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Launch of the report analysis for the optional school subject Health Education - Sexuality Education component

Early April, Society for Reproductive and Sexual Education (SECS) member  of Astra Youth, in partnership with the Coalition for Gender Equality and Romania  and the Youth Council in Romania, organized the round table  where the outcomes of the analysis of the optional Health Education subject were discussed.

Besides the presentation of the report, diverse institution’s representatives discussed their views: the Presidential Administration, the Ministry of National Education and Scientific Research, Romania Youth Council, Youth and Sports Ministry, as well as representatives of World Health Organization and NGOs.

Teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and gender-based violence are current realities in the Romanian society. International and national legislation recognizes the need for sexuality education in schools. But the report points out that sexuality education module included in the optional subject Education for Health isn’t a comprehensive sexuality education program. Shortcomings are evident in the subject’s content, teachers’ training, as well as monitoring and evaluation of the subject. Very few students participated in health education classes (6% in 2014-2015, according to the Ministry of Education), and even smaller number had access to sexuality education.

Other survey findings underline that combating gender violence isn’t included in the classes’ objectives and children don't learn prevention of sexual abuse and violence. During the classes extended family and traditional gender roles are described on the basis of gender stereotypes. Moreover, the information on disclosing HIV status or impact of stigmatization of HIV positive persons is not included in the content of lessons.

Teachers don’t recognize the diversity of individuals, beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, norms and values of society. Preparation to teach sexuality education isn’t a part of the training of all teachers and the quality of teaching sexuality education isn’t taken into account.

The report is available in Romanian on SECS’s website here.

Source: Coalitiei pentru Egalitate de Gen

 

The ODZYSKAĆ WYBÓR – REGAINING THE CHOICE demonstration in Warsaw

Warsaw, April 9th 2016, Saturday, 02:00 p.m. 

Venue: the Polish Parliament (Sejm) building

We take to the streets because we refuse to accept anyone else but ourselves making decisions concerning our bodies and our lives.

We have been told for far too long that the current legislative solution is a “compromise”.

Let us show that we refuse to accept a barbaric law making us hostage to our own pregnancies.

The current anti-abortion law did not serve to reduce the number of abortions performed in Poland. It is estimated that against 1993, an unchanged number of terminations is performed in the abortion underworld – some say that the number of undocumented abortions has doubled. Polish women undergo approximately 200,000 illegal terminations per year. The so-called abortion tourism flourishes – 15% of all terminations are performed abroad. In the United Kingdom, for example, the share of Polish women among foreigners terminating pregnancies has reached 80%.

Although according to Polish law, Polish women can undergo legal termination in three cases, the reality is hugely difficult if not impossible, largely due to the conformism of the medical community, frequent abuse of the “clause of conscience”, persecution of women intending to terminate, and poor legislative knowledge in the society.

The restrictive anti-abortion law did not bring any reduction in the number of terminations; all it did was ensure that abortions are performed in dangerous and humiliating conditions, in an atmosphere of anxiety, shame, and contempt.

Pregnancy termination is no longer a simple medical procedure. It became a political matter, a bargaining chip in politics.

Prior to system transformation, Polish women could legally terminate pregnancies in safe conditions with no threat to health or life. They could make independent decisions concerning their own bodies, including the very important decision as to whether they wish to become mothers or not. In 1993, this right was taken away from them, the amended law referred to as a “compromise”. The thriving abortion underworld and abortion tourism both prove that such “abortion compromise” is complete rubbish. Women continue terminating pregnancies – albeit under great anxiety and intimidation, their health and life threatened. Even if entitled to legal abortion, they have to undergo a series of humiliating procedures, and remain hanging on someone else’s decision. Yet here we are, facing times when women can be deprived of their rights – such as they are – altogether. Over the upcoming months, politicians of both genders and priests will act in our stead, voting on a cruel and barbaric draft act filed with our Parliament by fanatics ready to sacrifice female freedom and life in the name of ideology.

