ASTRA Central and Eastern European Women’s Network for Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health

Jun 21 2016

“Speak my language”: Abortion Storytelling in Eastern Europe from a Youth Perspective. A Toolkit Developed by and for Young People with inputs from Georgia, Lithuania, Republic of Macedonia, Poland and Romania - new and very interesting publication by YouAct with great input from ASTRA Youth.

Why abortion stigma? 

We believe it is imperative to consider abortion stigma as a critical issue for youth. We recognise the importance of considering the most human aspects of abortion. There is much more than just abortion rights, and health factors. Abortion is a social reality, a cultural phenomenon, and a human experience. Abortion stigma is a social and cultural event which can lead to social, medical and legal ramifications. The consequences raised by abortion stigma are placed within a context where social norms, health and social policies, and community practices play strong roles on the development of abortion experiences (For more on abortion stigma, see 

Why Eastern Europe? 

Since the collapse of communism, Eastern Europe has witnessed a number of transformations, especially on political and economic levels. Despite progress in the form of economic development and empowerment of civil society as one of the effective mechanisms calling for the accountability of authorities, there are still grey areas to be addressed. The region has to struggle with growing inequalities, social injustice, discrimination, corruption, religious fundamentalism and patriarchal structures. This situation is reflected in a number of fields, including sexual and reproductive health and rights. 

Why this toolkit? 

We believe sharing these experiences can empower youth to create a different human reality by eliminating abortion stigma. Stories have a power of their own – telling and sharing them, can help us develop profoundly, as well as give people the chance to see  what abortion stigma can mean to others.

With this toolkit, we aim to provide organisations, professionals, individuals, and especially youth with a framework to develop their own strategies to use storytelling to draw out the voices from our bodies*, learn to speak a language through which we can satisfactorily communicate abortion stigma, and provide others with the tools to learn to speak our language.

You can view/download the publication here.

*Reference inspired by the work of Frank, Arthur (1995) The Wounded Storyteller: body, illness and ethics. London: The University of Chicago Press

Source: YouAct

Jun 17 2016

“Recent far-reaching changes to Poland’s legal and institutional framework threaten human rights and undermine the rule of law, on which the protection of human rights ultimately depends. Lawmakers and the Government should urgently change course”, said today Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, during a press conference in Warsaw in which he presented a report based on his visit to the country carried out last February.

The Commissioner is particularly concerned by the prolonged paralysis of the Constitutional Tribunal which “bears heavy consequences for the human rights protection of all Polish citizens and prevents human rights proofing of legislation”. He called on the Polish authorities to urgently find a way out of the current deadlock, stressing that “the rule of law requires that any solution be based on respect for and full implementation of the judgments of the Tribunal”.

The new law on surveillance activities also raises serious concerns of incompatibility with international human rights law because it expands the powers of law enforcement agencies, police forces and security services without establishing the necessary safeguards to avoid abuse. “The Polish authorities should increase the protection of privacy and personal data and make the law clearer as to the offences, activities and people subjected to surveillance. They should also remedy the lack of a democratic, independent and efficient system of control of surveillance activities”.

The Commissioner welcomes the efforts underway in Poland to reduce the length of judicial proceedings and the decrease in the use and length of pre-trial detention. However, he remains concerned about recent amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure and to the Law on Prosecution which may jeopardise the protection of the right to a fair trial in criminal proceedings, the presumption of innocence and the right to defence. Referring in particular to the recent merger of the positions of Minister of Justice and Prosecutor General accompanied by the attribution of new powers, the Commissioner noted that “a few countries in Europe do have a prosecutor’s office forming part of the executive authority and subordinate to the Ministry of Justice. However the attribution of such extensive powers to a politically appointed figure without the establishment of corresponding safeguards to avoid abuse of powers poses a considerable threat to human rights”. The Polish authorities should review the new legislation on prosecution services in light of European standards and best practice to secure the autonomy and independence of the prosecution services from political and other interference.

