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

The UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Karima Bennoune, told the Human Rights Council in Geneva: “We face a global avalanche of hate in the form of rising fundamentalism and extremism around the world. This must be tackled with urgency, using a human rights approach. Culture and cultural rights are critical components of this response”.

The Special Rapporteur is deeply concerned at the normalization of fundamentalist and extremist ideology and rhetoric in many political, cultural and media contexts, in diverse forms and in all regions of the world, and the increasing embrace they find in mainstream political parties and candidates.

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On March 2nd the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Croatia reaffirmed the constitutionality of access to abortion.

The Constitutional Court decision rejected claims made by conservative groups and individuals that allowing women access to abortion on request was unconstitutional. In its decision, the court reaffirmed that women’s access to abortion is protected within their constitutional rights to liberty, personality, and privacy.

The Center for Reproductive Rights and the Center for Education, Counselling and Research submitted amicus briefs to the Constitutional Court that explain how international human rights law, comparative European law and international public health and clinical standards support women’s right to access safe and legal abortion.

“We welcome the Constitutional Court’s reaffirmation of Croatian women’s rights to access abortion services,” said Leah Hoctor, regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Today’s ruling thwarts an attempt to rollback constitutional recognition of these rights. It is now essential that Croatian authorities ensure that future legislation also guarantees and respects these rights.”

“We are pleased that the Croatian Constitutional Court confirmed the constitutionality of women’s right to safe and legal abortion,” said Sanja Cesar, Program Manager at the Center for Education, Counselling and Research. “It is expected that under this Government ultraconservative forces will attempt to severely limit, if not outright prohibit, access to safe abortion. The Croatian authorities must not deviate from universal and regional human rights principles and standards that protect the sexual and reproductive rights of women.”

Croatian legislation, adopted in 1978, allows abortion on request within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy and thereafter when a pregnancy is a result of a crime, if there is a risk to a woman’s health or life, and in cases of severe fetal impairments. The Court ruled that by allowing women’s access to abortion in these circumstances, the law gives effect to women’s constitutional rights to privacy, liberty, and personality and complied with international human rights law and comparative European law. As the 1978 law predated the current Croatian Constitution, the Court requested that the Croatian Parliament adopt new legislation within two years. 

Source: Center for Reproductive Rights

On February 27, the Council of the EU adopted Conclusions on ‘EU Priorities at UN Human Rights Fora in 2017’. In these Conclusions, the Council says: “Recalling its Conclusions on Gender in Development of 26 May 2015, the Council remains committed to the promotion, protection and fulfilment of all human rights and to the full and effective implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the Programme of Action of the ICPD and the outcomes of their review conferences and remains committed to sexual and reproductive health and rights, in this context’.

This text will inform the EU’s position ahead of the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council, which will run until March 24.

To access full text of Council conclusions click here.

The new priorities of the Croatia’s foreign policy as it pertains to human rights are based on the protection of the rights of religious persons, the right to religious belief and the protection of the family. Croatia will devote special attention to the promotion and protection of the traditional family, based on the marriage between a woman and a man, as the “natural and fundamental unit of human society”. The notion of sexual and reproductive health and rights has no consensual definition at the international level, or even at the EU level. “Taking this into consideration, Croatia opts to interpret this notion as excluding the right to abortion”. Croatia maintains the right to promoted the above positions in all multilateral for a that it is a member to. These are statements taken from the Croatian comments to the Draft Council Conclusions on EU Priorities at UN Human Rights Fora in 2017. The contents of the document were published in print by Novi list on February 24.

The above are parts of a document dated February 22 2017; interestingly, the only comments to the Draft Council Conclusions came from Croatia, Hungary and Poland. Croatia’s position has had
a particular impact, since Croatia became a member of the UN Human Rights Council in Fall 2016, thanks to a membership campaign endorsing some drastically different values, as is still evidenced by the website of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs.

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The International Women’s Strike (IWS) is a grassroots movement established by women from different parts of the world as a response to the current social, legal, political, moral and verbal violence experienced by contemporary women at various latitudes.

On 8 March 2017 an International Women’s Strike is going to take place. The idea was initiated by the Polish Women’s Strike coalition - an informal, nonpartisan initiative of feminist organizations and activist groups that was created after the Black Monday protests on 3 October 2016 that happened in over 200 cities in Poland and abroad. The Black Protests resulted in the ruling party withdrawing from the parliamentary proceedings of the draft bill introducing a total ban on abortion.

The Polish Women’s Strike started a series of women’s protests in different countries – soon after women from South Korea and many countries in Latin America took to the streets. 

Women are a powerful force that is capable of stemming the tide of populism and that is flooding the world – after all, we are everywhere. The International Women’s Strike coalition consists of women from over 30 countries and on 8 March 2017 they will engage in various events under the slogan “Solidarity Is Our Weapon.”

Visit the IWS website http://parodemujeres.com.

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Two days ago, on Valentine’s Day, the Polish Government announced that it accepted a project proposing to restrict access to the only emergency contraception pill available over the counter. This project is to be discussed in plenary and voted upon in the next session of the Sejm, possibly already in March.