ODZYSKAĆ WYBÓR (REGAINING THE CHOICE) is a coalition of feminist and other non-governmental organisations, informal groups and individuals, struggling to regain the abortion choice right we were deprived of 23 years ago.

NOTE: The demonstration is organised by grassroot communities, non-affiliated with any political parties or commercial entities.

REGAINING THE CHOICE demonstrations will also take place in other cities in Poland and in many locations around the world, for a full list of events clickHERE.

Media contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Debates on Sexuality Education vs March for Life in Romania

The month of March in Romania was devoted to both heated debates on the introduction of sexuality education in schools as well as the annual march for life organized by Students for Life. The pro-choice activists did not counteract the march, but rather focused on constructive debates organized and hosted by the ministries of education and health.

The theme of this year’s March for Life was “For life, for woman, for the family”, inspired from the Washington march and it was organized in 110 cities across the country, plus 30 cities in the Republic of Moldova. The march in Bucharest was attended by 2,700 people, while all the activities along the ‘month for life’ were allegedly attended by 70,000 people. The main messages rehashed by the media were: “22 million abortions in 60 years” (in reference to the total population a few years ago) and “Romania ranks first in the EU in the number of abortions”. In conclusion, this type of march and related activities are organized by young people, they choose positive messages and gather larger numbers of people, including artists as ambassadors.

Moreover, they follow and report on pro-choice activists’ activities, such as ASTRA member Daniela Draghici: prior to the march, the ministries of education and health organized public debates on the introduction of sexuality education in the optional subject “health education” as part of the school curriculum. ASTRA delegate pointed out that the position promoted by the Gender Coalition she represented coincided with that supported by the ministries of education, health, labor, youth and raised questions referring to the measures the ministry was going to take when parents’ associations and the church were opposing the health education classes and kept promoting abstinence and showing high school students films such as “The Silent Scream” during the religion classes that are, unfortunately, part of the curriculum. At the same time, she also offered the assistance of specialized NGOs members of the Gender Coalition, the only force counteracting the anti-choice in Romania. The Students for Life representative present at the debate posted the entire address of the ASTRA member, accompanied by a photo taken from the Facebook account without permission, where Daniela Draghici was impersonating the Holy See at a EuroNGOs conference. 

Overall, the Ministry of education debate was a positive one that took note of participants’ suggestions, with the promise to be followed by other such targeted meetings. The debates at the Ministry of Health, on the other hand, were marked by anti-choice presence that attempted to destabilize the purpose of the meetings. Nevertheless, the position held by the ministry of health is firm and supportive of making “health education” a compulsory subject in schools, but it will not be possible for a couple of years because of lack of trained personnel. Again, the ASTRA member representing the Gender Coalition stressed the paramount importance of maintaining sexuality education in the health education optional subject, sought a commitment from the ministry representatives, and assured them of the full support and expertise of the specialized NGOs.

Written by Daniela Draghici, member of the Society for Feminist Analyses – AnA, part of the Romanian Gender Coalition

Anti-choice attacks against women in Poland

Poland is once again facing a real threat to the reproductive rights of women and girls.

The currently ruling conservative party, Law and Justice, aims to redesign Polish democracy and to reestablish the “traditional” and “Catholic” values and also gain more independence from the European Union. The Catholic Church in Poland is very powerful and has many supporters within today’s Government. It does also of course oppose IVF, emergency contraception, sexuality education, abortion and sees its main enemy in the word “gender”. The anti-choice community, with great support from the Catholic and conservative groups, is currently very strong as the current government consists mainly of politicians with conservative attitudes.

 

The “Stop Abortion” civic committee has almost 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. If abortion is unintentional the penalty will be up to 3 years. The Court will have the possibility to drop charges. In the rationale, the authors of the draft law quote the teachings of Polish Pope, John Paul II, refer to the Polish constitution which grants legal protection to all human beings (it doesn’t however clarify when human life begins) and also selectively quote the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Additionally they also propose to replace the term “human fetus” with “conceived child” where possible. The draft law doesn’t at all refer to the protection of woman’s life, health and wellbeing. 

