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30 YEARS OF A GLOBAL BILL OF RIGHTS FOR WOMEN.2009 marks the 30th anniversary of adoption of the most comprehensive international treaty on women’s rights, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The CEDAW was adapted by the UN General Assembly in December 1979. The treaty affirms basic human rights for women and girls and is a tool to end abuses against them — physical, sexual, and legal. It creates international standards for women’s human rights and provides a blueprint for nations to improve women’s lives by protecting them from violence and trafficking; increasing access to education and economic opportunity; and securing legal rights. The treaty commits ratifying nations to overcoming barriers to discrimination against women in the areas of legal rights, education, employment, health care, politics, and finance. Like all human rights treaties, CEDAW sets benchmarks within traditional enforcement mechanisms that respect sovereignty and democracy. In many of the countries that have ratified the treaty, it has guided the passage and enforcement of national law. Advocates have used the treaty to urge their governments to take actions such as investing in education for girls or passing laws to curb trafficking of women. Further, some countries have incorporated provisions of the treaty directly into their national law, and courts have cited CEDAW in decisions ranging from requiring protection from domestic violence to enabling women to inherit property. Over 30 years, CEDAW has made a tangible impact on women’s lives in countries where it has been ratified. Currently, 185 countries - over ninety percent of the members of the United Nations - are party to the Convention. The United States, Sudan, Somalia, Qatar, Iran, Nauru, Palau and Tonga are the countries that have not ratified the treaty yet.
More info on the 30th anniversary’s celebration: www.un.org/womenwatch
Czech Presidency to the Council of the European Union. The main motto of the Czech Presidency is „Europe Without Barriers“. The area of competitiveness, four liberties and the liberal trade policy were determined as chief priority areas. Although the working programme of the Czech Presidency does not mention issues related to reproductive health and rights, there are many ingredients that will make 2009 an important year for gender equality in the European Union. Three proposal for EU legislation (directives) are currently being negotiated by the Member States and the European institutions – one Directive proposes significant improvements in the right to maternity leave throughout the EU, the second should introduce improvements to the situation of self-employed workers and assisting spouses/life partners and another Directive will introduce an EU wide ban on discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation in media, education, social protection, and in access to goods and services. Another negotiation process between social partners aims at revising the existing European legislation on parental leave. The ASTRA Secretariat is committed to follow these legislative processes to make sure their outcome will have a significant positive impact on the lives of women throughout Europe.
ASTRA Network’s statement regarding the draft of the anti-discrimination directive is available here.
More information on the Czech EU Council presidency: EU 2009
Czech Government’s position on the new anti-discrimination directive proposal.The Czech Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs’ Deputy Michal Sedlacek introduced the government's view of the new anti-discrimination directive proposal that had been adopted on July 2, 2008 in the following words: "The Czech Republic deems the proposed directive on protection from discrimination on grounds of age, disability, sexual orientation and religion or belief beyond the workplace an unnecessary piece of legislation. High standards of protection from discrimination are already secured on both the state and international levels. Protection against discrimination should be a job of the national governments of the member states, as this is an issue of national traditions and social consensus." The European Court of Justice is expected to sentence the Czech Republic, that has not fully implemented the EU anti-discrimination directives, for breaking the treaty in the area of discrimination in one of the five proceedings on the matter as soon as in December this year. One wonders whether the time has come to replace this pose with an open and straightforward discussion on anti-discrimination legislation. Such a discussion would certainly benefit a country taking up the EU Presidency.
Czech Republic: new bill on abortion. Under current Czech law, unrestricted abortion is allowed until 12 weeks gestation, and with "medical indications" until 24 weeks. Fetuses diagnosed with serious abnormalities can be legally aborted at any gestational age. The only restrictions beyond these say that abortions must be spaced at least six months apart and the pregnant woman must be at least 16 years old, unless she has the permission of her parents. New bill further extending conditions for abortion, and liberalizing rules of assisted fertilization, sex change, sterilization and other specific treatments was unanimously approved by the Czech cabinet in December 2008. The European Union rules state that all participating member states should provide the same services and care to all EU citizens that local citizens receive. If the new bill is passed by the parliament, it will extend abortion privileges and other health services to all European Union citizens.
More information available here
BBC World Cinema Award for "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" by Cristian Mungiu. Romanian abortion film that previously won the top award at the Cannes Film Festival has been named as the winner of the BBC4 World Cinema award. The movie examines the illegal abortions that were done in communist-era Romania when abortions were prohibited. Featuring Anamaria Marinca, it focuses on the horrors a student endures to help her friend have an abortion.
Source: Women's News
PORTUGAL: Act legalizing same sex marriages turned down.Portuguese Parliament has rejected the law that would allow homosexual couples to register relationships. The conservative opposition along with the majority of the ruling socialist party voted against the act. Liberal circles remain disappointed and regret that, in theory liberal, ruling party broke under the pressure of the Catholic Church. The law was proposed by the minority leftist parliamentary political parties, namely Bloco de Esquerda and the Green Party. Many commentators claim that the government of the José Sócratesa wanted to avoid the clash with the influential catholic authorities strongly opposing the proposed bill. Nevertheless, one year earlier a liberalization of the abortion law took place in spite of severe pressure exerted by the opposition.
