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CEE Bulletin on Sexual and Reproductive Rights

No 5 (61) 2008

table of contents:

burning issue

PACE (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe): Ground-breaking resolution on abortion in Europe. On 16th of April, a report entitled “Access to Safe and Legal Abortion in Europe” was adopted with 102 votes for, 69 votes against and 14 abstentions after a four-hour debate. With this landmark voting, the Council of Europe (CoE) calls upon its 47 member states to guarantee access to safe and legal abortion (including financial coverage) and to decriminalize it in countries where the law denies women’s right to decide freely over their bodies. It has to be highlighted that the CoE is the first international institution that speaks so explicitly and utterly in favor of the depenalization of termination of pregnancy. The report has been prepared by the Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men and its rapporteur is Mrs Gisela Wurm from Austria, a member of the Socialist Group. The report clearly states that women must have access to safe and legal abortion as the ban on terminations (which is in place in a number of the member states) does not eliminate abortion but leads to the development of the so called abortion underground. In other words, members’ states with restrictive anti-abortion law should seriously consider liberalization of provisions. Furthermore, the report accompanied by the declaration urges member states to “adopt appropriate sexual and reproductive health strategies, including access of women and men to contraception at a reasonable cost and of a suitable nature for them as well as compulsory relationships and sex education for young people.” Although of milestone significance, the adopted resolution has no legally binding effect as CoE serves as an advisory body to its member states. Although the resolution and report has been passed by the vast majority, we should not underestimate the anti-choice opposition which vigorously campaigned against the vote including the unusual request to strike abortion off the agenda of PACE which was supported by Malta's parliamentary delegation in Strasbourg and presented by a Spanish Member of Parliament from the European People's Party (EPP).

regional updates

ITALY: Doctors refuse to perform abortion. Media report that about 70 percent of Italian doctors refuse to perform terminations of pregnancy. Thus the health care system faces a real challenge in providing medical services that by the letter of law must be guaranteed to women. The ministry of health released a report that shows that the percentage of gynaecologists who refuse to terminate pregnancies has risen by 10 points in comparison with the year 2003. Furthermore, more than half of anesthesiologists also refuse to participate in providing abortion services. This disturbing trend can be partly attributed to the anti-choice catholic lobby that is even more and more influential in Italy. Doctors claim that in medical circles pro-choice views can ruin a career and that pressure not to perform abortions is exerted on them. As a result, in some regions and Italian cities abortion is hardly accessible. Although available on request up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, termination of pregnancy is unobtainable for example in Venice, where over 80 percent of doctors do not perform it. This might force Italian women to seek abortion abroad and boost the development of the abortion underground, where law does not protect women against unsafe services.

Source: Rzeczpospolita Daily, 24/04/2008

LITHUANIA: Anti-choice conference on Polish experience. During a conference organized by Polish anti-choice activists in Vilnius that took place on the 17th of April, Antoni Szymanski, a parliamentarian from Poland, said that abortion law in Poland is well-monitored, data is very good - the number of abortions is low, women's reproductive health has improved and almost all agree with the situation, nobody wants to change the policy. There has only been one tragic death case. Ewa Kowalewska, Human Life International Europe director, a chair of the National Women's Forum said that abortion is not banned in Poland, that women's organizations who are pro-choice are very small, not powerful, and in general women are satisfied with the situation in Poland. Among other speakers were Zbigniew Jan Cichon, lawyer, a specialist in European Court cases and parliamentarian Krzysztof Anuszkiewicz. He said that the society in Poland supports the anti-abortion law. During the conference there was opposition from pro-choice young people who came with posters and other publications. Representatives of the Family Planning and Sexual Health Association spoke about human rights and the real situation in Poland. It seems that anti - choice people did not anticipate such a reaction, especially Lithuanian anti-choice parliamentarians. In general, the conference was successful for supporters of choice. The media covered this event in a positive way.

