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

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


Oct 16 2017

Lithuanian Parliament will, in the coming weeks, discuss a draft law that would strongly restrict women’s access to legal abortion leaving only two options for accessing the procedure: when women's life and health are in danger and in cases of rape. If adopted, this law would put Lithuania among countries with the strictest laws on abortion in Europe. The draft law had been proposed by the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania who Since 2005 unsuccessfully tried to submit bills to penalize abortion.

ASTRA sent letters to Lithuanian PresidentPrime Minister and Speaker of the Seimas calling for rejection of this draft law.

Other institutions addressing this legislative debate in Lithuania include 53 Members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe who signed Written Declaration No. 645 on Draft law to restrict access to abortion in Lithuania (link to the document).  

The pro-choice coalition All of Us of the European Parliament also addressed the Lithuanian lawmakers through a letter undersigned by over 90 MEPs expressing concern about the legislative debates in Lithuania.

Oct 09 2017

Doctors for Women (Lekarze Kobietom) is an informal initiative that unites doctors from all across Poland who want to help women access emergency contraception.

Created as a response to Ministry of Health decision to reinstate the requirement for doctor’s prescription for emergency contraception the initiative aims to fill the wide gap of reproductive health needs. Emergency contraception was available over the counter for two years – since April 2015, as result of the C(2015)51 ruling from the European Commission, and upon recommendation from the European Medicines Agency (EMA).  

Not only doctors are members of the Doctors for Women initiative. Other specialists, young doctors, interns and students also help with various tasks. The idea is simple. After receiving a message from a patient in need, she is askd her to visit her General Practitioner, gynecologist or, if it's a weekend or late evening, to visit the Emergency Department at local hospital. In many cases that's enough - according to Polish law, every doctor with a full work permit can issue a prescription for the emergency contraceptive pill (levonorgestrel 1,5mg or ulipristal acetate 30mg). Unfortunately, there are situations when a doctor refuses to write a prescription referring to the conscientious objection. Only in cases when such circumstances occur women are asked to contact Doctors for Women, she is then referred to one of doctors who is part of the initiative. Doctors for Women work as volunteers or charge patients symbolically "1zł" for an appointment. To make the whole process as quick and simple as possible, Doctors for Women created an online form called Emergency Visit Card that serves as medical documentation for the in person visit.

Since the launch of the initiative in September 2017 more than 1000 women were supported by Doctors for Women. At the same time more than 100 were denied a prescription by their physicians. The initiative has limited capacity and often is not able to support all women; there have also been cases of women who have reached out for help too late or when there is simply no doctors available in a particular city or region. The initiative is  therefore working on its outreach to new potential members (every physician can join Doctors for Women) to be able to continue its activities.

Follow Doctors for Women on social media (Facebook, Twitter) and online (Polish only):

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