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Astra Network submits a letter to Vladimir Spidla. As follow up to the Public Hearing organized by the Parliamentary Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality with meaningful participation of Astra, which took place on 29th of January 2008, Astra has approached the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities with an open letter. Astra undertakes this initiative as part of a scaled up response to the lack of adequate SRHR policies within the EU. Mr Spidla has showed his commitment and support for sexual and reproductive health and rights a number of times. The letter points to the Commission's statement, namely the Communication, A Roadmap for equality between women and men, 2006-2010 that clearly foresees the promotion of gender equality as a basic human right in external and development policies; and that improving sexual and reproductive health is strongly linked to the achievement of Millennium Development Goal 3 (gender equality and the empowerment of women). However, Astra would like to raise the concern that while SRHR is viewed as a gender equality issue in external and development aid policies, it is not viewed as such within the EU's borders. This double standard has led to continued marginalisation and serious gaps regarding reproductive health and rights issues between EU Member States. Thus there is a need for continued effort to secure SRHR also within the borders of the EU.
To read a letter go to: Letter
A Roadmap for equality between women and men, 2006-2010 is available at: Roadmap
Astra Network News! In February two organizations joined Astra Network: The Legal Center for Women's Initiatives 'Sana Sezim' from Kazahstan and the 'Center Women and Modern World' from Azerbaijan. We are very happy and excited to announce this news, especially because it shows our regional development and brings hope to expand our actions through our new members into new grounds. We expect that our cooperation will be very fruitful for both sides.
Source: ASTRA news
Update from Astra Youth. Astra Youth, a group of young advocates affiliated with the Astra Network has opened a new round of recruitment. We invite young individuals from the CEE region and the Balkans to apply for membership. Astra Youth advocates for sexual and reproductive health and rights of youth, mainly for access to information on sexuality and family planning as well as access to services. The group was launched in 2004. The group has developed rapidly in the past two years and its now summarizing and evaluating the effectiveness of its advocacy strategy and impact it has on youth in the CEE region. In September 2006, Astra Youth released a report on youth's sexual and reproductive health and rights in central and eastern Europe as well as Balkan countries. The report is entitled 'Youth's Voice' and it is based on the study conducted in nine countries of the region. It examines young people's access to sexuality education and sexual and reproductive services including full range of contraceptives. The research also measures knowledge and attitudes of young people on sexuality. The study's results and the concerns it triggers have been shared with civil society organizations working in similar issues as well as decision makers on national as well as international forum. Electronic version of Youth's Voice is available online at: Youth's Voice There are also hard copies available and you can contact Astra secretariat if interested in receiving those. In the region we live in, sexuality is still a taboo and due to lack of access to reliable information young people are at risk of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS. Effective HIV prevention has become a main focus of our advocacy. Thus we developed YES (Youth Educated Sexuality) campaign aiming at promoting consistent condom use as both: STIs prevention and contraceptives. The campaign has been launched in Zagreb, Croatia at the International Child's Day. The country has been chosen as there were some alarming political initiatives as regards high risky sexuality education discussed among politicians at that point in Croatia. Conservative forces attempted to introduce unreliable and biased sex education programmes into school curricula. The event turned out to be a big success. Astra Youth team spread condoms, educative leaflets and other materials, including t-shirts promoting safer sex in the city center. YES campaign has been also presented to young decision makers at the international session of the European Youth Parliament in June 2007 in Bialystok, Poland. Similar street actions took place in other countries where Astra Youth has members like in Armenia for instance. Meaningful youth participation in decision making processes is an important area of our advocacy. We have already participated in a number of high level meetings, including Beijing+10 (Fourth World Conference on Women), 10th International Women and Health Meeting and 10th International AWID Forum. We also participated in the regular meetings organized by the European Commission - roundtables on safer sex for young people. Moreover, we also had a chance to speak up at two Astra conferences in September 2006 and July 2007. The International Conference on Youth Sexuality and Sexuality Education in the Context of HIV/AIDS Prevention in Europe, especially in Central and Eastern Europe (September 2006) ended with the recommendations for national governments regarding sexuality education elaborated by young people. More information is available at: Info. Currently the group is undergoing substantial internal changes, being in the process of setting up internal structure and terms of reference. Our effort has been now channeled to build our internal capacity to become better advocates of sexual and reproductive health and rights of young people. In April the group will meet again for its strategy planning. You are invited to visit our website: Website Contact us at: ASTRA Network to learn more on how to become a member.