By Esmeralda Kuliesyte

MALTA: The Malta Labour Party (MLP) speaks against abortion. Leo Brincat, member of the MLP reassured in his speech at the Council of Europe (CoE) that the political party always was, is and will be against the decriminalization of abortion. Malta remains one of the very few countries in Europe (as do other Christian countries like Ireland and Poland) that uphold very restrictive anti-abortion law. There is no chance that any of the present parties on the political arena will push the issue of liberalization of the bill on their agendas. Mr Brincat also spoke in favor of the reservations that Malta had in relation to the Beijing Declaration emanating from the Conference of Women and the Cairo Programme of Action emanating from the International Conference on Population and Development. The bishops of Malta expressed their appreciation and support to the Maltese representatives from both sides of House present at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) that spoke out against decriminalization of abortion. Heads of the Maltese Catholic Church also appealed to the rapporteurs of the CoE to restrain from any action that might lead to the liberalization of abortion law. As typical in anti-choice discourse in their speeches they equalized the right to termination of pregnancy with murder of innocents and stated that abortion is an infringement on the right to life.

Source: The Malta Independent Online 19/04/2008

NORWAY: Government considers adoption of Swedish-like law on sex work. Justice, Knut Storberget, stated that the planned introduction of criminalization of the purchase of sexual services is a measure to counter trafficking in women to Norway. However, it needs to be highlighted that this statement is challenged and questioned by many experts in the field of SRHR and anti-trafficking. It is claimed that penalization of purchasing sexual services will not eliminate the phenomenon of sex work but only push it into the so-called underground where women, including young immigrants, are even more vulnerable to abuse. The government is planning to introduce similar provisions on prostitution as those in force in Sweden that penalize clients of prostitutes while protecting people in sex work from prosecution. The Norwegian minister ensured that along with restrictions of the law, other programmes to get prostitutes out of the business will also be carried out. On 18th of April, the government proposed that clients of sex workers could be sentenced for up to six months in jail. The proposed law will be put to Parliament for voting and if it passes, the law that defines buying sex as a criminal offence will enter into force in January 2009. Current law does not penalize prostitution in Norway, but pimping itself is banned.

More information is available at: Alertnet

Source: Reuters 18/04/2008

Polish Women meet top officials of the European Commission. On April the 7th a group of Polish women's NGOs met in Brussels with Vladimir Spidla - EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities. The main purpose of this meeting was to inform the Commissioner about the lack of adequate equality policies in Poland. The Commissioner seemed to be well aware of difficulties in the Polish equality policies and lack of sufficient mechanisms and promised to look into it. He even said that if Poland is not going to comply with EU equality policies he might consider suing Poland to European Court of Justice in Luxemburg. He also promised to come to Poland on our invitation. Asked about the process of identification of the Director of the Gender Institute in Vilnius, he informed that after the first round of applications for this position he was not happy with the applications. As he is looking for someone really good and charismatic, he decided to issue a second call for proposals. When asked about the possibility of addressing SRHR issues in European policies as part of equality policies, he responded that SRHR issues are rather complicated. The Vice President of the European Commission Mrs. Margot Wallstroem met the representatives of the Polish women’s NGOs in Warsaw on 17 April 2008. An ASTRA representative took part in the meeting. During the meeting such issues as access to legal abortion and reproductive health services, as well as violence against women and discrimination on the labour market, were discussed. Polish women have difficulties with access to legal abortion. The practice is even more restrictive than the law itself. Mrs. Margot Wallstroem was deeply concerned about the situation of the Polish women, who still don‘t have an access to safe and legal abortion. In her opinion, the European Union‘s attitude towards this issue is too cautious.


RUSSIAN FEDERATION: Attempts to restrict access to information on abortion services. Russian lawmakers proposed a new bill that aims to significantly limit of access to information on abortion services in the country. The draft law has been already introduced to the State Duma and it bans abortion ads in all media. Although termination of pregnancy remains legal in Russia, such services can only be announced in the very specialized medical periodicals. The draft law can be perceived as blatant violation of the right to information and by these means restricts Russian women’s access to safe abortion. The situation is really alarming as this political initiative has been supported by three out of four political fractions in the Duma: the United Russia, A Just Russia, and the Communist Party. Lawmakers claim that the objective of the ban on abortion ads in media is to downsize the number of abortions in the country. According to World Health Organization, terminations outnumber life births in Russian Federation.

