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UN Special Rapporteur on Health report on adolescents

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Dainius Pūras, has presented the report on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health at the UN Human Rights Council.

In the document Rapporteur focuses on adolescents’ health, including mental, sexual and reproductive health. He calls the States to ‘remove all legal barriers to access health facilities, goods and services that interfere with the rights of adolescents to be heard and to be taken seriously and that, ultimately, limit their right to make autonomous decisions.’

He highlights that healthcare services should ensure respect for adolescents’ rights to privacy and confidentiality, address their different cultural needs and expectations, and comply with ethical standards. 

Moreover, the report includes recommendation for States to adopt or integrate a comprehensive sexual and reproductive health policy for all adolescents into national strategies and programmes to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services. Pūras recommends to decriminalize abortion, ensure adolescents the access to confidential and non-discriminatory sexual and reproductive health information, services and good and integrate comprehensive sexuality education in the school curriculum. The expert noted that adolescents should be protected from violence and neglect, including in family settings, by the upholding of their right to confidential services and counselling without parental consent. He also recommended to support families to increase the abilities of parents to raise children and adolescents in a competent and confident manner, and reinforce skills to manage situations in a non-violent way. 

The report is available here.

Source: OHCHR

“Speak my language”: Abortion Storytelling in Eastern Europe from a Youth Perspective

“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 

Why Eastern Europe? 

Since the collapse of communism, Eastern Europe has witnessed a number of transformations, especially on political and economic levels. Despite progress in the form of economic development and empowerment of civil society as one of the effective mechanisms calling for the accountability of authorities, there are still grey areas to be addressed. The region has to struggle with growing inequalities, social injustice, discrimination, corruption, religious fundamentalism and patriarchal structures. This situation is reflected in a number of fields, including sexual and reproductive health and rights. 

Why this toolkit? 

We believe sharing these experiences can empower youth to create a different human reality by eliminating abortion stigma. Stories have a power of their own – telling and sharing them, can help us develop profoundly, as well as give people the chance to see  what abortion stigma can mean to others.

With this toolkit, we aim to provide organisations, professionals, individuals, and especially youth with a framework to develop their own strategies to use storytelling to draw out the voices from our bodies*, learn to speak a language through which we can satisfactorily communicate abortion stigma, and provide others with the tools to learn to speak our language.

You can view/download the publication here.

*Reference inspired by the work of Frank, Arthur (1995) The Wounded Storyteller: body, illness and ethics. London: The University of Chicago Press

Source: YouAct

Disturbing results: Nearly half of young people think it's okay to be violent in intimate relationships

Almost half of the students participating in a pilot program on violence in intimate partner relationships think that a young man or woman shall have the right to hit their partner. This disturbing information was presented on press conference ‘Equality against violence in intimate partner relationships’. The results of the program, which involved 330 students of 12 Croatian schools, were presented at the conference. 
It seems that violence is an integral part of the relationship as much as 47 percent of young people think that a young man has the right to hit his girlfriend if she wants to break up with him or if she paid more attention to friends than to him. Also, 49 percent of young people think that a girl has the right to hit her boyfriend if he doesn’t listen. About a one-third of young people stated that they know their peer couples, in whose relationships verbal, physical and sexual violence is present.
Natasa Bijelic from the Center for Education, Counseling and Research (CESI) pointed out that they see signs of change in the attitudes of young people as they recognize violent behaviors. However, it was a result of education through a number of programs.
Addressing the youth, gender equality ombudswoman Visnja Ljubicic stressed that partner violence in Croatian legislation is not regulated in the way it should be, and warned that police data in the last year indicated that 64 percent of women were victims of violence. Only 18 percent of citizens believe that women and men are fully equal in our society. 20 percent of men think that they have to have the last word, and it is believed by 80 percent of women living in the rural areas.
Deputy Ombudsman for Children Gabelica Šupljika highlighted that the main problem is a still quite a patriarchal society. On behalf of the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport, Darko Toth pointed out that we can have a course to combat violence among pupils, but if everyday reality shows something else, such courses won’t yield results.
The conference was the final activity of the project "Raising awareness on gender equality against violence in partner relationships - GEAR II" which, besides CESI, was carried out by organizations from Greece, Spain, Cyprus, and Romania.

