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CEE Bulletin on Sexual and Reproductive Rights

No 1 (57) 2008

table of contents:

burning issue

Advocacy in Practice at a World Fit for Children Plus 5, 11-13 December 2007, New York. On 11-13 December 2007 the commemorative high level plenary meeting of the General Assembly (GA) took place in New York. United Nations government delegations came together to review children's rights and follow up on the outcome of the Special Session on Children that took place in 2002. The year 2007 also marks the mid term of achieving the goals as settled in the Plan of Action called A World Fit for Children (WFFC). This high level meeting ended up with a new declaration that unfortunately appears to be disappointment for many SRHR advocates, especially for the representation of young people that attended the event and struggled to influence national delegations and missions. Basically, there is a feeling among activists that governments failed to recognize most burning issues of children and adolescents, especially for girls and young women. The language of the declaration adopted on December, 13th is relevantly weak as far as sexual and reproductive rights are concerned. The member countries of the UN did not make any commitments to create a world in which girls are free from harmful cultural practices like child marriages and female genital mutilation/cutting and to make sure that all the children are free from violence. There is no adequate recognition of the HIV/AIDS pandemic that poses a threat to the lives of children worldwide, neither for those living in the global South nor in the North. Prior to the GA, 17 young women from all over the world united as the participants of the International Women's Health Coalition (IWHC) project called Advocacy in Practice to strategize, work out advocacy tools and develop recommendations to national governments to ensure that the rights of girls and young women, including sexual and reproductive rights, are recognized and not dismissed from the GA outcome declaration. IWHC managed to bring together young women leaders with various cultural backgrounds and from different geographical regions. The training facilitated by the IWHC team included an overview of the existing Conventions and international human rights mechanisms; a practical workshop on cooperation with media, as well as a session on how to deal with the opposition. Young women reviewed the UN draft declaration and worked out a new document that included burning issues that were missing in the governmental version. They also incorporated the perspective of young women and girls, which was completely nonexistent in the UN draft and the document has been signed up by a number of respected SRHR organizations from all over the world. Young people gathered in New York also contacted their missions and undertook efforts to make appointments with their national delegations in order to discuss the UN draft declaration on children's rights and to present their point of view. There were some positive experiences in talking to governments. Especially the British, Dutch, Columbian and Egyptian delegations appeared to be open and interested in the incorporation of more progressive language worked out by young people into the UN declaration. However, there is still a feeling among young advocates that the governments are far too ignorant and not enough proactive in pushing for the relevant recognition of the sexual and reproductive rights of children and adolescents on the international agenda. Some governments, including the US were not at all interested in reviewing the existing draft and struggled not to open 'controversial' discussions. As a result, we have another not very meaningful or landmark declaration that fails to address real needs of children. What is even more puzzling, is that the UN failed to stress the fact that realizing gender equality is an absolute need for reaching full realization of children's human rights. The resolution itself reaffirms A World Fit for Children, highlights the need to counter poverty and stresses the importance of education.

The full text of the declaration is available at:Declaration

regional updates

BULGARIA: found to be the most homophobic country in Europe. A recently conducted poll on discrimination in Bulgaria revealed an alarming level of homophobia among this Balkan society. Bulgaria appears to be the most prejudiced country against sexual minorities in the European Union. The survey indicates that in total as much as 80% of Bulgarians carry negative attitudes towards gays, lesbians and transgendered people and more than a half are even extremely negatively oriented towards homosexuals. Furthermore, it turned out that three quarters of the respondents would not accept the fact that the teacher of their child were gay. Respondents declared they would simply take the child away from the school. What is especially shocking is that almost half of the subjects stated they would disown their own daughter or son if she or he came out as a homosexual. The poll has been ordered by the Commission for Protection against Discrimination which is a civil rights group. It has been conducted by Skala.