This anti-choice initiative is currently waiting for the decision of the Marshall of the Sejm on whether it will be registered. If successful, the “Stop Abortion” committee will then have 3 months to collect 100 000 signatures to ensure that the law will be debated in the Polish Sejm.

Only recently Polish Prime Minister, Beata Szydło, said that she supports this initiative and “hopes for a reasonable voice on behalf of the episcopate to ensure a substantive discussion”. This coming Sunday, April 3rd, the statement of the Polish episcopate will be read aloud in all churches in Poland. The signatories of this document state that life begins from the moment of conception and ends with natural death. They will call upon all people, Parliamentarians and policy makers to ensure legal protection of unborn children.

Only recently we have faced the first step towards limiting women’s reproductive rights as the Polish Ministry of Health will reinstate the prescription requirement for emergency contraception (ellaOne) in about three months. “Concern for women's well-being, especially that of the youngest women” is the rationale for this move. In 2015, thanks to the European Commission ruling, this emergency contraception pill became available over the counter for all women above 15 years of age.

ASTRA statement for 60th CSW

ASTRA's statement for the 60th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women is available HERE

2016 Young Feminist Caucus Statement at the Sixtieth Session of the Commission on the Status of Women

Preamble

We are a diverse group of young feminist advocates, gathered in New York at the Sixtieth Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), working for gender, reproductive, economic, ecological, and social justice and political transformation. We applaud the commitments governments have made under the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to guarantee gender equality, eliminate all forms of discrimination and violence against us, and achieve the full and meaningful realisation of our human rights. We emphasize that the Beijing Platform for Action and Agenda 2030 are linked and valuable strategies for women’s and girls’ empowerment, the realization of their human rights and sustainable development. We call on the CSW to play a strong role in monitoring the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action whilst establishing strong linkages with the relevant goals and targets of the SDGs. In both processes, the meaningful participation and engagement of all young people at all levels should be ensured. We, the young feminist caucus, affirm this statement as a supplement to the official CSW Youth Forum Declaration, further emphasizing our priorities.

Our diversity is our strength, and together we call for the full recognition and meaningful participation of youth, inclusive of age, race, caste, ethnicity, health status (including HIV and mental health status), ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, sex characteristics, marital status, parenthood, class, indigeneity, migrant status, and others.

As we begin to implement the Sustainable Development Goals in coordination with the Beijing Platform for Action, we urge the CSW to address the following priorities for young people in all our diversity. Moreover, sexual and reproductive health and rights are human rights and together we emphasize the cross-cutting centrality of realizing these rights to achieve social justice, women’s and girls’ empowerment, and sustainable development. We call on governments to:

Youth Participation

Ensure the meaningful, full and effective participation of young people and underrepresented groups in political spaces, decision making platforms and accountability mechanisms, at all levels, including in formulating, developing, implementing and evaluating laws, policies, plans and budgets. Therefore we call for the creation of safe, enabling and inclusive environments for building the leadership of young women, adolescents and girls in local, provincial and national governments, as well as at international convenings. We emphasize that youth participation cannot be tokenistic, needs to be paired with financial, educational, and logistical support, and must be free from all forms of gender-based harassment and violence

Climate Change and Justice

Recognize that the current growth-led model of development directly contributes to climate change and the associated violations of human rights that disproportionately affect young women, adolescents, and girls. We urge all stakeholders to ensure equal access to land, property, and sustainable and environmentally safe development, including access to technology and capital for young women, adolescents and girls. Members states must preserve the right of indigenous peoples over their land and territory, especially in the face of encroaching private sector development. We ask for the implementation of gender-sensitive responses in reference to the Paris Agreement, ahead of the UNFCCC Conference of Parties 22 in Marrakech.

Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Legal Barriers

Ensure the full realization of sexual and reproductive rights through the repeal of discriminatory laws and policies such as parental and spousal consent laws, laws that criminalize abortion, and laws that criminalize individuals on the basis of age, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, sexual practices, HIV status and transmission, and labour choices, including sex work. We call on governments to protect and promote legal recourse and access to justice and remedies when the sexual and reproductive rights of young people are violated.

Sexual and Reproductive Health Services

Ensure the provision of evidence and rights-based, universal, comprehensive, quality, accessible, affordable, non-judgmental, confidential, gender-sensitive, youth-friendly information and services for all young people without coercion, and including in humanitarian settings. This covers, but is not limited to, a full range of voluntary contraceptive options (including emergency contraception and long acting reversible contraception), mental health services, maternal health services, safe and legal abortion services, treatment, care and support for sexually transmitted infections and HIV and AIDS, as well as freedom from forced, coerced, uninformed and non-consensual sterilization and medical testings. We call for an end to stigma and discrimination in healthcare provision, through increased awareness among health sciences students, doctors-in-training, physicians, healthcare professionals, and community workers on sexual and reproductive health and rights. We urge governments to promote and defend anti-discrimination legislation across health services.

Education

Prioritize the education of young women, adolescents and girls and strengthen policies and programmes that ensure equal access to longitudinal education for all young people. We emphasize the importance of gender inclusive quality education with relevant curricula which prioritises holistic learning methods, including mentorship and skills development, and that prepares young women, adolescents, and girls for decent work, equitable employment opportunities and entrepreneurship. We urge governments to train educators on gender-sensitive policies and practices to end discrimination and stigma in academic settings.

Comprehensive Sexuality Education

Prioritize the adoption and successful implementation of evidence-based, medically accurate, universally accessible, quality, non-judgmental comprehensive sexuality education. This must emphasize human sexuality, sexual pleasure, gender equality, human rights, healthy relationships, and sexual and reproductive health, and be provided in a safe and participatory environment that caters to formal and informal education systems, for all young people.

Gender Based Violence

Strengthen their response to gender-based violence, putting into action the measures outlined in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. These actions must take into account multifaceted forms of violence including early and forced marriage, sexual violence, online violence, intimate partner violence, coerced labour, rape (including marital rape), violence in educational institutions, harmful traditional practices, violence on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and sex characteristics, violence as a product of religious fundamentalisms, coerced and forced sterilization, and violence within conflict, post-conflict and humanitarian settings. Governments must recognize the psychological and emotional effects of trauma, including transgenerational violence, and include this in their response to gender-based violence.

Conclusion

In order for the 2030 Agenda and the Beijing Platform for Action to become a reality for all young people, it is necessary to fully integrate all of the above priorities across all implementation strategies. We call on governments to measure progress with gender-sensitive, and youth and adolescent specific indicators, supported with data disaggregated by gender and age and other necessary information in order to monitor inequalities and discrimination across intersectional identities. The above priorities must be supported by resourcing frameworks including flexible, core and long term funding for youth led organisations at the grassroots and international level.

We call on governments to recognize that we, as young people, are rights-holders as well as experts in our own experiences. We are not “vulnerable”, we are not a “dividend” to cash in on, we are not “the future”; we are here. We ask that our voices be heard and that our agency over our bodies, our lives, and our communities be acknowledged.

Endorsing youth organizations and allies:

African Women’s Development and Communication Network ( FEMNET)

AIDOS – Italian Association for Women in Development

Argentinian Network of adolescents and Young people for SRHR – Argentina

Asociación Gojoven Guatemala

ASTRA Network, Central and Eastern Europe

ASTRA Youth

The ATHENA Network

Atria – Institute for Gender Equality and Women’s History

Balance Promoción para el Desarrollo y Juventud AC

Beyond Beijing Committee

The Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL)

Center Women and Modern World, Azerbaijan

CHOICE for Youth and Sexuality, the Netherlands

Coalition of African Lesbians.