Our health. Our rights. Our lives!

A group of feminist associations and initiatives marked the International Day of Action for Women’s Health with a guerrilla action to highlight the fact that women’s reproductive health is much more than the right to abortion. The nighttime action was conducted in several larger cities all over Croatia. We decorated the statues of women in Split, Poreč, Rijeka, Opatija and Zagreb with sashes that had ‘’Our health. Our rights. Our lives!’’ written on them. At the moment, with their existence, they are sending a message that is true today and will be true forever, no matter how much conservative parties try to negate it.

In light of the growing movement looking to ban abortion, all under the disguise of caring for women’s health and demographics we find that it is extremely important to show the public that the discourse about women’s reproductive health does not refer only and exclusively to the termination of pregnancy. Reproductive rights include the right to artificial insemination and the right to a dignified delivery, however those categories are not in the job description of the ‘’pro-life advocates’’. The same goes for the shameful conditions of maternity wards. On the other hand, Croatia has never regulated the option of homebirth for women who wish to have one, despite the requests of women.

The right to an abortion is a woman's human right and it must remain legal and safe.

We should keep in mind all the aspects of women’s health, including pregnancy prevention and availability (or lack thereof) of free hormonal contraception, discriminatory laws which regulate the right to sterilization as a method of permanent contraception, pregnancy itself, delivery and post-partum period. We also find that it is extremely important to speak about violence and discrimination during birth which isn’t recorded in medical documents and women don’t report it out of fear and shame.

The health of trans* people and lesbians isn’t recognized in the system and what they experience is continued discrimination during exercising their right to healthcare. When speaking of women’s health, one must consider all women, not just the ones ‘’fit’’ to continue the Croatian line.

Furthermore, sex and health education in schools is not integrated as a life-skill training based on science and facts, but its implementation is rather subjected to personal interpretations of the teacher, leaving plenty of space for manipulation and indoctrination. Such state is being prolonged indefinitely with this government’s treatment of the new curricular reform and their attempts to implicate politics and impose particular ideological stances, which is also something we use this action to condemn.

To conclude, we would like to remind you of the recommendations of the Anti-Discriminatory Board, with which they ask Croatia to regulate their Appeal of Conscience for their doctors in a way that exercising it would not interfere with a woman’s access to pregnancy termination and the care that follows after it, to ensure autonomy and the making of an informed decision for pregnant women during birth, but also to introduce homebirths for women who want them. In these same recommendations it was suggested that Croatia undertakes measures to allow lesbian and bisexual women, as well as trans* people full use of their basic human rights.

Feminists point out the fact that sexual and reproductive rights are a string of very important human rights which are being institutionally broken and the governing structures are not doing anything to change this situation. All decisions regarding reproductive health are made by the woman, our society should respect it, our state has to guarantee it and religion should not interfere with it.


Civil society appealing to Lithuanian Ministry of Education for CSE

At the moment, the working group for preparation of a new sexuality education programme is working in Lithuania. The working group members are mainly priests, parents of conservative attitudes, members of NGOs that act for saving life from the zygote. So that is the main reason why all suggestions to develop gender equality, science and human rights based programme were mainly crossed out. What’s more, those who disagree with conservative opinions are being called killers, murderers, pornography company members who want to prepare "sex users". The bigger conservative side is winning at this point. But, the draft of this program was shared and lots of human rights NGOs started to talk.

Over thirty non-governmental youth, human rights and women’s organizations signed a letter to the Ministry of Education to review the upcoming sexuality education programme. The organizations claim that the current draft programme on sexuality education doesn’t provide high quality information enabling young people to develop interpersonal relationship and engage in safe sex practices. According to letter authors, the programme should be focused on age-adequate and scientifically-based information for students and shouldn’t distort the reality with biased, negative information.

