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

“Women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights are human rights. Regrettably, however, women in Europe still have these rights denied or restricted as a result of laws, policies and practices that ultimately reflect continuing gender stereotypes and inequalities. States must acknowledge and address these violations and resolutely commit to advancing gender equality in this crucial sphere of life”, said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, while releasing a report on this topic in early December.

The document provides an overview of states’ obligations under international and European human rights standards in the field of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. It provides examples of shortcomings that European states must address in particular as regards the rights to life, health, privacy, non-discrimination as well as the right to be free from torture and ill-treatment, with a particular focus on comprehensive sexuality education, modern contraception, safe and legal abortion care, and quality maternal health care.

The Commissioner sets forth 54 recommendations aimed at helping European states address the pressing need to:

  • renew political commitment to women’s rights and guard against retrogressive measures that undermine women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights;
  • establish health systems that uphold and advance women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights;
  • ensure the provision of comprehensive sexuality education;
  • guarantee the affordability, availability and accessibility of modern contraception;
  • ensure all women’s access to safe and legal abortion care;
  • ensure that refusals of care by health care workers on grounds of conscience or religion do not endanger women’s timely access to sexual and reproductive health care;
  • respect and protect women’s human rights in childbirth and guarantee all women’s access to quality maternal health care;
  • eliminate coercive practices and safeguard women’s informed consent and decision-making in sexual and reproductive health care contexts;
  • ensure all women’s access to effective remedies for violations of their  sexual and reproductive rights;
  • eliminate discrimination in laws, policies and practices and guarantee equality for all women in the enjoyment of sexual and reproductive health and rights.

“Sexual and reproductive rights protect some of the most significant and intimate aspects of our lives. Ensuring these rights for women is a vital component of efforts to achieve women’s rights and gender equality. Given the resurgent trends seeking to roll back protections in this field, we must ensure that we remain committed to these rights, which were established only after a long struggle. States have the duty to provide all women with accessible, affordable, good quality sexual and reproductive health care and services”, said Commissioner Muižnieks.

Read the Issue Paper on women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights

Read the summary of the Issue Paper

See the special page on women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights

Source: CoE

The Polish Bureau of Research (BAS) has positively evaluated a draft law that would introduce conscience clause for pharmacists and owners of drug stores. According to the law elaborated and delivered by the Federation of Polish Catholic Pharmacists they will have rights  1) to refuse to sell drugs should they be incompatible with their conscience and 2) not to order such drugs. In practice, only procreation-related medicines are in contradiction to conscience clause. Therefore, the law is supposed to restrict the access to contraception, thus breaching women’s reproductive rights.

It is worth mentioning that currently pharmacists do break the law and decline to sell contraception, despite the fact that only doctors, nurses and midwives are entitled to the conscience clause. 

The draft law provides one exception – medicaments must be given out when customer’s life or health is threatened.  Independent experts, however, argue that the draft law is a legal nonsense and that it does not guarantee that this exception will be followed, e.g. when a medicine is not in stock. There are no provisions that specify whom the customer can turn to make up their prescriptions. In small towns/villages or in conservative regions, where invoking the conscience clause is already common, women willing to obtain contraceptive pills or emergency contraception will be helpless, whereas their health and lives endangered. Moreover, this law hits less well-off persons who will face additional obstacles when searching for available pharmacists.

The Bureau of Research has decided to send a desideratum to the Ministry of Health. However, the Minister has already publicly supported introduction of the conscience clause for pharmacists. Respective interventions undertaken by the Commissioner for Human Rights to protect patient’s rights were also unsuccessful, since his arguments for limiting the conscience clause in pharmacies were rejected by the Ministry. It is a matter of time when the proposal of the Federation of Polish Catholic Pharmacists will come into force.

Source: Federation for Women and Family Planning

Article by Leah Hoctor and Adriana Lamačková of the Centre for Reproductive Rights has been published in the Ethical and Legal Issues section of the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics.  The article addresses the recent retrogressive introduction of mandatory waiting periods and biased counseling and information requirements prior to abortion in Central and Eastern Europe.

