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

Nov 03 2017

The Women’s Resource Center carried out research in September and October to examine whether women in rural communities can access their right to legal and safe abortions and whether they face any obstacles in reaching those services. Representatives of the organisation visited five rural communities and interviewed 50 rural women using focus groups and carried out 5 in-depth interviews.

Though Armenian legislation gives women the right to abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, many women in Armenia, especially those already marginalized, face obstacles to accessing safe abortion facilities. The amendment to the Law on Human Reproductive Health and Reproductive Rights introduced in August 2016, prohibits sex-selective abortions, introduces counselling, as well as a three day period of reflection before the final decision is made on the request for a termination, and defines procedures for medical staff acting against this legislation. Under the guise of ‘’protection of girls from sex selective abortion’’, state policy is in reality trying to address the increase in overall number of abortions in Armenia. This pro-natality policy is also reflected in the State strategy on reproductive health, which highlights the danger of abortion to demographic growth. The issue of sex-selective abortion is used as an excuse for more general restrictions on abortion.

Women in rural areas cannot exercise their legal rights in the area of reproductive health. These women have to travel a long distance to be able to access facilities where they can obtain a termination of their pregnancy. The biggest challenge is money: many women’s monthly salary (appr. $100) does not allow them to afford abortion in the hospitals, leading them to  attempt it in the home, using pills as a method and without proper consultation with a specialist. There have been cases when women had health issues as a result of using those pills without correct medical advice. In some villages there is a grandmother figure, a former nurse, who carries out abortions. The Ministry of Health prohibited the sale of the required medicine without prescription, however many rural pharmacies still sell it for a price which is smaller than $1. Financially, it is easier for many rural women to access unregulated and potentially unsafe abortions in their home village, instead of travelling to clinics with trained medical staff.

Women visiting the doctor requesting an abortion sometimes experience doctors who try to convince women not to go through with the procedure. In medical institutions, there are many posters dedicated to sex-selective abortion which influence  women who are seeking an abortion but not because of the sex of the child. Again we are seeing the issue of sex-selective abortion being used to dissuade women from abortion for any reason.

In addition to the above obstacles to access to safe abortion, we were told of other factors which impact on whether a woman has an abortion. In many cases, women told us that the final decision on whether they have an abortion is not made by a women themselves, but usually by their spouse and mother-in-law. There is also a lack of awareness about contraceptive methods, which leads many women to use abortion as a way to deal with unwanted pregnancies following not using contraception earlier.

Source: Women's Resource Center 

Oct 30 2017

The ongoing battle around fundamental reproductive rights in Poland becomes even more fierce. Government’s attempts to criminalize abortions and make one of the toughest anti-abortion laws even stricter are expressed in its statement delivered to the Human Rights Committee.

Polish non-governmental organizations are deeply concerned about the official remarks to the General Comment No 36 on article 6of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights concerning the right to life. The General Comments refers to various aspects related to the right to life - from abortion and euthanasia to suicide to capital punishment and genocide. It clarifies how States that have ratified the Covenant are supposed to protect this right. Only two paragraphs – out of 22 pages – pertain to abortion by imposing the duty to provide access to abortion in case of rape, incest and fetal impairment. The document also underlines that “any legal restriction on the ability of women to seek abortion must not, inter alia, jeopardize their life or subject them to physical or mental pain or suffering which violates article 7”.

Poland’s amendments rely on the assumption that human life begins at conception so as to restrict the right to abortion and deem euthanasia illegal.

Oct 26 2017

The UN Secretary-General transmitted to the United Nations General Assembly the report prepared by the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Karima Bennoune that had been submitted in accordance with Human Rights Council resolution 28/9.

The report holds numerous examples and refrences to on sexual and reproductive rights, sexual orientation and bodily autonomy. Threats to civil society organizations and women human rights defenders are also discussed among other issues. The report also describes the dangerous links between conservative and religoues groups and stresses that "fundamentalist and conservative civil society groups have often allied with fundamentalist churches to oppose sexual and reproductive rights, including by spreading false information concerning scientific knowledge in the field of reproductive health."

Watch the remarks of  Ms. Karima Bennoune at the 30th meeting of the Third Committee during the General Assembly here.

Access the report here.