GEORGIA: Young people's sexual health and rights in the spotlight. RHIYC (Reproductive Health Initiative for Youth in the South Caucasus) has carried out a second round of training for youth organizations from the South Caucasus. RHIYC is a project that aims to improve SRHR of young people in the region. The first round of training took place in September 2007 and it gathered youth from over 20 organizations. They learned about SRHR and developed the skills necessary to successfully carry out peer education back at their local communities. This time, the objective was to build capacity in terms of advocacy for sexual and reproductive rights of young people. In Georgia and generally in the South Caucasus, there is an urgent need to support SRHR as the issues are often neglected due to conservative traditions and customs. For example, in Azerbaijan sexuality education was incorporated into school curricula for the first time in 2007. However, the quality of it leaves a lot to be desired. Similarly, in Georgia, comprehensive and progressive educational programmes are missing. Furthermore, young people have very limited access to information on family planning (mainly due to the strong role of tradition which places a taboo on the topic of sexuality) and their contraceptive choices are also very narrowed. Currently, RHIYC is consulting the Georgian government in the development of a comprehensive and reliable sexuality education programme. The previous programme faced strong opposition from conservative circles as they strongly disapproved of more progressive textbooks that have been adapted and translated into Georgian. RHIYC is funded by the the European Union and United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
More information in available at: RHIYC
MOLDOVA: Demographics on the agenda. The meeting between the Prime Minister of Moldova and the UNFPA advisor resulted in the decision to establish the Department of Demographic Analysis at the State University. During the meeting, the demographic situation of the country has been discussed along with the review of the UNFPA activity in Moldova. Both parties agreed that the country's demographic situation needs more attention.
For more information on the demographic situation in Moldova go to: Statistics
Source: UNFPA in the news, February, 18 - 24
LITHUANIA: The women's movement opposes political attempts to ban abortion in the country. Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning has submitted a letter to Lithuanian parliamentarians urging the rejection of a proposal to restrict the abortion law in Lithuania. The draft law pending in the Sejmas to severely restrict access to legal abortion in Lithuania is planned to be discussed in early spring this year. The objective of the letter is to share fifteen years of experience in Poland - a country that violates women's rights to decide freely about their bodies through restrictive anti-abortion law. It pinpoints the real results of the criminalization of termination of pregnancy. The Federation for Women and Family Planning proves that the anti-abortion law has not liquidated nor even limited the phenomenon of abortion. Pregnancies are still terminated, but instead of being performed in the safe environment of a hospital they are pushed into the so-called abortion underground, where there are no guarantees of protection of women's life and health. We encourage other organizations to react to this initiative to severely restrict women's rights and solidarize with Lithuanian women.
More information available at: Federation
ROMANIA: Highly homophobic. A recently conducted survey indicates that the Romanian society strongly disapproves of lesbians, bisexuals and gays. More than half of respondents stated that homo- o r bi- sexuality should be tolerated. A similar number claim to feel uncomfortable with finding out that their doctor or relative is homosexual. Forty five percent of respondents would not be friends with a lesbian or a gay man. The study indicates that homophobia concerns almost all social groups regardless of education, sex or age.