Source: 365gay

CROATIA: Substantial decrease in abortion rates. There is a huge decline in the number of abortions performed in the country. The factors underlying this significant drop are not obvious. Statistics say that during the last 20 years the number of abortions performed annually dropped from 50 to 4 thousands. Experts struggle to explain this unexpected and enormous change. In 1989 the number of deliveries almost equaled the number of terminations. Nowadays, women gave over 40 thousands births a year and the number of officially performed abortions is up to ten times smaller. It is claimed that the Croatian society has become more religious in the past two decades after communism collapsed and this fact might have a reflection in the decreased number of abortions. Furthermore, the position of the Catholic Church grew in power and the religious leaders became more socially visible and politically influential. Constantly Catholic bishops call upon state's authorities to totally ban abortion in Croatia. The law is already restrictive allowing women to terminate pregnancy under limited circum stances, for instance when the pregnancy poses a threat to women's health or life. Thus it seems that abortion has become a less socially acceptable service and by these means pressure is exerted on women not to terminate pregnancy. Medical professionals also feel under pressure and there are more and more reported instances of denied access to legal abortions in the 33 Croatian hospitals where abortion is made available although not always performed in practice. Experts believe that official data on legally performed abortion does not reflect the real scope of the phenomenon. The so-called abortion underground is developing and women are increasingly less likely to reveal the fact that they underwent an abortion due to social stigma and condemnation. There is a need to conduct more research on this complicated compilation of factors that lead to the limitations of women's right to decide freely over their bodies.

Source: Rzeczpospolita Daily

GERMANY: Demographics again on the agenda. Recently conducted study provided new data on the demographic trends that link with the constantly discussed Germany's population decline. It has been showed that the average age of the first childbirth is constantly on the rise. Nowadays it amounts 26 and there is a growing tendency among German women to delay first pregnancy. It also coincides with the fact that more and more young people postpone the starting of the family till late twenties. Furthermore, an increasing number of women decide to stay childless. Statistics indicate that every fifth women aged 40-49 does not have children. This trend is especially vivid in western Germany where the level of education of women is also higher. In total twenty one percent of women in their forties who went through higher education resign from motherhood. Although Germany remains the most populated country in the European Union, the demographic statistics for this country depict especially bleak picture as the fertility rate is the lowest in Europe. It is forecasted that the population will shrink from 82 to 69 million by the year 2050. Thus the pro-family policy remains of major concern for the German politics.

For more information go to:Demographics

HUNGARY: The parliament legalizes same-sex partnerships. On 17th of December the Hungarian Parliament passed a bill legalizing civil unions for both homosexual and heterosexual couples. It provides the same legal status for same-sex partners as it is in the case of traditional marriages. The bill normalizes the right of inheritance, tax regulations but does not provide legal basis for child adoption, which still remains illegal in Hungary. The new law was passed with 185 votes while 154 parliamentarians opposed and 9 abstained.

Source: Gazeta Wyborcza Daily 16/12/2007

LITHUANIA: A threat of total ban on abortion in the country. Just before the winter holidays, conservative parliamentarians in Lithuania presented a draft anti-abortion law. It is proposed to bring it up for discussion and voting in the spring session of the Parliament. The author of the law, Wladyslaw Tomaszewski, is of Polish origin and represents the Polish minority in the Lithuanian Parliament. If the Parliament accepts this legal proposal in the third reading, there will be extreme backlash in the country and Lithuania will be among three other countries in Europe (Ireland, Malta, Poland) with the most restrictive anti-abortion law. Anti-Choice parliamentarians are exerting severe pressure on MPs with more progressive perception of family planning by appealing to ideological and religious arguments. One of the most passionate defenders of women's reproductive rights in the Parliament will even be questioned by the Parliamentary Commission on Ethics because of her liberal views on abortion.

Source: Esmeralda Kuliesyte, Lithuanian Family Planning Association

POLAND: Political initiative to subsidize in vitro fertilization (IVF) faces strong opposition from the Catholic church. Newly appointed Polish minister of health finally proposed to subsidize IVF from the state budget. Until now Poland has remained an exceptional example of a country that does not provide financial support to infertile couples. The initiative of the new government raised strong protest among Polish bishops, who are undertaking efforts to undermine the idea of the state refunded IVF. IVF remains a highly controversial issue in public debate and the Catholic church propagates extremely conservative perceptions of this method of infertility treatment. In the official letter addressed to Polish parliamentarians, the national episcopate compares IVF to a 'sophisticated' way of abortion and calls upon decision makers to reject all proposals aiming at providing subsidization of IVF. The pressure from the Catholic church unfortunately does not remain unnoticed. The parliament announced that it is going to further discuss the issue with the episcopate-a declaration that is really puzzling in light of the fact that Poland is believed to be a secular country.

