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CEE Bulletin on Sexual and Reproductive Rights

No 7 (63) 2008

table of contents:

burning issue

New regional coalition launched! On June 22 a group of 21 representatives of organizations and institutions from 10 countries from East Europe and Central Asia (former Soviet Union republics) met in Kiev to discuss future collaboration in promoting safe abortion. As a result of the meeting a new network, the European Alliance for Reproductive Choice, has been established. The Alliance aims to protect reproductive rights of women by access to comprehensive safe abortion services. EARC members believe that safe motherhood, health of newborn children and women's right to choose are combined into the goals of the new network organisation. Galina Maistruk from the Ukrainian NGO "Women's Health and Family Planning" has been elected as a coordinator of the Alliance. In the near future the Alliance is going to collect statistical information, analyse the situation of abortion in Eastern European and Central Asian countries, develop information and educational programs, organise advocacy campaign on medical abortion in their countries.

Source: Nadia Bedrychuk

regional updates

ASTRA's petition to the European Parliament. In October 2007 the ASTRA Network submitted a petition to the European Parliament's Commission on Petitions for consideration of the issue of access to comprehensive sexuality education in EU Member States. The Petition can be found at: www.astra.org.pl. The petition presents benefits of comprehensive sex education and recommends the European Union to guarantee access to sexuality education throughout Europe. The Petition's Committee refused to consider the Petition although it stated the Petition is eligible. The Committee chose to send it the the Equality Committee which basically means it will not be addressed by the European Parliament in near future. Answers from the Committee on Petition: first letter and further.

KYRGYZSTAN: Polygamy in the spotlight.Although polygamy, understood as marriage between one man and several women, is prohibited in Kyrgyzstan, in reality it is practiced on a daily basis. According to law, polygamy is a criminal offence and one can be sentenced to two years of imprisonment for breaking this law. Nevertheless, multiple marriages are deeply rooted in the culture of this Muslim country and are quite common. Polygamy is especially popular in the more traditional southern part of the country. Though the custom is exercised, no prosecutions against this crime are reported. Experts link the reviving popularity of polygamy to the collapse of the Soviet era, which brought about the tendency to seek traditionally Kyrgyz, including Muslim, customs and values. In March, the Minister of Justice proposed to decriminalize polygamy.

LITHUANIA: A series of acts of backlash in family planning now threatens the right to abortion. Last month, an extremely conservative law on the family was adopted. You can read about this issue in the previous issue of our bulletin at: Bulletin No 7 (63). Now, policy makers aim at restricting the abortion law which poses a further threat to Lithuanian women's rights. The pro-choice movement in the country but also abroad mobilized support to prevent the law from being adopted. On the 11th of June Family Planning and Sexual Health Association of Lithuania, together with Parliamentarian Group on Development, Reproductive Health and Rights, with Lithuanian Society of Gynecologists, Lithuanian Society of Contraceptology organized a conference on abortion in the Lithuanian Parliament. There were 75 participants - from NGOs, governmental organizations and also from the Parliament. There were also two guests invited - Manuela de Melo, parliamentarian from Portugal and Piotr Kalbarczyk from Poland. The conference succeeded in starting a comprehensive debate on the issue and members of Family Planning and Sexual Health Association of Lithuania hope that they will have a positive influence on politicians and decision makers in understanding the need to keep the law in its current form. Nevertheless, the international anti-choice community is also scaling up its efforts to influence the Lithuanian Parliament. Over 100 Members of the European Parliament have sent a letter to the speaker of the Lithuanian Parliament urging him to support legislative initiative to ban abortion in the country. The letter has been prepared by Polish MEP, Konrad Szymański affiliated with the conservative Law and Justice political party. It has been signed by 38 Polish MEPs.

Source: Esmeralda Kuliestyle and Gazeta Wyborcza Daily

More information is available at: ASTRA

POLAND: Struggle over the right to abortion of a 14-year-old rape victim. The case of a girl named Agata who is legally entitled to undergo a termination of pregnancy which results from a criminal offence started a heated debate in Poland. Agata was raped by her school mate, got pregnant and was seeking abortion in her hometown - Lublin. The hospital refused to perform the service and thus Agata's mother contacted the Federation for Women and Family Planning to assist her in finding a facility where termination could be performed legally and safely. At first, Agata was admitted to a hospital in Warsaw and everything seemed to be on the right track. Apparently, a priest and activists of anti-choice movement followed her every step, making it impossible for the girl to obtain the service. They have made the accusation that Agata was coerced by her mother to have an abortion and the prosecution took up the case. The girl has been constantly bothered by priests, women and pseudo-psychologists from anti-abortion organizations. - I don't know how the priest found out about a private procedure taking place in Warsaw - Wanda Nowicka, president of the Federation, wonders.- Obviously, confidentiality of medical records and the patient's right to privacy have been violated. What follows next is even more alarming. Since Agata's mother has been accused of forcing a minor to undergo an abortion - which is a punishable offence in the letter of Polish law - the girl was taken by police to an emergency child care centre. Agata had to submit written consent for the procedure at the hospital office for the second time. She kept on confirming that she is sure of her decision and that it is fully voluntary. Finally, on 16th June late night the Minister of Health announced on TV that one of the state clinics was identified where the abortion would be performed. The name and the location of the clinic was to remain secret for the sake of Agata and her family. The next day in the early afternoon the abortion was at last carried out. However, the prosecutor is still investigating whether anyone pressured the girl to abort.