SPAIN: Federation of Family Planning demands a law on sexual and reproductive health. The Spanish Federation of Family Planning (FPFE) - member of International Planned Parenthood Federation - has demands from those who will take political responsibilities following the presidential elections of March, 9, 'the legal protection of a Law on Sexual and Reproductive Health'. The announcement was made by the FPFE President Mr Guillermo Gonzalez at the ceremony of the 'Ana Tutor' Prizes, which are given by the Socialist Party of Madrid (PSM-PSOE) annually to those individuals and organizations who work for the equality of men and women. Additionally, the announcement was made two days before the celebration of the European Day of Sexual and Reproductive Health. The FPFE received this award in the category of 'Social Initiatives' at a ceremony which took place on Tuesday February, 12 at the Salones Orfeo in the city of Madrid.
More information is available at: Spain
52nd Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), 25 February - 7 March, New York, USA. The main focus of the session is financing for gender equality and empowerment of women. Moreover, CSW remains highly oriented towards discussing the implementation of the commitments made by governments at the Fourth World Conference in Beijing; and especially how effectively are those implemented on national levels. The Commission is also examining one emerging issue that is Climate change and gender.
To view press releases of the CSW go to: Womenwatch
Threat of considerable cuts in American funding for sexual and reproductive health. In the proposed budget for 2009, President George Bush reduces American funding for family planning and sexual and reproductive health by 29 percent, which equals USD 134 million. If the budget is adopted, the cutback will seriously affect the situation of millions of women worldwide and demonstrate the US government's lack of commitment to invest in women. Unfortunately, it is also in line with the constant decrease in funding available for women's health and empowerment.
Source: PAInsider February 2008
The EU calls upon member states to curb discrimination against sexual minorities on the labour market. EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities - Vladimir Spidla - urges EU countries to live up to the legally binding EU anti-discrimination directive (2000/78/EC) and adjust their national laws. Eleven member states failed to do so in the period of the last three years. That is: France, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Malta, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and a number of CEE countries - Estonia, Hungary and the Czech Republic. This is the second official warning and now the countries have a two-month deadline to harmonize their laws with EU standards. First letters of formal notice were sent to 17 countries, including Poland, in 2006. The Commissioner is mainly concerned about the cases of discrimination on the labour market based on age, disability and, above all, sexual orientation. Complementary letters of formal notice have been also directed to Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia and Poland (among others). If member states do not take urgent action to adjust their legislation, the Commission will begin proceedings against these governments at the European Court of Justice.
To learn more about this legally binding EU directive go to: Employment social
UNFPA: New thematic fund to slash maternal deaths. United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in collaboration with national governments and other United Nations agencies has established a new fund eligible for programmes aiming at improving maternal health services in 75 countries. UNFPA appealed for nearly USD 500 million, which will be gathered and spent in the next four years. Pregnancy and childbirth cause the deaths of about half a million women annually. Every single minute women and girls die due to pregnancy or childbirth complications. Eradicating this burning problem is the fifth Millennium Development Goal, which must be realized by the year 2015. The fund will also encourage developed countries and private sponsors to contribute more to saving women's lives.
For more information go to: Maternal deaths
European Feminist Forum (EFF) called off. EFF, a platform for ongoing e-debate on women's issues and feminism in Europe was going to end up with the huge international conference in Warsaw, Poland scheduled to take place in June, 13 - 15, 2008. Unfortunately, it is not going to happen. The organizers of the EEF, Karat Coalition (host) and IIAV (secretariat), has decided to cancel this long awaited event due to lack of funding that is a symptom of the general global trend of shortages in funding for women's rights and feminist agenda. Nevertheless, the initiators of EFF will keep the website for at least two years which can still serve as a platform for debate.