Oct 24 2017

On October, 23 the “Save Women” Civic Committee tabled almost 500 000 signatures collected under the bill on women’s rights and conscious parenthood. The lower chamber has now three months to initiate a debate on the draft legislation. It is now the ruling party’s move to decide whether the draft will be sent to further proceeding – as promised in the election campaign, or if it will be rejected – as the practice up to now shows.  

The draft bill provides:
1) legal abortion financed from the state budget on demand until 12th week of pregnancy; after 12th week abortion would be performed due to a threat to woman’s health or life, in case of foetal malformation (until 24th week of pregnancy or if the foetus is unable to survive outside woman’s body without a deadline) and when pregnancy is a result of rape or incest (until 18th week of pregnancy);
2) free and accessible contraception;
3) emergency contraception available without medical prescription;
4) comprehensive sexuality education in schools;
5) obligation for hospitals and the National Health Fund to publish a list of doctors who invoke conscientious objection to deny performing legal abortions;
6) obligation for hospitals to find another doctor as a subcontractor who would perform an abortion when a physician hired by the hospital refuses to do so;
7) shorter deadline (7 days) for the Medical Commission to consider a patient’s complaint in case of refusal of abortion;
8) right for adolescents who have turned 15 years old to visit a gynaecologist, a urologist and a dermatologist without parental consent.

Oct 20 2017

Unchecked inequality, failure to protect the rights of poorest women could threaten unrest, undermine peace and world’s development goals, new UNFPA report warns

  • Only about half of the world’s women hold paid jobs
  • Globally, women earn 77% of what men get
  • Three in five women worldwide lack maternity leave, many pay “motherhood penalty”

Unless inequality is urgently tackled and the the poorest women empowered to make their own decisions about their lives, countries could face unrest and threats to peace and to their development goals, according the The State of World Population 2017, published by the United Nations Population Fund.

The costs of inequalities, including in sexual and reproductive health and rights, could extend to the entire global community’s goals, adds the new UNFPA report, entitled, “Worlds Apart: Reproductive Health and Rights in an Age of Inequality.”

Failure to provide reproductive health services, including family planning, to the poorest women can weaken economies and sabotage progress towards the number one sustainable development goal, to eliminate poverty.

Economic inequality reinforces and is reinforced by other inequalities, including those in women’s health, where only a privileged few are able to control their fertility, and, as a result, can develop skills, enter the paid labour force and gain economic power.

“Inequality in countries today is not only about the haves and have nots,” UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem says. “Inequality is increasingly about the cans and cannots. Poor women who lack the means to make their own decisions about family size or who are in poor health because of inadequate reproductive health care dominate the ranks of the cannots.”

In most developing countries, the poorest women have the fewest options for family planning, the least access to antenatal care and are most likely to give birth without the assistance of a doctor or midwife.

Limited access to family planning translates into 89 million unintended pregnancies and 48 million abortions in developing countries annually. This does not only harm women’s health, but also restricts their ability to join or stay in the paid labour force and move towards financial independence, the report argues.

Lack of access to related services, such as affordable child care, also stops women from seeking jobs outside the home. For women who are in the labour force, the absence of paid maternity leave and employers’ discrimination against those who become pregnant amount to a motherhood penalty, forcing many women to choose between a career and parenthood.

“Countries that want to tackle economic inequality can start by tackling other inequalities, such as in reproductive health and rights, and tearing down social, institutional and other obstacles that prevent women from realizing their full potential,” Dr. Kanem says.

The UNFPA report recommends focusing on the furthest behind first, in line with the United Nations blueprint for achieving sustainable development and inclusive societies by 2030. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has “envisaged a better future, one where we collectively tear down the barriers and correct disparities,” the report states. “Reducing all inequalities needs to be the aim. Some of the most powerful contributions can come from realizing...women’s reproductive rights.”

Reproductive health inequalities in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Although inequalities are generally less pronounced in Eastern Europe and Central Asia compared to other world regions, there are huge differences both between countries and between various population groups within countries. While some countries in the region have national maternal mortality, ante-natal care or modern contraceptive usage rates similar to those in Western Europe, others still trail far behind. And in virtually all countries, the most vulnerable – the poor, young people, rural populations, minorities – are at higher risk of being left behind.

Related links:

Global report: The State of World Population 2017: Worlds Apart: Reproductive health and rights in an age of inequality

Regional infographicReproductive Health Inequalities in Eastern Europe and Central Asia


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