The signatories call the Ministry to pay appropriate attention to this topic and develop an alternative, human rights and scientific-based sexuality education programme. They also expressed concern about the Minister of Education claim that science and human-rights based sexuality education programme introduced by NGOs is influenced by business interest. The Minister asked for explanation on the facts justifying the necessity for sexuality education programme.

With contribution of  Julita Valancauskyte, FSPHA Lithuania

Source: Mano Teises

Sexuality education –still a taboo topic in Macedonia

Macedonia rates of unwanted teen pregnancies have risen three times in comparison to any European country and the numbers of sexually transmitted infections are growing. According to H.E.R.A., which for years has advocated for introduction of sexuality education in schools, this data is not surprising, as the rate of modern contraception usage is the lowest in Europe.

H.E.R.A. initiatives to introduce sexuality education were supported by the Parliamentary Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men and in 2011 the relevant curriculum was developed. However, as it included explanation of gender identities and information on diverse sexual orientations, the curriculum was finally rejected.

The Ministry of Education until now repeatedly argued that a separate subject of sexuality education is not necessary. As the Ministry explains, the Life Skills subject includes information on adolescents’ growth and development and involves a section related to sexuality education.

Source: Telma

Outdoor game on STIs for teenagers

Polish ASTRA Youth member, Ponton Group of Sex Educators has organized an outdoor game for young people. The main goal of the game was to increase knowledge and raise awareness about HIV, AIDS and other STIs among adolescents. Participants were young people aged 15-19 from educational care centres.

The game took place in the forest near Warsaw. Ponton volunteers prepared 9 stations, where participants took knowledge test on STIs, played quiddity and played roles related to the topic. They also had an opportunity to develop group work and decision-making skills. 

Source: Ponton Group of Sex Educators

Law proposal banning religious early marriages rejected in Kyrgyzstan

The law proposal, which would outlaw the religious consecration of marriage rites for minors, was banned by the Kyrgyz parliament.

Early marriage is not unusual in Kyrgyzstan; as National Statistics Commission argues, 15% of married women between 25 and 49 years of age got married before turning 18 and 1% did it under the age of 15. In recent years, UN Committee on the Rights of the Child voiced concerns over child, early and forced marriages in Kyrgyzstan.

The law proposal specifically related to religious marriage rites (nikah), as opposed to marriages registered with the state. Amendments proposed by Ata-Meken party deputy Aida Salyanova aimed to criminalize the forcible imposition of religious mariage rites before their official registration. The proposal was supported by 44 MPs and opposed by 61.


ASTRA Youth at Women Deliver 2016 conference

Women Deliver 4th Global Conference took place on 16-19 May 2016 in Copenhagen, Denmark. It was a large gathering on women’s health and rights of 5000 participants, among which there were world leaders, advocates, policymakers, journalists, young people, researchers, corporate companies’ representatives and civil society.

ASTRA Youth members from Croatia, Romania, Poland, Armenia and Ukraine attended the conference as participants of Women Deliver Young Leaders Programme and scholarships’ recipients. Young activists participated in Women Deliver Youth Pre-Conference, during which they gained knowledge and skills on advocacy, youth leadership, coalition building, accountability and media representation.

ASTRA Youth members represented the network also at panel discussions during the conference. Representative of Croatian AY member organization CESI was a speaker at a panel ‘Using accountability to defend rights’, where she presented data collection on abortion accesibility in Croatia and how civil society used it for advocacy actions. She was involved in the Youth Zone session ‘Broadcasting Youth Voices’, where she discussed her journalist experience in mainstreaming information on SRHR. She also facilitated the break-out session on health education, being a part of Eastern Europe and Central Asia Regional Caucus, organized by RODA-Parents in Action. Participants of the session were talking about challenges related to sexuality education in their countries and provided solutions. ASTRA Youth coordinator was a speaker at the panel discussion organized by Amnesty International ‘The impact of criminalizing sexuality and reproduction: a Human Rights violation’, where she reviewed limitations of young people’s SRHR in the region as well as discussed recent anti-choice mobilization in Poland.