Further information is available at: Mnweekly

Source: Moscow News 16/2008

RUSSIAN FEDERATION: Fertility rate on the rise raises social concerns. Governmental programme aimed at boosting procreation (introduction of financial allowances for children) is yielding results. Statistics show that in some regions the fertility rate has even grown by six times in comparison with the 1990s. Russian health and social care minister, Tatiana Golikova, announces that in 2011 the birth rate will be sufficient to replenish the current population. However, these optimistic views are confronted with less optimistic expert opinions according to which increased the fertility rate is leading to a serious social security crisis. Media report that mothers of newborns feel disappointed and cheated by the government. The majority of women who got pregnant encouraged by governmental propaganda were not aware that the state does not provide adequate conditions in hospitals during labour and also that there is very limited access to kindergartens and other childcare facilities. Obstetric wards in hospitals are overcrowded. In some state health care facilities, there are twice as many pregnant women as beds available. This leads to a significant worsening of standards as regards maternal care and shortening postnatal medical care to the absolute minimum. Experts claim that while triggering the baby boom, the government totally neglected the development of pre- and postnatal infrastructure and services. It is also expected that in a couple of years there will be too few places in primary schools.

To learn more about the Russian governmental demographic programme read the previous edition of ASTRA bulletin: Bulletin

Source: Rzeczpospolita Daily, 02/04/2008

TAJIKISTAN: Political initiative to further restrict sex work. Recently, Tajik Interior Minister, Mahmadnazar Salihov, announced that his administration is now working on a bill which would further criminalize prostitution in the country. When the draft law is elaborated, it will be sent to Parliament and put under voting. Prostitution is already illegal in Tajikistan and it falls within the civil law. However, the law is rarely executed and involves only ‘mild’ penalties. The government aims at amending the law, so the ban on prostitution is incorporated into the criminal law. Tajik administration wants to eliminate sex work which is strongly linked to the problem of poverty, as experts claim. However, it is severely questioned if further restrictions will eliminate the phenomenon of prostitution. Experts insist that the core problem – poverty (linked also to severe economic hardship and limited access to education) that forces a huge percentage of women, including minors into prostitution - needs to be addressed. Another problem is that there is a high prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases, above all syphilis, among Tajik sex workers, mainly streetwalkers.

More information is available at: IWPR.net

TAJIKISTAN: Poverty drifts baby trade. More and more cases of selling newborns by women living below the poverty line are being reported. Tajikistan which is a poverty-stricken Central Asian state does not provide women with many life options. An alarming percentage of the population, also on the outskirts of the capital (Dushanbe) live in terrible conditions with no money to get by. Poverty affects women in a specific way. Limited access to contraception often leads to unwanted pregnancy and many women simply cannot afford to raise a child. The economic situation is also a barrier to abortion. Many Tajik women are left alone by their partners due to economical migration to Russia. This leaves them with no financial support at all. These dramatic life circumstances have led to the development of a black market on which newborn babies are sold. Media report that one can buy a child for about USD 90. Sociologists claim that Tajik women living in poverty do not get pregnant for money, but that an unwanted pregnancy does not leave many life options for those women and causes real life dramas. Furthermore, traditional mores are strong in Tajikistan and a child born out of a wedlock is seen as a disgrace. When a woman is found guilty of selling a newborn, she is criminalized by the police and after the case goes to court, she can be sentenced to prison. This criminal offence falls within the legal category of trafficking in minors and the woman can be sentenced for five up to eight years of imprisonment. In 2007, the police reported 13 cases of baby trade and only within first two months of 2008, 6 cases were disclosed.