Commonwealth Youth and Gender Equality Network

Curious Minds, Ghana

Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN)

Diverse Voices and Action (DIVA) for Equality, Fiji

Education as a Vaccine

Engajamundo, Brazil

Equality and Modernity, Poland

Equilibres & Populations, France

Federation for Women and Family Planning, Poland

Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, Fiji

Fortress of Hope Africa, Kenya

FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund

Fundacion Arcoiris, Mexico

Fundacion para Estudio e Investigación de la Mujer, Argentina

FUSA Para la Salud Integral con Perspectiva de Genero y Derechos, Asociacion Civil and Center of Woman

The Gender Agency

Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS, an affiliate of the Public Health Institute

Haus of Khameleon, Fiji

Health Education and Skills Development initiative (HESDI), Nigeria

Hidden-Pockets, India

International Community of Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW), Chapter of Young Women, Adolescents, and Girls

IFMSA – International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations

International Fellowship of Reconciliation

International HIV/AIDS Alliance

International Women’s Health Coalition
Ipas

Instituto de Liderazgo Simone de Beauvoir A.C

International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region

The International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW Asia Pacific)

Isis-Women’s International Cross Cultural Exchange (Isis-WICCE), Uganda

Kadinkoalisyonu/ Women’s Coalition Turkey

The Liberia Girl Guides Association

The Lotus Identity, Zambia

MenEngage Alliance

Mosaic Training, Service & Healing Centre for Women, South Africa

Mother of Hope Cameroon (MOHCAM)

National Tertiary Education Union, Australia

Noemi Gruetter, Swiss Youth Representative

Pacific Network Against Violence Against Women and Girls

Pacific Young Women’s Leadership Alliance

Pacific Youth Council

Pari o Dispare, Italy

Le Planning Familial, France

Positive Youth Network of Latin America and the Caribbean

REDefine Mexico

Republika Libre, Dominican Republic

RESURJ

SPECTRA: Diverse People, Diverse Interventions, Rwanda

Taller Salud, Puerto Rico

TierrActiva, Peru

Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health, Kenya

Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights

Vecinas Feministas de América Latina y el Caribe por la Justicia Sexual y Reproductiva

Vision Spring Initiatives, Nigeria

Women’s Action Network, Sri Lanka

WO=MEN Dutch Gender Platform

Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights

Women United Together, Marshall Islands

Women for Women’s Human Rights – New Ways, Turkey

World YWCA

Youth Champions Advocacy Network, Nepal

Young Women’s Leadership Institute, Kenya

Youth Advocacy Network, Sri Lanka

Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights

Youth Engage, Zimbabwe

YWCA Australia

Is there sexuality education in Armenia?

One of the most pressing SRHR issues in Armenia is the lack of comprehensive sexual education in schools. There are around half a million adolescents and youth live in Armenia,[1] and it is very crucial that every one of them is properly educated and aware of their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Article 5of the RA Law on Reproductive Health and Reproductive Rights refers to the adolescents’ right to acquire sexuality education.[2] Article 5.2 of the same law states: ''Adolescents' sexual education in secondary schools and in other educational institutions should be carried out by professionally trained persons in close cooperationwith families, health services, non-governmental organizations and the public''.[3] Despite the fact that sexual education is enshrined in this legal document as a right of adolescents, it is de facto poorly implemented in Armenia.

Some small sections of sexual education are covered in the frames of several school subjects, such as “Biology”(8th grade), few classes called “Healthy Lifestyle” incorporated in the Physical Education subject, and classes called “Safe Activities” included in “Preliminary military  preparedness” subject.Despite the number of hours devoted to sexual education in the frames of the above mentioned subjects, it still does not amount to a comprehensive sexual education, as it does not properly cover all aspects of SRHR issues and is taught by teachers, who do not have relevant knowledge and experience. There are various reasons why the Ministry of Education does not undertake steps to incorporate sexual education in the school curriculum, and considering the Armenian context, one of them is as simple as the word ''sex'', whichis avoidedto be used especially in the school context and for the adolescents[4].

