble the flow of training on abortion stigma:

  1. Connect awareness with philosophy and theory.
  2. Define and demonstrate the reality of what is happening.
  3. Explore the possibilities of what can be done.
  4. Form plans and commitments for what we will do.

By gathering together, we got well beyond the data and lists to seeing each other and the shared struggle; revealing the real work and action that each of us has been undertaking; listening to each other; and together looking in the same direction at a path forward to overcome challenges we share.

As one participant in our overflowing two and a half days together said: “Abortion touches the very essence of humanity.” This meeting allowed us to see how work on abortion stigma, and the work to end it, touches every corner of our world. Coming together to see that shared humanity left all of us at inroads ready for more meeting, more collaborating, more meals together, and more change. Until Bangkok and beyond!

GranteeMtgSmiles GranteeGroupPhoto


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