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

Jul 08 2016

Next week, the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) kicks off at UN the Headquarters in New York. It is the annual global moment for the UN and development community to review progress on the SDGs.

The official programme, including all side-events, is available online. The first week, from the 11th until the 17th of July will include more technical sessions. Particularly interesting is the official session on ‘creating peaceful and more inclusive societies and empowering women and girls’, but also on cross-cutting issues such as how to create ownership at the national level and to mainstream SDGs into national policies, plans and strategies.

Afterwards, the high-level segment of the HLPF will kick off, from July 18-20, for which Ministers and Vice-Ministers are expected to attend. It will most likely be a mix of ministries to be represented including Foreign Affairs, Development Cooperation, Environment, Planning, and possibly Finance. During the ministerial segment, the voluntary reviews of 22 countries and thematic reviews of progress will be presented and discussed.

The HLPF is expected to adopt a Ministerial Declaration. The final draft is currently being negotiated by Member States, led by two co-facilitators from Australia and Peru. It expected that the text will be finalized today, and will be a key outcome of this year’s HLPF.

SG Report on Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals:

The UN Secretary-General has released the first annual report on progress towards the SDGs. The report presents the latest data for each of the 17 SDGs, both with regards to achievements and remaining challenges. On SDG 5, the report notes that ‘Gender equality and women’s empowerment have advanced in recent decades. Girls’ access to education has improved, the rate of child marriage declined and progress was made in the area of sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, including fewer maternal deaths. Nevertheless, gender equality remains a persistent challenge for countries worldwide and the lack of such equality is a major obstacle to sustainable development.’ Further, the report includes a chapter on data and indicators, around the availability and compilation of data, challenges faced in producing the SDG indicators, and global initiatives to address the challenges.

Regional level: Europe

Follow-up and review of the SDGs at the regional level falls under the responsibility of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), which is one of five regional commissions of the United Nations. UNECE includes 56 member States in Europe, North America and Asia. On the 10 May, UNECE organized a Regional Forum on Sustainable Development, and the conclusions of the forum have now been made available (find here). These were also forwarded to the 2016 HLPF as the official inputs from the UN ECE region. The outcomes of all Regional Fora’s will be presented in a regional session at the HLPF in the afternoon of 15 July (see HLPF programme).

Furthermore, it was communicated that UNECE member States agreed to continue the process of informal consultations on a future regional review mechanism for the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda at the regional level in the run-up to the sixty-seventh session of the Commission in April 2017

Source: EuroNGOs

Jun 30 2016

The 2016 High Level Political Forum (HLPF) will be the first since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda. Accordingly, much focus will be on discussing plans and strategies for implementation of the 2030 Agenda and approaches for translating the SDGs to national contexts. Check the recommendations of Countdown 2015 Europe, EuroNGOs, ASTRA Network and IPPF European Network for European governments.

You can read the position paper HERE

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 

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

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