Rebecca Gomperts (Netherlands)


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After 10 years:

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Rebecca Gomperts studied medicine and visual arts in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. After her studies she became an abortion provider and sailed as a ships doctor and environmental activist on board the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior. While sailing in South America she met many women who greatly suffered due to lack of access to reproductive heath services and safe, legal abortion. These women and their stories were the inspiration for her to start Women on Waves in 1999. On board a Dutch ship, the abortion pill can be provided safely and legally to women with unwanted pregnancies, once it sails outside the territorial waters of countries where abortion is illegal,  On the invitation of local women’s organizations, Women on Waves set sail  to Ireland (2001), Poland (2003), Portugal (2004), Spain (2008) and Morocco (2012) The campaign in Portugal catalyzed the legalization of abortion in February 2007. In Rrecent years Women on Waves initiated safe abortion hotlines  around the world.  The first “Abortion Drone” was launched In 2015.

In response to a growing number of help emails from women around the world, Rebecca founded Women on Web, an online medical abortion service in 2005. The service supports women living in countries where safe abortion is not available, to obtain information and access abortion pills. Every year Women on Web helpdesk members answer more than 100.000 emails from women all over the world.

In 2011 Rebecca completed a Masters Public Policy at Princeton University and in 2014 she completed her PhD at Karolinska Institutet

Rebecca Gomperts also wrote a novel “Zeedrift” and published articles and essays. Rebecca Gomperts received the MS Women on the Year 2001 award, the Women making History award by Planned Parenthood of New York City (2002), the Clara Meijer-Wichmann Penning of 2002 by the Liga voor de Rechten van de Mens, the Margaret Sanger Woman of Valor award (2004) and the Global Women’s Rights Awards, Feminist Majority Foundation (2007) and Women deliver 100: the most inspiring people delivering for girls and women (2011). Allan Rosenfield Award for Lifetime Contributions to International Family Planning (2012). She was named as one of the global thinkers 2015 by Foreign Policy.

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“Many women are dying because they are being denied the most fundamental part of human existence, namely to decide about their autonomy, their bodies, whether and when they want to have children.”

Rebecca Gomperts works with local women’s groups to prevent unsafe abortions and empower women to exercise their human rights to physical and mental autonomy. In 1999, Rebecca Gomperts founded the organization, Women on Waves, which operates a mobile abortion clinic on a ship. Despite threats and protests from anti-abortion groups and governments, it has sailed to various countries where abortions are illegal. While in harbor, the ship provides contraceptives, information, and counseling. After sailing into international waters, early medical abortions are provided safely in the clinic.

A sailor’s worst fear is to run into stormy waters. But Rebecca Gomperts’ life, both on and off ships, has been marked by her fearlessness in the face of these storms. In her fight to defend women’s most basic human rights, she has taken on governments, the media, and anti-abortion groups, regardless of the threats and obstacles they put in her way. The turning point in Rebecca’s life came in her late twenties. A medical doctor, she embarked on a life-changing stint of working aboard a Greenpeace ship around South America: “In Latin America, I listened to appalling stories about the desperate measures women take when they cannot have abortions legally. They are dying because they are being denied the right to decide about their bodies and whether and when they want to have children.” The more research she did, the more resolute she became to help prevent women from dying every six minutes as a result of an unsafe, illegal abortion. It took a huge leap of imagination for Rebecca to hatch her extraordinary idea of offering safe, legal abortions aboard a ship in international waters. Like most brilliant schemes, it was shot down in flames by those who first heard it and it triggered fierce debates around the world. “I suddenly realized that ideas are dangerous. Anti-abortion groups were sending threats and I was very scared. But this injustice was crawling under my skin and would not let go.” Six years on, Rebecca’s ship has sailed out to three countries where abortions are illegal, despite every possible attempt to stop her. Each trip has profoundly influenced the way abortion is discussed and has empowered local women’s organizations to get the issue on their country’s political agenda. “The ship will never be able to help all the women who need it. But we can inform them and we have greatly influenced the way abortion is perceived. And this is just the beginning.”

Women on Waves

Europe | Netherlands