A number of Central and Eastern European countries have recently enacted retrogressive laws and policies introducing new pre-conditions that women must fulfill before they can obtain legal abortion services. Mandatory waiting periods and biased counseling and information requirements are particularly common examples of these new prerequisites. This article considers these requirements in light of international human rights standards and public health guidelines, and outlines the manner in which, by imposing regressive barriers on women’s access to legal abortion services, these new laws and policies undermine women’s health and well-being, fail to respect women’s human rights, and reinforce harmful gender stereotypes and abortion stigma.

The published article is online in PDF at Wiley Library.
Full text, as submitted is online at SSRN.

The VNRs were held during the High Level Political Forum in mid 2017, several countries of ASTRA participated in the Voluntary National Reviews on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. The Synthesis Report of the country reviews is available at http://bit.ly/2jAfk6l. Among the countries under review were: Azerbaijan, Belarus, Czech Republic, Slovenia and Tajikistan.

Source: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org

New publication from the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Budapest and Eszter Kovats: The Future of the European Union - Feminist Perspectives from East-Central Europe is an interesting compilation of Central and Eastern European voices on the most pressing issues today in relation to gender, EU, reproductive rights, economy and most at risk groups. The selections of articles include:

  • Aniko Gregor: Who is for sale? Challenging the commodification of gender equality in the European Union
  • Andrea Peto: From women through gender to unconscious bias: changing terminology about gender equality in the EU 
  • Elena Zacharenko: Reproductive rights as a social justice issue in the EU 
  • Edit Szenassy: Finding space for Romani women within the EU
  • György Mészáros: Reconsidering the identity approach of the EU LGBT+ architecture from a feminist perspective
  • Csilla Malomvölgyi: The dream of a common European asylum and migration policy from the perspective of women’s rights in East-Central Europe
  • Emília Barna, Gergely Csányi, Agi Gagyi and Gerőcs Tamás: East-Central European feminist activism in the context of uneven development in the EU, and ways to move forward
  • Zuzana Uhde: Global structural inequalities and responsibility for global justice: a feminist contribution
  • Zofia Łapniewska: The future of the European Union’s economy - Inspirations and challenges 
  • Kata Tutto: Epilogue: Something not even the fence can stop

Access the publication in pdf here

The European Parliament is calling on Poland to address the current restrictions to the independence of the judiciary, freedom of assembly, sexual and reproductive rights, and denial of asylum-seekers’ access to the Polish territory.

The Parliament adopted a resolution that highlights the further deterioration of the situation in Poland since the previous European Parliament resolution on these issues in September last year.

The resolution, which was proposed by GUE/NGL and other parliamentary groups (EPP, S&D, ALDE and the Greens/EFA), passed with the support of a large majority of MEPs.

Many of GUE/NGL’s amendments on the key issue of further restrictions to sexual and reproductive rights were also adopted as part of the resolution.

GUE/NGL Shadow for the resolution, Barbara Spinelli, explains: "The reason why we are adopting a fourth resolution on Poland is not to punish a member state, but to remind us all of the bond that keeps us together, i.e. the legal basis which all the member states have endorsed. I refer to the rule of law in its full extent as a notion encompassing human rights, judicial independence and jurisdictional guarantees, freedom of expression and separation of powers."

"Once elected in this House, we have the obligation to represent all the citizens of the Union without any distinctions based on nationality or constituency, and the primary duty to assure that the bedrocks of citizenship – i.e. human rights and fundamental freedoms – are fully guaranteed.

"By instructing the European Parliament to draft a report that could lead to the triggering of article 7(1), we are asking ourselves to ensure that we live up to our responsibility to the citizens and to commit to continuing the ongoing dialogue with a member state. After all, as the European Parliament, the Treaty has equipped us with this sole tool," clarifies the Italian MEP.

Swedish MEP, Malin Björk, adds: “Today this house is sending a strong message to the Polish government: every time they try to reduce or restrict women's and girls' rights, we are here, standing up to stop them. We are here to echo the voices of the Polish defenders of women's rights and reproductive rights because fundamental rights and democracy are universal human rights."