As Anush Alexanyan,the expert of National Institute of Education states, the main section of sexual education is incorporated in the “Healthy lifestyle” classes:according to the curriculum the students at 8thand 9th grades and the high school students should spend 14 hourson these classes, which mainly contains information on maturation, hygiene, valuce of life, sexual violence, relationships,contraceptives and sexually transmitted infections(STIs). Yet, looking at the topics covered by this subject, it is obvious that there is no full reference to sexuality, sexual rights and reproductive rights. Moreover, the classes are held without any textbooks or written materials and there is no monitoring mechanism evaluating the quality of the “Healthy Lifestyle” classes, or tracking whether these classes are held or not. “Certainly, it was a crucial step forward that these subjects got introduced in school curriculum and annually several academic hours are devoted to sexual education, but our monitoring has revealed poor tutoring competence, when many among teachers find it difficult to overcome their own complex of openly speaking on the topic,” said United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Armenia Assistant Representative Garik Hayrapetyan. In fact the specialists run these classes together with other subjects at the same time and do not manage to cover all topics during the given time because of the lack of resourses and skills.

In order to fill the gap of not having sexual education at secondary schools, many awareness raising projects are carried out by local NGOs all over the country. Yet,the organizations providing sexual education trainings or openly speaking about sexuality issues are often discredited or accused in spreading immorality and distroying our national values and norms.

Without acquiring proper educationon sexual and reproductive health the adolescents often turn to peers and the media for information. In most of the time this leads to receiving precarious information dangerous for the adolescents and as a result they face various SRHR issues throughout their lives. “In this era of freedom of information the risks connected to not getting proper sexual education are much higher, because it leads to inadequate perception” says obstetrician-gynecologist Donara Alagyozyan.[5]According to her experience, as a result, currently there is a growing tendency of unintended pregnancies among teenage girls.

To sum up, there is a need of having a comprehensive sexual education for adolescents with properly trained professionals, who are skilled to teach such an important and delicate subject, as sexual education. Despite the fact that the right to sexual education is also enshrined in the RA Law on Reproductive Health and Reproductive Rights, the State does not undertake any steps to properly implement its obligation and ensure comprehensive sexual education to adolescents.

Article written by Lusine Kosakyan, Society Without Violence

Society Without Violence 


[1]Adolescents and Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health, accessed at: http://unfpa.am/en/adol-youth-srh
[2]The RA Law on Reproductive Health and Reproductive Rights, adopted in 2002, accessed at: http://www.parliament.am/legislation.php?sel=show&ID=1339&lang=arm
[3]Ibid

[4]''Sex Ed a Taboo in Armenia: If Taught at All, It’s by Phys Ed Teachers, Some 80 Years Old'', 2015 http://hetq.am/eng/news/58756/sex-ed-a-taboo-in-armenia-if-taught-at-all-its-by-phys-ed-teachers-some-80-years-old.html

[5] Sex Education Needed as Changing Times Accelerate Activity Among Teens, accessed: http://www.armenianow.com/hy/node/48061

CSW60: Every Woman Every Child's high-level event

During this year's 60th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, Every Woman Every Child office of the Secretary-General has organized the high-level event "The Roadmap to Realizing Rights: Every Woman Every Child's Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescents' Health" with co-organization of UN Women. The event focused on implementation of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health with its 3 thematic pillars: Survive, Thrive and TransformKeynote address was provided by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

ASTRA Youth member and representative of Croatia at CSW60, Marinella Matejcic, has delivered a speech during the panel discussion as a participant of Women Young Leaders Program.

 

Find her speech below:

Hello. My name is Marinella Matejcic, and I am a member of the ASTRA Youth Network and a Women Deliver Young Leader. I would like to join Lucia in thanking Every Woman Every Child for the invitation to today’s event. It has been a fascinating conversation so far.

As a sexual and reproductive health and rights activist in Croatia, I work to hold legislators accountable to keep abortion in Croatia legal and to ensure the availability of accurate information about reproductive health and sexual rights to women who need it.