As result of the C(2015)51 ruling from the European Commission, and upon recommendation from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), in January 2015 emergency contraceptive with ulipristal acetate, registered in Poland under the brand name ellaOne, received the authorization to be sold without prescription across the European Union (EU). The ulipristal acetate emergency contraceptive pill (UPA ECP) became available in Polish pharmacies without prescription from April 2015 contributing to rising the standard of reproductive health services and supplies for Polish women and girls, and expanding the postcoital contraceptive choices of women

In November 2016 the Polish Minister of Health announced that he is finalising a project which aims to restrict access to UPA ECPs and reinstate the provision of a mandatory doctor’s prescription for emergency contraceptives, citing the ‘misuse of the pill’ by teenage girls in Poland. Today we can see how his words were put into actions.

While there is limited data on the patterns of use of ECP among different age groups, a recent market study by Millward Brown, the biggest age group purchasing UPA ECPs are women between 25 and 30 years of age (45%), followed by those between 30 and 35 (18%). Young women below 18 make up around 2% of all buyers.

The planned restrictions would greatly impede the lives of women and girls and contribute to the sales of this product from unsafe sources and also cause a rise in the number of unplanned pregnancies and abortions in a country, where access to a safe and legal abortion is already incredibly difficult.

ASTRA together with ASTRA Youth, as part of coalition of civil society organizations working on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights – You Act, CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality and the European Consortium for Emergency Contraception, sent a letter on December 1st, 2016, to the representatives of the European Commission, to voice our concern on the current developments in Poland with regards to women and girls’ reproductive health and rights. That letter was resent today and is available HERE.

The Contraception Atlas -- a map that scores 45 countries throughout geographical Europe on access to modern contraception was launched on St Valentine’s Day in Brussels.

The rankings -- which are based on access to contraceptive supplies, family planning counseling and online information -- reveal a very uneven picture across Europe.  

The European Parliamentary Forum on Population & Development (EPF) has produced the Atlas in partnership with Third-i, while experts in sexual and reproductive health and rights designed the methodology. 

“Access to contraception should be a key concern of governments in empowering citizens to plan their families and lives. Yet every country we analysed should be doing more to improve access. Our findings show that for many European countries, ensuring that people have choice over their reproductive lives is not a priority.” commented Neil Datta, EPF Secretary.

“This is borne out by statistics on unintended pregnancy: over 43% pregnancies in Europe are unintended. Contraception is used by 69.2% of European women aged between 15 and 49 who are married or living with a partner -- lower the usage rates of both the North America and Latin America/Caribbean regions.”

“For a relatively small cost, governments can provide reimbursement for contraception -- particularly long acting and reversible contraception, such as implants and IUDs. Official government websites with information about contraceptive types and where to get them are a miniscule expense for governments, but can make a big difference to citizens seeking accurate information.”

The findings and more information about contraception in Europe are available on www.ContraceptionInfo.eu.

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ASTRA sent letter to the recently elected new Chair of the European Parliament Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committe (FEMM) - Ms Vilijia Blinkeviciute (S&D) from Lithuania. She will chair the FEMM Committee for the next two and a half years.

Four vice-chairs were also elected, together with the chair they will form the new FEMM bureau.The four vice-chairs elected are as follows:
- 1st vice-chair Barbara MATERA (EPP, IT)
- 2nd vice-chair João PIMENTA LOPES (GUE, PT)
- 3rd vice-chair Mary HONEYBALL (S&D, U.K)
- 4th vice-chair Jana ŽITŇANSKÁ (ECR, SK)

Read the letter ASTRA sent to Ms Blinkeviciute HERE.

Attacks on women’s right to choose are regular and come from both the anti-choice civil society and the Government. In November 2016 Human Rights Committee recommended that Polish authorities should refrain from adopting any legislative reform that would amount to a retrogression of already restrictive legislation on women’s access to safe legal abortion. It is especially important in the light of the another petition for introducing a total ban on abortion which is pending in the parIiamentary Petition Committee right now. The women’s groups expected it to be rejected on 26th January 2017 beceause of its many imperfections. However, the Committee resolved the matter through issuing a formal request to the Prime Minister. Beata Szydło is expected to address the Petition Committee with information about the Government’s activity in the field of “life protection”. Based on this feedback the Committee will decide on the petition’s next steps.

Source: Federation for Women and Family Planning

An investigation by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting recently discovered that hundreds of girls from the ethnic Avar community in eastern Georgia, in the villages of Tivi, Saruso, and Chantliskure, are being forced to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM). The shocking news was covered by national media and created a joint movement towards crimizalizing this practice although many people in the local communities believe it is connected to religion and part of local tradition.

On 24 January, the Georgian government approved the ratification of the Istanbul Convention on combatting domestic violence and violence against women, which includes criminalising FGM.
A similar act against a pregnant, disabled or underage woman will be considered an aggravating circumstance. Moreover, punishment will be tightened for stalking, forced sterilization and domestic violence.

Source: Georgia Today, IWPR

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