To read more about this issue go to: IWPR.net


The first session of the Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council, Geneva, April 7-18. The UN Human Rights Council held its first session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva. The UPR is a new monitoring mechanism aimed at reviewing the fulfillment by each State of its human rights obligations and commitments on the basis of the Governments’ reports, the compilation report prepared by the OHCHR and stakeholders reports including NGOs. The UPR review is meant to be a cooperative mechanism, based on “an interactive dialogue, with the full involvement of the country concerned and with consideration given to its capacity-building needs” as stated in the General Assembly resolution 60/251. The following countries were reviewed in the April session: Bahrain, Ecuador, Tunisia, Morocco, Indonesia, Finland, UK, India, Brazil, the Philippines, Algeria, Poland, the Netherlands, South Africa, Czech Republic and Argentina. The first session of the UPR was in mostly disappointing for NGOs involved in this process. The criticism included the interactive session with a government under review during which many human rights problems have been hardly addressed either in the governments’ reports or the questions asked by the states and in the final recommendations. Sexual and reproductive rights have been undertaken in a very limited extent. Although sexual orientation has been addressed in the case some countries like Poland, it was practically not mentioned with regards to others, such as Argentina, to the dismay of human rights activists. One of the big non-issues was abortion; it was addressed only twice (Poland, Argentina). On the other hand, the Holy See asked questions regarding the protection of life in connection with the review of Ecuador and the Philippines. NGOs also noted the practice of double standards during interactive sessions, as a result of which countries with known higher human rights standards were questioned very rigorously while others with records of serious human rights violations were treated with visible leniency. Finally, a number of governments under review were reluctant to make the commitments for the improvement of the observance of human rights. The next UPR session will take place in May and in June the outcome reports will be adopted. Human rights NGOs will be monitoring the process.

By Wanda Nowicka

UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC): Lack of gender in the financing for development (FfD). Women’s groups are rather disappointed with the special high-level meeting of the ECOSOC that took place on the 14th of April, during which a wide scope of burning issues were discussed, including the mortgage crisis, rising commodity prices, declining development aid and the devastating impact of climate change on developing countries. The meeting was meant to be a preparation for the upcoming International Conference on Financing for Development (FfD) scheduled to take place in November, 2008 in Qatari. However, what was obviously missing from the agenda is gender-sensitivity. Although some governments claimed that there is a need to incorporate gender equality into development cooperation strategies, the issue was not sufficiently reflected in the general discussion. No particular action took or will take place despite the fact that over 70 percent of the population living in extreme poverty are women and children. The women’s rights community claims that the FfD process (which started in Mexico in 2002) downgrades the gender perspective in development financing. For instance, there is no single reference to gender equality in the chapter addressing official development assistance (ODA) in the Monterrey Consensus (adopted in Mexico). NGOs (Eurostep, Social Watch) report that in fact only 0,1% of ODA is spent on gender equality and the empowerment of women. And without achieving gender equality, sustainable development is only illusory. Thus aid assistance must be directed at women, including sexual and reproductive health and rights. The women’s movement, including such organization like AWID or WIDE will further intensify their lobby to recognize gender aspects of development before the conference in Qatari.

To read more about this issue go to: IpsNews

UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women): appointment of new Executive Director alerts women’s movement. On 7th of April, a new executive director of UNIFEM was appointed - Inés Alberdi from Spain. The election was coordinated by UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the UNIFEM Consultative Committee. The main responsibility of UNIFEM is to provide funding and technical assistance to programmes that refer to gender equality and the empowerment of women (especially as regards poverty, gender-based violence and the feminization of HIV/AIDS). Women’s groups are highly concerned about the election process. The most important part of the recruitment procedure is an interview panel, after which six short listed candidates have been reviewed. One candidate has been identified as the most competent and suitable for the position – Gita Sen. However, due to pressure exerted by the Spanish government Mrs Alberdi has been taken once more for consideration. Women’s rights advocates are highly alerted by the politicization of the whole process and the final decision making.

For the official UN press release go to: UN press release

To get familiar with the critical DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for New Era) analysis of the process go to: DAWNnet

reproductive rights on the agenda

Job Vacancy at the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria: Senior Gender Advisor. To further the efforts of the Global Fund to scale up a gender sensitive response to AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, the first position on gender at the Global Fund has been advertised as vacant. A successful candidate must hold an advanced university degree in a public health related field or in gender, women and development or social sciences or in health science (medical or nursing) and has advanced training in any of the above fields. The deadline for applications is May,7, 2008.