Source: Gazeta Wyborcza Daily 18/12/2007

POLAND: The court rules in favor of a woman who was denied access to prenatal examinations. Mrs Wojnarowaska, who did not receive a referral for prenatal examinations although her pregnancy was high risk, has been struggling with all available legal means to seek justice for the last 6 years. Finally, she won and Poland is obliged to pay her compensation amounting about EUR 50.000. Mrs Wojnarowska got pregnant for the second time in her life in 1999. In December 1997, at the age of 24, she gave birth to her first child. The pregnancy had progressed normally until the 36th week, when the ultrasound revealed a significant difference in the ratio of the length of the thigh bone to the diameter of the fetus' skull. After the delivery medical tests confirmed that her son was suffering from hyperchondroplasia, with very serious contractions in his joints, including elbows, knees and ankles. Thus there was a serious premise to refer the woman for prenatal examinations when she got pregnant for the second time and to possibly perform an abortion if the fetus was found to be seriously damaged. Unfortunately, Mrs Wojnarowska was not able to execute her right, although she was desperately struggling for that. In result, she delivered another baby with the same disease. Because her children require full time special care, Mrs Wojnarowska was not able to sustain her job and faced serious financial problems. The state did not provide any additional financial support for the family and thus doomed Wojnarowska to live in poverty. Fortunately, the court finally ruled in favor of the woman and obliged the state to provide additional disability pension for her second baby amounting to about EUR 500. However, the national hospital's plenipotentiary declared there would be appellation to this sentence. So it seems that Mrs Wojnarowska will still have to fight with the hospital which obviously violated her rights.

Source: Federation for Women and Family Planning

POLAND: New initiative to further restrict abortion in Poland. The Polish Ombudsman Janusz Kochanowski is considering filing the complaint to the Polish Constitutional Tribunal against the article of the anti-abortion law allowing for abortion on therapeutic grounds. He believes this article is not constitutional due to the lack of precision . His intention is to limit access to abortion if health problems are not serious enough. This initiative is being considered on the eve of the 15th anniversary of the introduction of present restrictive anti-abortion law which was passed by the Polish Parliament on January 7th 1993. His attempt to limit access to legal abortion is grounded in the recent decision of the European Court for Human Rights in the case of Alicja Tysiac according to which denial of access to legal abortion on medical grounds was a breech of her right to privacy under the European Convention of Human Rights. The recent report of the Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning confirms that the anti-abortion law which de jure allows for abortions on medical, criminal and genetic grounds, in practice is much more restrictive. Abortions are hardly accessible due to highly restrictive interpretation of the law. The Federation is calling for the liberalisation of the one of the most restrictive legislations in Europe.

Wanda Nowicka


UN Special Raporteur on the right to health - Mr. Paul Hunt puts maternal mortality on the agenda. In his new report, Paul Hunt calls for greater recognition of the burning problem that is maternal mortality. Every year, there are about 500,000 women dying from delivery complications. Pregnancy remains the major killer for girls aged 15 -19 worldwide. It means that every single minute childbirth takes one woman's life. The problem is especially vivid in the low income countries, including the global South where every tenth woman dies at giving a birth. Available statistics also reveal great disparities and inequality between women living in the economically developed and developing countries. In some rich countries 1 in 8700 woman dies because of pregnancy. It needs to be recognized that there is no single cause of death and disability for men between the ages of 15 and 44 that is close to the magnitude of maternal mortality and morbidity. In his profound work, Paul Hunt advocates for realizing that the problem of maternal mortality is not exclusively a health issue but what is most crucial to recognize is that it is a human rights issue.

Full version of the report is available at:Report

Council of Europe (CoE): Scaled up action to provide services for victims of violence needed now. During the conference on 'Support Services for Women Victims of Violence' the Commissioner for Human Rights called upon the national governments for stronger political commitment to end domestic violence. The importance of the following issues has been especially highlighted: legal definition of domestic violence that specifies the psychological form, cooperation with civil society groups, effective mechanisms of executing rights, provisions upholding existing law for instance clear guidelines for the police to follow when dealing with violence against women, awareness raising among police, social workers and other relevant actors. The primary area of interest of this recent conference has been access to comprehensive services for victims of violence. Support services must take into account and respond to both immediate and long term needs of the victim.

