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Central and Eastern Europe region can strongly contribute to blocking international progress on SRHR


Interview with ASTRA Coordinator by the EuroNGOs: “The Central and Eastern Europe region can strongly contribute to blocking international progress on SRHR”

On the 5th of July the anti-choice “Stop Abortion” Committee submitted to the Polish parliament the draft law aiming to introduce a total ban on abortion with over 450,000 citizen signatures. This mass anti-choice mobilization is just another example of the backlash against women’s rights in Central and Eastern Europe. Marta Szostak from Astra gave us an insight into the regional anti-SRHR dynamics and its consequences for the European and global processes.

Could you tell us please about the recent challenges in Central and Eastern Europe related to SRHR and how they could possibly influence the processes happening at European and global level, such as implementation of the SDGs?

Marta Szostak, Astra: The recent challenges can be discussed in terms of a backlash on women’s rights. For a few years we are now observing various steps, sometimes very small, sometimes very drastic, to limit women’s reproductive rights and influence their reproductive health choices. The most blatant example is the one of Poland where very shortly we may face a reality where the current, already very strict law on abortion denies women the right to decide on their pregnancy. This is also the case for fetal impairment and rape. The new law, if successful aims also to punish women for illegal abortions. Anti-choice initiatives in Poland have become a standard procedure in the last years, we have witnessed them literally every year, or every second year, for the last decade. With the current conservative government, they have gained power and support like never before, this has not been without consequences on the global and regional level. Already this year some countries of the region, including Poland, have been reluctant to go along with the common EU position at some of the global negotiations at the United Nations. Only recently Russian Federation, followed by Poland and other countries of the Middle East blocked the decriminalisation language from being included in a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly on June 8 that called for ending the AIDS pandemic by 2030.

Another common trend for the region is Governments publically endorsing global commitments but executing its own agenda at national level, sometimes contrary to these international standards and agreements. This is especially visible in regard to human rights standards related to SRHR.

While there is a continued backlash towards women’s rights in the region, do you see any new forms of this phenomena? Are there any new actors present in the growing opposition to SRHR?

Marta Szostak: The groups which are pushing for anti-choice and very often “anti-gender” messages and initiatives (usually covering issues such as LGBTI rights and comprehensive sexuality education) have been around for a very long time. Many of them have gained power and support in the recent years, fueled by the rise conservative politics, the rebirth of nationalistic rhetoric and the promotion of a return to “traditional values”. This trend has been observed in countries like Russia and post-Soviet Republics such as Lithuania, Hungary and Croatia. The growing SRHR opposition in CEE region is very often supported (in terms of resources, know-how and financially) by United States anti-choice groups and sometimes seems like a well-coordinated regional / global action. For many years the opposition groups were connected to religious groups, mostly the Catholic or Russian Orthodox Church. In our opinion this has however slightly changed in the recent years and more groups acting without the Church’s support are vocal and visible. What is also quite new is the involvement of young people in the anti-choice movement as well as the presence of collectives of specific groups protesting against a certain issue, such as parents against sexuality education.

What can be done to tackle these challenges and how can the European SRHR community support your work in the region?

Marta Szostak: Firstly, the European SRHR community should see this as a wider issue, not solely relevant to CEE region only. The rise of nationalism and anti-choice initiatives can be observed in some countries of Western Europe as well, and the recent case of the Spanish battle over abortion law and the situation of Ireland are good reminders that reproductive rights are not of a permanent status and must be fought for and secured over and over again. Of course, the West versus East divide, with the EU dynamics as background, has its repercussions.

Reaching the moveable middle should become a priority for all SRHR advocates in Europe, either by education or by media. With the many connections between advocates and activists from European countries from both East and West this can make a difference. However, it is usually more productive to work in national context and avoid top-down dynamics, also in regard to international cooperation.

Last, but not least, Western European advocates should be aware that the CEE region with its current trends, and the UK leaving the EU, can strongly contribute to blocking the international progress on SRHR. As a consequence their work, also the development work done in Global South, may become more difficult with this backlash taking place. It will also have, and in fact, this is already happening, impact on the funding for SRHR initiatives, abortion especially. We count on solidarity and support from our colleagues in Europe, their assistance in conversations with their politicians and representatives within the European Parliament.

Source: EuroNGOs

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