While political influence on public service media pre-dates current reforms, a number of recent developments have worsened the problem. “Putting public television and radio under the direct control of the government runs contrary to Council of Europe standards on media freedom” said the Commissioner referring in particular to changes introduced in December 2015 through the so-called “Small Media Law”. Addressing a broader reform of public service media which is currently underway, the Commissioner urged the Polish authorities to introduce safeguards to guarantee the independence of public service media from political influence. The new arrangements should also fully preserve the role the Constitution gives to the National Broadcasting Council to safeguard freedom of expression, the right to information and the public interest in radio broadcasting and television. The Commissioner is pleased to note that the Polish authorities have since entered into a dialogue with the Council of Europe on this legislation. He also encourages the Polish authorities to consider repealing all criminal provisions against defamation and to deal with it through strictly proportionate civil sanctions only.

The Commissioner calls for more efforts in advancing gender equality, including adequate financial and human resources to institutions dealing with discrimination on the grounds of sex and long-term measures to fight against gender-based stereotypes, particularly in education, employment and the media.

Welcoming the many measures taken by the authorities to combat domestic violence, including the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence in 2015, the Commissioner recommends stepping up implementation efforts. In particular, he calls for additional measures to eradicate gender bias among medical staff, police, prosecutors and judges who deal with women victims of domestic violence and gender-based violence; strengthen the protection of women, including by improving restraining orders and the so-called “Blue Cards” procedure; and increase the effectiveness of public-run shelters for victims of domestic violence and the funding of those run by NGOs.

Commissioner Muižnieks further urges the Polish authorities to ensure that mandatory, comprehensive sexuality education that is age-appropriate, evidence-based, and non-judgmental be taught in all schools in Poland. He also recommends that the Polish authorities remove the persistent barriers in access to contraception for all women throughout the country.

Lastly, he calls upon the Polish authorities to remove all the barriers which still hamper women’s access to safe and legal abortion as provided by Polish legislation. “A first step is to fully implement the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights which condemned Poland three times over the last nine years for hindering access to abortion and, in two of these cases, also for failing to treat humanely the women concerned”. The Polish authorities are also encouraged to further decriminalise abortion within reasonable gestational limits so as to avoid the chilling effect on doctors willing to perform this medical procedure.

Read the Commissioner for Human Rights report on his visit to Poland from 09 to 12 February (also available in Polish)

Read the comments of the Polish authorities on the report (also available in Polish)

Read the report on Poland in a nutshell (also available in French and Polish)

Source: Council of Europe

Jun 14 2016

Women’s rights are human rights

The situation of women in Poland continues to deteriorate – in the recent months we have witnessed a real attempt to further restrict the current law on abortion, which already made it difficult to obtain a legal procedure. The “Stop Abortion” civic committee succeeded in submitting a draft law introducing a complete ban on abortion and a new category into the criminal code – “prenatal murder”, which will  introduce penalty of 3 to 5 years in prison for women, doctors and anyone helping a woman to perform an abortion. The group, supported by the Ordo Iuris, a conservative and anti-choice organization, had already collected the needed 100 000 signatures under its draft law thereby securing its reading and debate in the Polish Parliament, possibly already  in July or early Autumn.

The social movement among Polish society which arose as a response to the current political climate resulted in several civil society initiatives and a rise of awareness in society and growth of public debate around issues such as equal pay, access to health services (especially reproductive health) and effective enforcement of the law and justice for domestic violence survivors.  

This Saturday, June 18th, the Women's Dignity March (Facebook event) is taking place in Warsaw. The protest, with theme of Women’s rights are human rights is organized by a “group of ordinary Polish women” who in a spontaneous reaction to the proposal to introduce a total ban on abortion on April 1st, 2016 decided to organise a protest. The group does not have politicians standing behind tchem and they are not members of feminist organisations. “We work in the film industry, in the corpo-world or are selfemployed. We decided we can use our energy and potential to organise a march. On 18th of June, in Warsaw we will march with the slogan "Women's rights are human rights" to show that we will allow our rights be violated. This is the first step in a long struggle that awaits us.”

What does the Women Dignity March wish to achieve?

RESPECT for our dignity and bodily integrity

RIGHT to privacy, health and life protection

PUNISHMENT for perpetrators of physical and psychological domestic violence




SEXUALITY EDUCATION for us and our children

ACCESS to the newest medical discoveries

The right to safe interruption of pregnancy under applicable law

We demand EQUALITY and respect for women’s DIGNITY!