More information is available at:Victims of Violence

Reproductive Rights on the Agenda

UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee): election process. The CEDAW Committee consists of 23 independent experts elected for a four-year term. The next elections are about to take place in June 2008. The candidates are proposed by Member States but serve in their personal capacity. Since the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women is the only international human rights mechanism fully devoted to women's human rights, the composition of the Committee is of crucial importance. Thus women's rights activists are strongly encouraged to advocate for the appointment of first-class experts with progressive views on sexual and reproductive rights. National governments will propose their candidates in March 2008.

More information about the CEDAW Committee election process is available at:Election

IWHC Announces the Top Ten Wins for Women's Health & Rights in 2007. As 2007 nears its end, the International Women's Health Coalition (IWHC) announces the release of the 'Top Ten Wins for Women's Health and Rights in 2007'. It seems that the prioritization of women's and young people's health yields results. The top five progresses indicated by IWHC are as follows: prioritization of women in the global HIV initiative as a response to the feminization of the pandemic, decriminalization of abortion in Mexico City, prioritization of curbing maternal mortality on the global agenda, proven ineffectiveness of abstinence, high-risk sexuality education supported by gathered reliable data, rejection of anti-gay bill by the Nigerian government.

You can check it up at:Top Ten

Upcoming events

Public hearing on 'Sexual and reproductive health and rights' will be held on 29 January from 9.30 to 12.30 in Brussels by the European Parliament Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality. Among invited experts, there is Wanda Nowicka from Astra Network with a presentation on 'Recent trends regarding sexual and reproductive rights in Central and Eastern Europe with special focus on Poland'.

More information: Malgosia Dziewanowska, ASTRA Sekretariat, info@astra.org.pl

AWID Forum, 14-17 November 2008, Cape Town, South Africa. The Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID) is an international membership organization that works to strengthen the voice, impact and influence of women's rights advocates, organizations and movements internationally to effectively advance the rights of women. The international Forum will converge up to 1,500 women's rights leaders and activists from around the world. As part of AWID's efforts to promote a truly diverse and multigenerational women's movement young women are strongly encouraged to submit proposals. The deadline is January 28, 2008.

More information is available at:AWID Forum

52nd session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), 25 February-7 March 2008, New York, USA. The main theme of the 52nd session is set to be 'financing for gender equality and the empowerment of women'. The emergency themes has not still been decided and the final choice will be made through negotiations with UN Member States. During the session, the Committee will also discuss recommendations to the theme of 'Women's equal participation in conflict prevention, management and conflict resolution and in post-conflict peace building'. European Women's Lobby (EWL), which is an umbrella organizations for women's rights activists in the European Union, is organizing side events to the CSW session. The main objective of this event is to present EWL's position on the gender budgeting / financing for gender equality.

Detailed agenda of the 52nd session of CSW is available at:WomenWatch

Love and Freedom. Freedom to love. Conference on LGBT human rights, 27-29 July 2009, Copenhagen, Denmark. This conference is organized in tribute to the 40th anniversary of Stonewall. The Stonewall Rebellion was a spontaneous protest against prejudice and police brutality led by the patrons of the Stonewall Bar in New York City after it was raided on the 28th of June in 1969. It gave birth to an active global movement against sexual oppression that has resulted in monumental changes in the way we all live and work, and our rights as citizens. The conference is a part of WorldOutgames 2009, which is an international sporting and cultural event celebrating the talents and contributions of homosexual, bi-sexual and transgender men and women from every corner of the globe.

For more information visit the conference's website:Conference


Follow up to the Global Safe Abortion Conference. The website that has been created for the purposes of this conference is still being updated. It provides a lot of useful resources and videos from the conference. By these means this exceptional event remains not forgotten and the issues raised at the MSI conference stay on the agenda. There is also an opportunity to get involved in the Global Call to Action. You can check it up at: Safe Abortion