Full details available at: The global fund

Job Vacancy at Human Rights Watch: Women’s Rights Advocate/Researcher for Europe and Central Asia. Human Rights Watch seeks an experienced professional to undertake advocacy on global women’s human rights issues with European institutions and countries and conduct research and advocacy on women’s rights in Europe and Central Asia. The Advocate/Researcher will report to the Executive Director of the Women’s Rights Division of HRW and will work closely with the Division’s Advocacy Director and other HRW advocates. She or he will be based in our Brussels or London office. This is a three-year position. The deadline for applications is May, 31, 2008.

Detailed information is available at: hrw

Job Vacancy at IPAS: Behaviour change associate. The behavior change specialist will work on a new initiative designed to engender positive change related to women's reproductive health and their access to safe abortions on a community level. Responsibilities include: developing behavior change, communication and outreach strategies; working with Ipas country programs to develop and implement behavior-change communication projects; developing advocacy and social-marketing campaign materials; and planning and delivering presentations in a variety of settings. The position is US-based.

Detailed information is available at: Ipas

upcoming events

Strategic workshop on the linkages between SRHR-Population- Environmental Degradation- Climate Change, May, 15 – 16, 2008, Istanbul, Turkey. Organized by EuroNGOs and European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development (EPF), the workshop aims at providing an overview about current research and discussion about possible interdependences between population growth, environmental degradation, consumption and climate change in the different region of the world. It is also organized in the context of the initiative titled Countdown 2015 Europe. It is crucial now to develop the strategy and attitude of SRHR organization towards these widely discussed issues. It is also important to launch discussion on that topic in the SRHR community. The registration has been just opened.

For more information you can contact Saskia Pfeijffer fax: +32 2 511 67 62

Free e-course on political advocacy. Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS is now accepting applications for a course that will run from April 30 to June 4. It is a peer-to-peer training to educate young people on effective political advocacy methodology for HIV/AIDS issues. Participants are expected to commit at least 6-8 hours per week to the course. Participants will end the course with an action plan they are expected to implement. Final action plans should focus on an HIV/AIDS issue, and graduates of the course with viable action plans are invited to apply for a small grant to implement their project in the amount of $1,500. The next opening for grant applications will take place in late 2008.

Any questions about the course should be e-mailed to Advocacy


Counseling Chart: Comparing Effectiveness of Family Planning Methods. Family Health International (FHI) issue a simplified chart that aims at helping women to assess the effectiveness of different types of contraceptives. A panel composed of the World Health Organization, USAID, the INFO Project at JHU/CCP, EngenderHealth, FHI, and other experts drafted this simplified chart, which presents contraceptive methods on a continuum of effectiveness. The contraceptive effectiveness chart is available on the FHI website in English, Spanish, and French.

To view the chart go to: Chart

You can also order print copy of the chart (laminated, 8.5 x 11 in.) at Publications

Truth & Consequence – A Look behind the Vatican’s Ban on Contraception. A new report of Catholics for Choice was released on the eve of the Pope’s visit to Washington DC and the United Nations headquarters in New York City, this publication examines the impact of 40 years of Humanae Vitae, the Vatican document that cemented their ban on contraception. Humanae Vitae is widely acknowledged as a defining moment in modern church history, but many people do not know that it is a source of great conflict and division with the church.

Electronic version can be downloaded at: Catholics for choice

UN report: Tracking progress in Maternal, Newborn and Child Survival. The new report has been released on April, 16 in Cape Town, South Africa, where leading global health experts and policy makers gathered to discuss the eradication of maternal and child mortality, which is one of the Millennium Development Goals required to be achieved by the year 2015. The report indicates that progress has been made in many of the 68 developing countries, where 97% of all deaths take place. Nevertheless, the United Nations calls for scaled up health care systems to reduce maternal and child mortality.

More information is available at: UN Report