Official information is available at: EFF
Mexico Youth Force E- Consultation, March, 3 - 21, 2008 E- Consultation to set the advocacy and visibility agenda for the Mexico Youth Force will take place from 3rd until 21st of March 2008. As the first International AIDS Conference (IAC) ever held in Latin America, (XVII Mexico International AIDS Conference, August, 3-8, 2008) is approaching, young people mobilize to develop an advocacy message and strategy as well as to undertake actions to guarantee youth participation at this high level meeting gathering 25,000 participants. Young people and especially young women must be actors there as they are disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS. Young people under 25 represent almost half of new HIV infections occurring annually. However, young people are often excluded and marginalized in the global response, despite international commitments such as the UNGASS Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS which explicitly states young people's right to participate. Outcomes of the e-consultation will feed into visibility materials such as t-shirts, posters, stickers, and banners. Young people will be trained on how to advocate for these messages effectively through advocacy and media workshops during the Youth Pre-Conference (July 31, August 1 and 2) and during the Main Conference.
To sing up go to: Takingitglobal
You can visit Youth Force website at: Youthaid
Say NO to violence against women! United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) has just launched a campaign to end gender-based violence. It's a one year-long campaign. A famous celebrity, Nicole Kidman, is a goodwill ambassador of this action. Violence against women and girls remains a universal problem. It is estimated that every third woman has suffered from at least one form of violence. The campaign is accompanied by a website which provides facts and figures on all forms of violence as well as a useful set of fact sheets and personal testimonies. You can support the campaign by signing up statement.
Visit the campaign's website at: Unifem
Conference on Demographic Change, Restructuring of the Welfare State and Gender Relations in European Comparison, September 25 - 26, 2008, University of Applied Sciences and Arts and University of Hildesheim, Germany. The primary objective of this international conference is to discuss the fact that the population of Europe is expected to decline by the middle of this century. Throughout most of Europe there are transnational and national debates about the reasons and consequences of demographic change in European welfare states and in most parts of the western world. These debates address demographic changes in fertility, ageing and migration. The discussion of these issues is only rarely linked systematically with the concurrent restructuring of welfare states and changes in gender relations.
The university's website: University
International Women's Day in the European Parliament, March, 5, 2008, Brussels, Belgium. The meeting will take place from 4 to 6:30 PM in the European Parliament. Speakers will be include Waris Dirie - United Nations Ambassador and the author of the book entitled 'Desert Flower' as well as a number of members of parliament: Christa Prest, Lissy Groener (PSE) and Zita Gurmai. Vladimir Spidla (Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities) and Jan Figel (Commissioner for Education, Youth and Culture) will also deliver speeches. The topic of this year's meeting is Women in Intercultural Dialogue.
VI European Meeting for Young People affected by HIV/AIDS, July, 12 - 19, 2008, Zurich, Switzerland. The meeting entitled 'Best Practices' calls upon participants to work out the programme. Each organization interested in attending it, should delegate a youth representative and a key staff worker. It is organized by AIDS and Child - a Swiss foundation for direct assistance to children affected by AIDS. Young people who take part in this meeting will have the chance to get constructive support in coming to terms with their illness and will improve their ability to live with HIV/AIDS. Exchanging ideas with others will strengthen their personal resources and also help them perceive their responsibility in a social context. For more information contact: Linus G. Jauslin, Secretary General
Love and Sorrow - Sensoa releases a new publication on St. Valentine's Day. Love and Sorrow is issued every year. It studies new developments and trends as regards sexuality and intimate relations. It contains articles by various types of experts: scientists, journalists and advocates, so the topic is presented from different perspectives. This third edition looks at, among other things, scientific research on sexual behavior and the quality of the sex life of people over 50 years of age.
The publication is available in Dutch only and can be ordered via Shop
Gender responsive budgeting and women's reproductive rights - resource pack. Developed jointly by UNIFPA and UNIFEM, this resource pack provides relevant knowledge to facilitate the main streaming of gender-responsive approaches into reproductive health programmes, and the inclusion of specific aspects of gender inequality and disadvantage into national policy frameworks. It focuses primarily on health, particularly reproductive health; on HIV/AIDS; and on violence against women as it relates to health services. The resource pack takes the form of brief "sheets," each focusing on a GRB-related topic. Each sheet includes descriptions of a range of experiences using GRB in different countries, as well as references for further reading. It is available in English, Spanish and French.
The electronic version can be downloaded at: Publication