Population Census in Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan is preparing for the population census. This information came from the press conference conducted by the National Statistical Committee and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) today. The United Nations Population Fund provided over $150US thousand in assistance for the population census. UNFPA closely works with the National Statistical Committee and provided financial, technical assistance for training of population census personnel, provided computers and software for making cartographic documents. The staff of the National Statistical Committee will also receive training on use of the necessary equipment for conduct of the population and housing census and preparation of the publication with results of 2009 census. The forms and all necessary documentation for the census have been prepared, as well as communication materials, including texts of announcements for newspapers, posters, leaflets. The population and housing census will be conducted from March 24 to April 2, 2009. The census is conducted every 10 years. The last census was conducted in 1999.
Source: Source: AKIpress News Agency (Kyrgyzstan)
Aggressive anti-abortion campaign in Macedonia. The posters reading "Abortion is murder," and depicting a smiling baby on one side and a foetus covered in blood on the other appeared on the streets of Skopje in November 2008. The posters no identification except for the web address of the US-based Center for Bio-Ethical Reforms, whose European branch helped launch a Slovakian anti-abortion campaign in September using 500 graphic billboards on the Bratislava transportation networks. Health Education and Research Association (HERA), member of ASTRA Youth released a letter opposing the aggressive campaign. The Association`s major objection is that the debate should not focus on abortions alone, but should head towards increasing possibilities for informed choice for every citizen to use modern and safe sexual and reproductive health services. The Association demands development of a national strategy for sexual and reproductive health, system of credentials for clinics that will be authorized the do abortions, review of the national legislation to provide for institutionalized medical abortion, and stable financial frameworks that will allow for improved sexual and reproductive rights through prevention programmes.
Norway cracks down on prostitution. On the 1st of January 2009, new law banning the purchase of sex came into force in Norway. Norwegians caught buying sex, even if it is abroad, can now be fined or sent to prison for six months. Authorities say they want to stamp out sex tourism and street prostitution by targeting the clients and not the prostitutes. The Norwegian police have been authorized to use wire-tapping devices to gather evidence. Local media have already reported a visible decrease in women working on the streets in central Oslo. Critics of new regulations say prostitution will simply be driven underground and it will be more difficult to control it.
Azerbaijan: “Reproductive Health and Family Planning” bill rejected by the Parliament. The Azerbaijani Parliament rejected the bill on reproductive health and family planning. The main argument of the opponents was the effect the proposed draft could have on “Azerbaijani mentality”. The current bill on “Protection of the population’s health” was adopted in 1997 and it does not regulate the issues of surrogate motherhood, artificial insemination and other issues not covered by Koranic teachings.
Catania Report approved by the European Parliament. The report on the Situation of Fundamental Rights in the EU prepared by Italian MEP G.Catania calls on each of the 27 member states to legally guarantee access to 'sexual and reproductive rights'. Catania’s report 'stresses the need to raise public awareness of the right to reproductive and sexual health, and calls on the member states to ensure that women can fully enjoy these rights, to put in place appropriate sex education, information and confidential advisory services, and to facilitate access to contraception in order to prevent all unwanted pregnancies and illegal and high-risk abortions'. Laws on abortion on demand vary across Europe, from a strict ban in countries such as in Ireland and Poland, unless the mother's life is in danger; to a ban after 12 weeks' of pregnancy, which is in effect in most EU countries. Britain, Spain and other countries allow abortion up to 24 weeks with the approval of two doctors. Catania report offers a universal provision to 'guarantee women’s effective exercise of their right to abortion' and to 'allow women freedom of choice and offer the conditions of a free and enlightened choice'. The resolution calls for the recognition of a right to abortion – that has been elevated to the status of a human right by Amnesty International (2007) and Council of Europe (2008). The resolution is based on the Charter of Fundamental Rights, part of the Lisbon treaty (the charter nor the Lisbon treaty have not been passed into law yet), and it will have to go before the EU's Council of Ministers before becoming law. Hopefully, even before being rubber-stamped it will act as a 'soft law' used to put every EU government under pressure to abolish any existing restrictions in their laws on abortion.
More information available at the website of the European Parliament
Debate on the draft of bioethical bill in Poland. In December 2008, the presentation of the draft of bioethical bill prepared by a conservative deputy of the ruling Civic Platform (PO), invoked heated public debate. According to the draft, IVF procedures would be available only for sterile married couples. The proposed draft stipulates, among many controversial provisions, a ban on creating surplus embryos, preimplantation diagnostics and sperm banks. The infertility treatments would be unavailable neither for couples living together nor single parents. The Catholic Church, traditionally interfering with women’s reproductive rights, restated the opposition to artificial insemination and called catholic deputies not to support it, the extremist right wing announced the presentation of the bill introducing complete ban of the IVF procedures, while the deputies of PO who disagreed with the restrictive draft decided to revise it. The maneuvers of politicians have been accompanied by increasing social protests like a letter of scientists and intellectuals to the Prime Minister published by a daily Gazeta Wyborcza or demonstrations if front of the Parliament held by feminist organizations. The pro-life activists who oppose IVF procedures created the Committee Pro Dono Vitae. The Committee advocates setting the bioethical debate in the context of existing restrictive legislation regarding protection of fetuses. The Federation for Women and Family Planning, a member of ASTRA Network, initiated the collection of signatures under the petition against the draft of the bioethical bill. This protest endorsed by over 30 organizations have been already signed by several thousands of individuals. Moreover, the Federation coordinates works of the Special Task Force of experts working currently on the elaboration of the civic draft law. Additionally, Social Agreement of Support of the Civic Project was formed and it is currently collecting signatures in order to introduce the civic draft in the Parliament (100 thousand signatures is required for the presentation of the draft).