"Restricting women's right to access the morning-after contraceptive pill or preparing campaigns against women's right to control their own bodies or their right to access safe and legal abortion will be met with huge resistance from the feminists of the European Parliament. We are standing side by side with our Polish sisters!"

Source: GUE/NGL

Official press release by the European Parliament

Prepared by International Campaign for Women's Right to Safe Abortion 

On 14 July 2015, during its 114th session, the Human Rights Committee (HRC) commenced the process of drafting a General Comment on the right to life, to revise the existing General Comment at Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. They called for submissions on the views of national human rights institutions, non-governmental organisations, and academia. The summary of what took place can be found at this link and here the over 100 submissions they received. During its 115th session, the Committee commenced its first reading of the draft text.

The HRC then completed its review and revision of the draft text at its 120th session in July 2017, published it on its website – Draft General Comment on Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – Right to life – and invited all interested stakeholders to comment on the new draft by 6 October 2017. This time around, they received some 166 submissions including from some 23 states, most of them in the global north; 7 UN agencies, specialized bodies and experts; 33 academic and other professionals; 3 national human rights and other institutions; and over 100 NGOs. These submissions can be found here.

Of the 71 paragraphs in the July 2017 version of the draft General Comment, only Paragraph 9 is directly about abortion. Yet, a great many submissions from NGOs were anti-abortion and many others from abortion rights advocates, as was the case in the previous round.

Read more...

A group of extremist MPs, mainly from the ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) and Kukiz’15, submitted a motion challenging the constitutionality of one of the cases, which allows for abortion according to The Family Planning, Human Embryo Protection and Conditions of Permissibility of Abortion Act. MPs claim that the right to abortion in case of a severe and irreversible fetal defect or incurable illness that threatens the foetus’s life interferes with other constitutional values respect and protection of human dignity, the legal protection of the life of every human being. They also argue that this provision discriminates against foetuses on the grounds of their health status. 

The Great Coalition for Equality and Choice, gathering nearly 1000 NGOs and grassroots movements, harshly criticized this motion as it expresses contempt for women and forces them to carry and give birth to offspring with no chances of survival, and then to observe their agony in suffering. The Coalition also stressed that the Constitution clearly recognizes rights to which women as citizens are entitled: legal protection of the private and family life, freedom of conscience and religion and health care. There are no references to “foetuses”, “life at conception” or “unborn children”. On the contrary, the Constitution does not equate foetal life with a legal status of a born person, but it does lay down special care for pregnant women. 

100 MPs, with assistance of the PiS-controlled Tribunal, want to decide about the majority of the Polish society, which advocates for the liberalization of the anti-abortion act (as illustrated by to the latest opinion polls). Their move also infringes in democratic procedures and shows disrespect for 500 000 pro-choice people who signed citizens’ initiative for women’s rights and conscious parenthood, which was drafted by the “Save Women” Civic Committee.

Source: Federation for Women and Family Planning 

On 15th November 2017, AWID, as part of the Observatory on the Universality of Rights (OURs), is providing a platform for feminist activists and women's rights advocates, partners and allies to discuss the state of anti-rights organizing and ways forward for the collective resistance.

Join AWID and OURs on Wednesday, 15th November from 10am EST to 12pm EST in a conversation to discuss:

  • Who is behind these attacks on the universality of rights?
  • Which of their strategies have been successful in making inroads into UN systems, and what effects has this already had?
  • What is the link between attacks on the universality of rights at the UN and the rise of ultra-conservative forces locally and regionally?
  • How are feminists and human rights advocates resisting already, and how can we strengthen our collective push-back?

Registration deadline is 14 November 2017. Spaces are limited and access to the session will be given on a first come first served basis.

For conversion of EST time, to other time zones, please visit Time and Date. Please note: This webinar will be held in English.

In the meantime and during the webinar, tweet your thoughts on the above questions by using the hashtag #RightsAtRisk

Read more here

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 

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