See message from the organizers with background information HERE

If you wish to show your support please send a photo of yourself with #MarszGodnosci, #DignityMarch and #SolidarityWithPolishWomen to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Source: Women's Dignity March

Jun 10 2016

Ireland’s abortion laws subjected a woman to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, according to a landmark decision from the United Nations Human Rights Committee. This ground-breaking ruling marks the first time that, in response to an individual complaint, an international human rights court or committee has recognized that by criminalizing abortion a state has violated a woman’s human rights.

The U.N. committee ruled in favor of Amanda Mellet, who was denied access to an abortion in Ireland in 2011 after learning her pregnancy involved a fatal fetal impairment and found the prospect of continuing her pregnancy unbearable. The committee held that the Irish government must take measures to redress the harm Ms. Mellet suffered and reform its laws to ensure other women do not continue to face similar violations, as  well as  i instructs the government to guarantee effective, timely and accessible procedures for abortion in Ireland.

In November 2013, the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a complaint on behalf of Amanda Mellet before the United Nations Human Rights Committee, arguing that Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws violated her basic human rights by subjecting her to severe mental suffering and anguish.

Said Leah Hoctor, regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Women’s health and wellbeing are put at risk when laws deny them access to abortion services.

“Today’s landmark decision from the U.N. Human Rights Committee sends the clear message that Ireland’s abortion laws are cruel and inhumane, and violate women’s human rights.

“The Irish government can no longer ignore its responsibility to ensure women’s health. Ireland must now move swiftly to provide Amanda Mellet the justice she deserves and reform its abortion laws.” 

In 2011, Amanda Mellet learned during the course of her pregnancy that the fetus had a fatal fetal impairment. She knew she could not continue with the pregnancy and asked her doctors for an abortion. However because Ireland outlaws abortion in almost all circumstances, she was forced to travel to the United Kingdom to end the pregnancy.

In its decision, the U.N. Human Rights Committee affirms that outlawing women’s access to abortion services can cause severe suffering and undermines their personal integrity and autonomy, which results in acute violations of their human rights.

The U.N. committee unanimously held that prohibiting Ms. Mellet from accessing abortion services in Ireland violated her right to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, as well as her right to privacy. The U.N. committee also determined that Ireland’s failure to provide services that Ms. Mellet required constituted discrimination.


Ireland’s abortion laws are among the most restrictive in the world. Abortion is permitted only when there is a risk to the life of a pregnant woman. In every other circumstance abortion is a serious crime. Since 1983, Article 40.3.3 of the Irish Constitution has placed “the right to life of the unborn” on an equal footing with the right to life of pregnant women.  Because of Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws, every year approximately 4,000 pregnant women travel to access abortion services in a foreign country.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee is an independent expert body that oversees states’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It is charged with a dual mandate in that regard. First, to conduct periodic reviews of state reports on implementation of the Covenant and to issue ‘concluding observations’ on those reports. Second, under the First Optional Protocol to the Covenant, it is mandated to receive individual complaints from alleged victims of violations, to adjudicate the matter and issue its views as to whether a violation occurred. Amanda Mellet’s complaint was submitted in accordance with the procedure under the First Optional Protocol. 

Source: Center for Reproductive Rights


Jun 03 2016

Well planned activities of opponents of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in the Russian Federation are currently in action. Strategies and tactics of anti-choice groups have been modified too in order to let regulations, orders and by-laws pass without public discussion or debate.

As a start the mandatory procedure of conducting ultrasound and listening to the heartbeat of the embryo before the abortion procedure was introduced through a by-law without public discussion.  Moreover the Consent form, which women are obliged to sign before an abortion, now contains misleading unscientific information about risks and consequences of abortions.     

Next objective for anti-choice groups is to introduce additional licensing system for abortion services. If this step will be successful, it will be probably followed by extraction of abortion services from the system of State Mandatory Medical Insurance, which will create barriers for women in accessing the procedure. 

Source: Coalition for Reproductive Choice “The Rowan bunch”                                

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