ASTRA Youth and Amnesty International conducted a joint participatory session 'Respect My Rights, Respect My Dignity: Participatory Ways to Tackle Taboo Topics' at Youth Zone. ASTRA Youth members from Armenia, Romania and Croatia facilitated part of the session, focused on social theatre methods and their usage for discussing SRHR issues. Session participants had an opportunity to be involved in social theatre exercise, thanks to which they learned how to work on taboo topics in a participatory way.


ASTRA Youth at Women Deliver 2016

Women Deliver’s 4th Global Conference will be taking place on 16-19 May 2016 in Copenhagen, Denmark. It is going to be the largest gathering on girls’ and women’s health and rights in the last decade and one of the first major global conferences following the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The focus of the conference will be on how to implement the SDGs so they matter most for girls and women, with a specific focus on health – in particular maternal, sexual, and reproductive health and rights – and on gender equality, education, environment, and economic empowerment. The conference will bring together world leaders, advocates, policymakers, journalists, young people, researchers, and leaders of corporate companies and civil society to showcase what it means and how it works when girls and women become the focus of development efforts.

To learn more about the Women Deliver 2016 conference download the conference 2-pager here.

ASTRA Youth representatives will attend the Women Deliver 2016 conference and contribute to conference events:

May 17th, 15:00-16:00
Youth Zone, Exhibition Hall C
ASTRA Youth and Amnesty International organizing the joint session: Respect my Rights, Respect my Dignity: Participatory ways to Tackle Taboo Topics
This session will use participatory approaches to open up conversations on  taboo subjects, identify challenges faced by diverse groups and to stand up for sexual and reproductive rights. 
Participants will first reflect on the power different individuals and groups are given in society to access their rights, after which social theatre methods will be used to discuss sexual and reproductive health and rights issues.
May 17th, 15:00-16:00
Room B3-1 Bella Center
ASTRA Youth representative is participating as a speaker at the Amnesty International panel discussion:The Impact of Criminalizing Sexuality and Reproduction: A Human Rights Violation
This session will focus on the global trend of criminalizing sexual and reproductive decisions, actions and gender expression, which impinges on individuals’ personal and bodily autonomy and violates a range of human rights worldwide. These punitive legal approaches also impede states’ achievement toward the SDGs. In this context, it appears that those who pass and enforce criminal laws and policies or are directly involved in the management of criminal justice systems have little knowledge or understanding of governments’ related human rights obligations, and/or do not fully understand or acknowledge the negative impact that criminal laws and their enforcement can have on individuals’ human rights and development more broadly. 

Those who support criminalization of sexuality and reproduction often claim that these measures protect morality, increase safety, reduce harm, or encourage health-promoting behaviours. However, these assertions are being challenged around the world, particularly by human rights activists and health experts. There is growing recognition that criminalizing sexuality and reproduction in fact increases the risks to individuals and communities and obstructs the provision of effective health services. Additionally, governments’ have an obligation to use criminal law as a last resort and to engage in evidence-based law and policy making.

Panellists will talk about their experience of being punished for exercising their sexual and reproductive rights, as well as the impact of punitive laws on their ability to provide health services. They will also share their ideas around alternative regulatory or educational approaches that may be taken that may be more effective at promoting health, particularly sexual and reproductive health and respect human rights. The group will further discuss the difficulties with historically relying upon calls for criminal legal redress for gender-based violence and yet looking beyond criminal law to address other potential harms

May 19th, 10:30-12:00
Bella Centre
Roda - Parents in Action, Eastern Europe and Central Asia Regional Caucus
ASTRA Youth representative moderating the break-out session: Health education for youth

The Caucus will focus on the issue of respectful maternity care and its importance in bringing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to fruition, so that women, babies and families can not only survive, but also thrive and transform our world. 

Join us!

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