In my advocacy work, some of the challenges have been Croatia’s struggling health care system. Due to outdated systems and unstable economy, many women simply aren’t in the financial situation to receive the health care they need and deserve.

This has created a situation in which women simply aren’t allowed to make decisions about their own bodies.

But despite these challenges, young feminists, and non-governmental organizations are doing incredible work on women's human and work rights, working on gender-based violence, women participation and sexual and reproductive health and rights, coping with problems like disrespect and abuse, lack of access due to objections of conscience that make women seek illegal abortions after hours.

Primary school enrollment for girls is nearly equal to that of their male counterparts and nearly all women deliver their babies in a health care facility. Croatia's maternal mortality ratio is even lower than the European average. Still, disrespect and abuse in childbirth are wide-spread, but there is no proper data on the subject. When it comes to abortion, it is legal upon tenth week of pregnancy but approximately every fifth hospital does not provide that service, due to objections of conscience.  That is the main reason women have hard time exercising their human rights: institutions use object of conscience as an excuse to deny that service to women.

When it comes to my work on the matter of abortion accessibility, we have conducted a guerilla research, called every hospital that is supposed to provide abortions and published all the data on a web page. The web page itself is completely oriented on abortion accessibility and is now being used by women who wish to find proper information on the subject. Some church-affiliated NGOs are pushing unscientific references to mislead those who wish to know more about different aspects of bodily autonomy. My piece on abortion accessibility got published on a Croatian portal libela.org and after that, things started to move. Our former liberal government intervened and made the hospitals obey the law. Since Croatia has a new, more conservative government, we don't know what can we expect.

While we are discussing abortion and sexual and reproductive health and rights in Europe, it is important to emphasize the fact that, as we speak, nearly 14000 people are trapped on the Balkan route, and 60 percent of them are women and children. Refugee women now face lack of access to maternity care, contraceptives, and sex ed. We need to provide comprehensive reproductive care for everyone, thus, that is an important part of women's empowerment.

 

The video recording from the event is available here: http://webtv.un.org/watch/every-woman-every-child-high-level-event-csw60-side-event/4802508407001

 

UN Experts: Right to sexual and reproductive health indivisible from other human rights

GENEVA (8 March 2016) – The right to sexual and reproductive health is not only an integral part of the general right to health but fundamentally linked to the enjoyment of many other human rights, including the rights to education, work and equality, as well as the rights to life, privacy and freedom from torture, and individual autonomy, UN experts have said in an authoritative new legal commentary*.

Yet, the experts from the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) note, “the full enjoyment of the right to sexual and reproductive health remains a distant goal for millions of people, especially for women and girls, throughout the world.”

The commentary, adopted by CESCR’s 18 independent members, highlights the numerous legal, procedural, practical and social barriers people face in accessing sexual and reproductive health care and information, and the resulting human rights violations.

“For example, lack of emergency obstetric care services or denial of abortion often lead to maternal mortality and morbidity, which in turn constitutes a violation of the right to life or security, and in certain circumstances, can amount to torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” the experts say in their commentary.

The experts’ guidelines, known as a General Comment, concern Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which refers to the right to the highest attainable standard of health.

“As a Committee we have spoken before about the right to health, but we thought that given, for example, high maternal mortality rates around the world or harmful practices that women and girls especially go through, like female genital mutilation and early child marriage, it was important to specifically address the issue of sexual and reproductive health,” said Committee member Heisoo Shin.

The General Comment codifies the Committee’s views on this issue to give States that have ratified the Covenant a clear understanding of their obligations and to highlight to government officials, legal practitioners, as well as civil society, where policy, laws and programme may be failing and how they can be improved.

“I think, for example, that governments have not allocated enough attention and resources to tackle maternal mortality. In 2016, we should not see women dying as they give birth because of insufficient facilities or because of lack of attention or because they are poor,” Ms.Shin said.