ASTRA Network welcomes Barack Obama as the next president of the United States. In December 2008, ASTRA member organizations joined IPAS initiative and signed a letter to President-elect calling him to restore the United States to the forefront in the global movement to promote women’s reproductive health and rights. In January, in one of his first official acts, President Barack Obama rescinded the Mexico City Policy. We believe that this move signals a much-anticipated shift in U.S. policies in support of reproductive health and rights both at home and overseas. The thank-you note that ASTRA Network sent to President Obama is available here.
Nearly 40% of Global Births are Unregistered - World Health Organization. Nearly 40 percent of the 128 million babies born worldwide every year are not officially registered, and two thirds of deaths also go undocumented, the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed. The U.N. agency said incomplete birth and death registries in many developing countries "means they cannot count how many people are born and how many die, and they cannot record how long they live or what kills them". Only 31 of the WHO's 193 member states are believed to have reliable cause-of-death statistics. Children whose births are not registered are less likely to benefit from basic human rights, social, political, civic and economic. "When deaths go uncounted and causes of death are not documented, governments are unable to design effective health policies, measure their impact or know whether health budgets are being well-spent," it said in a statement. Over 48 million births each year – 36 per cent of births worldwide – are not registered. According to UNICEF, the regional breakdown of unregistered births is as follows: South Asia 63%, sub-Saharan Africa 55%, CEE/CIS & Baltic States 23%.
More information available here.
Approval of FC2 Female Condom by the FDA. On December 11, 2008, an advisory committee at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) voted unanimously to grant pre-market approval to the FC2 female condom--the Female Health Company's second generation female condom. This is a victory for women's health, and means the FC2 is one step closer to obtaining FDA approval, which is likely to happen in the next few months.
More information available on FDA FC2.
ICPD at 15. 2009 will be the year when women’s groups and movements all over the world prepare for the 15- year follow up to the 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women’s Rights. UNFPA and the German Government are facilitating a Global NGO Forum on ICPD at 15 to take place in Berlin, 2-4 September 2009.The Global Forum will bring together key NGO partners from the South and the North. A Steering Committee, which will be responsible for the arrangements of the Forum, has been set up and will meet in Berlin on 1-3 February. It is envisaged that NGOs will be able to participate in activities at the national and regional levels in preparation of the Forum.
IAPAC 09. The International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care (IAPAC), in association with amfAR (The Foundation for AIDS Research), will co-host IAPAC 09 - an abstract-driven conference focused on HIV clinical management and HIV prevention, testing, and psychosocial support - in New Orleans, November 29 - December 1, 2009. The IAPAC 09 program and call for abstracts will be available at www.iapac.org as well as www.amfar.org on February 13, 2009.
The Analysis on Women's Rights and Sexual Rights Issues elaborated during the Third Round of the Universal Periodic Review (December 2008) is published in Mulabi's website, at the following link. For more information go to: www.upr-info.org
"International Women's Program Brochure" a new resource from the Open Society Institute is available here.
“Reproductive health and religion” and “Reproductive health and commodities” two new fact sheets on reproductive health developed by the ÖGF, Austrian Association for Family Planning can be found at the download section of the ÖGF website: www.oegf.at and www.oegf.at
"Empowered and Equal", the UNDP Europe and CIS newest publication on European Gender Equality Strategy 2008-2011 is available here.
Learning for Action on Women's Leaderships and Participation: Programme Insights Papers by Joanna Hoare and Fiona Gell. The right to participate in decision-making at the local, national, and international level is one which women are often denied, whether as active citizens or as leaders. In particular, women living in poverty often have very little opportunity to influence decisions and policies that will have a direct influence on their lives and livelihoods, and on the welfare of themselves and their communities. The book provides case studies on increasing women’s share in decision-making.
Reproductive Health Matters 17(34) November 2009. The next issue is about what is happening in countries as regards criminalisation and decriminalisation of HIV transmission, sexuality and reproduction. § What are the existing laws and policies in countries and what is their history? In what ways are they being implemented and affecting the people who are criminalised under them? § What efforts are being made to revise these laws in the direction of public health and human rights principles? How successful have they been in changing public perceptions and beliefs, and in changing law and practice? Is there a backlash against these efforts, by whom, why? § What is happening to the lives of people discriminated against under these restrictive laws as efforts towards change, and backlash where it is occurring, take place?
The complete call for papers and RHM author and submission guidelines are at: www.rhmjournal.org.uk