The General Comment details the importance of sexual and reproductive health for men and boys, but also highlights how the issues are indispensable for women’s right to make meaningful and autonomous decisions about their lives and health. It notes that gender-based stereotypes play a role in fuelling violations of the right to sexual and reproductive health, including assumptions and expectations of women as men’s subordinates and of women’s role as only caregivers and mothers.

The General Comment also pays special attention to other groups of individuals who may face particular challenges and multiple forms of discrimination.

“People with disabilities need more attention and extra sensitivity to their situation; we see examples of doctors and nurses not treating lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people equally; adolescents can be afraid to go to the gynaecologist because they are not supposed to have any sexual encounter; taboos around sex also affect the ability of single women in many countries to access services,” said Ms.Shin. 

The General Comment details the obligations of States regarding sexual and reproductive health, including:

  • An obligation to repeal, eliminate laws, policies and practices that criminalise, obstruct or undermine an individual’s or a particular group’s access to health facilities, services, goods and information;
  • An obligation to ensure all have access to comprehensive education and information that is non-discriminatory, evidence-based and takes into account the evolving capacities of children and adolescents;
  • An obligation to ensure universal access to quality sexual and reproductive health care, including maternal health care, contraceptive information and services, safe abortion care; prevention, diagnosis and treatment of infertility, reproductive cancers, sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS.

The General Comment states that ideologically based policies or practices, such as the refusal to provide services based on conscience, must not prevent people from getting care, and that an adequate number of health care providers willing and able to provide such services should be available at all times in both public and private facilities. 
“Even in one country, there are wide differences, between different generations, between urban centres and rural areas, differences between men and women, so you cannot say there is always one position, and even culture changes over time,” said Ms Shin. “The ultimate goal should be what is best for people to enjoy the right to sexual and reproductive health.”

*Download the text of General Comment No.22

Source: United Nations Human Rights

Silence equals taboo: women's rights in Poland

Women's rights in Poland, especially those concerning their own choices about their bodies and health have been very limited for over 20 years. Unfortunately, we observe continuous efforts aiming to completely restrict women's freedom to choose.

Many countries of the world face the dominant tendency to increase access to contraception and legal abortion, ensure reimbursement of contraceptives as well as enable sexuality education based on scientific and medical knowledge. Meanwhile, in Poland we experience backlash in women's rights advancement. 

Our government begins to pay the Catholic Church back for its strong support during election campaign. According to a statement of Ministry of Education, qualified educators from non-governmental organizations will not be allowed to schools. Ironically, a recent study of the Institute for Educational Research about sexuality education confirmed the lack of basic knowledge among young people. The study also  showed also that most parents appreciate presence of sexuality education classes in school.

So far Ministry of Health replaced  the subsidised In Vitro Fertilsation  programme with 
a “procreation” programme, based on natural methods of family planning. It will be developed by team of experts demonstrating anti-choice attitudes. We also expect changes in law regarding access to emergency contraception. Since January 2015, thanks to decision of the European Commission, emergency contraception (EllaOne) has been available over-the-counter in Poland. However, it is accessible only for girls over 15 years of age and it’ s quite expensive. One of the most burning issues is our abortion law. We have one of the most restrictive laws in the world and for some politicians and anti-choice activists it's still not enough. Every year there are attempts to ban access to abortion completely. Because of the right wing government and rising support for anti-abortion initiatives, this time they might succeed. As we know, anti-choice activists have started collecting signatures under citizens bill introducing further restrictions to abortion.

What can we do? 

We should speak up about women's rights to make their own choices, about young people's right to comprehensive sexuality education and about access to modern contraception, which is guaranteed by Polish law. We should refer to our Constitution, especially to 47th article, which grants all citizens a right to legal protection of private and family life, honour and good reputation and the right to make decisions about personal life.

What we cannot do is to remain silent. Silence equals taboo and allows for stigmatization of women’s rights defenders, sexuality educators and women who had an abortion or considered it. We will not stop our efforts to educate society and debunk existing myths on sexual and reproductive health. 

Written by Krystyna Kacpura, Executive Director of the Federation for Women and Family Planning serving as ASTRA Secretariat

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