Source: Gazeta Wyborcza Daily

More information is available at: ASTRA

ROMANIA: 11-year-old girl pregnant due to incest/rape to have abortion in England. An 11-year-old girl who had allegedly been raped by her 19-year-old uncle was discovered pregnant by her parents when she was already in her 20th week. According to the penal code, after the 14th week of pregnancy, termination is only permissible if the mother's life is endangered or if the foetus suffers from malformation. The girl's parents discovered the pregnancy during a medical check-up after she complained of stomach pains on June 2nd. Police are still looking for the uncle, who is said to have fled his home. The fact that the pregnancy stemmed from rape was not taken into account for two reasons: because rape has not been proven; and, because the penal code does not allow for any exceptions. This was a very difficult decision for the doctors to make. They searched for a medical reason which would allow them to authorize a termination. On June 27 an inter-ministerial panel gathered at the Ministry of Public Health ruled that the girl can have an abortion in Romania. The abortion was allowed under Romanian law because the girl was a victim of sexual abuse, and she faced "major risks to her mental health" if the pregnancy continued. The committee also decided that no changes in current relevant legislation were needed, simply "clarifications with regard to the exceptional circumstances" allowing abortions to go ahead. The girl's family said this week they wanted to travel to Britain for an abortion, and a Romanian in Britain had offered to finance the costs. The abortion could take place because the girl was a victim of sexual abuse and faced "major risks to her mental health" if the pregnancy continued. It will be performed at a clinic in England, which is licensed to perform abortions on girls under 12 and will cost 1,700 pounds. Some 20 Christian Orthodox groups had threatened to press charges if the girl was allowed to abort the foetus. In a letter to the government committee, the girl said she wanted to be able "to go to school and to play". "If I can't do this my life will be a nightmare," she said. On a TV debate program the MOH minister talked about launching a public debate and kept pushing for the church to be there as a key player. The media person also invited for this program agreed and then even the producer insisted on involving the church. No NGO was mentioned as a key partner. The MOH minister also said they are going to inventory abortion-related laws in Europe, so as to get a better idea of what changes they need to make to ours.

By Daniela Draghici

SPAIN: Left-wing corner of the political scene postulates reform. Before its congress, media report that the ruling socialist party - PSOE - does not have common views on a number of social issues and needed reforms. Some members of PSOE claim that the prime minister, Jose Luis Zapatero, is not proactive enough in implementing the socialists' agenda. They will urge Zapatero to take further action to liberalize the restrictive anti-abortion law in Spain that allows termination only under very limited conditions (serious deformation of the fetus, endangered women's health or life, pregnancy resulting from criminal offence). The law has been in force since 1985 and was never amended even after the victory of the socialist party in 2004. Members of PSOE propose to make abortion legal and accessible on demand up to the 12th week of pregnancy. Other areas of needed reform include: legalization of euthanasia, review or denunciation of concordat, reforming rules on which Catholic Church and Catholic schools are funded from the state budget and adoption legislation. Nevertheless, Zapatero does not seem to put these issues higher on the political agenda.


The EU calls upon member states to scale up implementation of anti-discrimination policy. 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. The Commissioner is mainly concerned about the cases of discrimination on the labour market based on gender, 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: directive

EU: New members states fail to prioritize gender equality in allocations for development. A recent study of the foreign aid budgets managed by new EU Member States reveals that those 12 countries fail to sufficiently invest in women in the developing world. Accession to EU requires harmonization of development policy. EU's official policy in this field clearly states that empowerment of women and promoting gender equality is an underlying factor of poverty eradication which has not been adequately recognized by new Member States. International Gender Policy Network (IGPN) indicates, for example, that the Czech Republic did not live up to its promise to allocate 0.33 percent of it gross national income to development aid and also failed to fund projects targeting empowerment of women. It only spent 0.02 of its national income on development aid. Gender is understood in the Czech's policy as a cross-sectional issue but in reality this phrasing simply weakens concerns for women's status. There are only a few initiatives that directly target women - most of them linked to the HIV/AIDS pandemic which affects women to a greater extent than men. There is also funding for testing against the virus sex workers in Ukraine. However, the EU and civil society organizations (CSOs) want to see much stronger commitment of national governments to women's issues in less developed countries. Similarly to the Czech Republic, other new Members States, including Hungary and Bulgaria, were also not keeping up with their pledges. The data that has been gathered on the topic also covers eastern European countries that are provided assistance from the EU within the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), namely Armenia, Ukraine and Georgia. Although EU remains the most generous donor to Ukraine, only 0.11 percent of EU assistance goes to project specifically targeting women. It is crucial to mention here that women account for the most economically marginalized group in the country and the feminization of poverty is more than clear. There is a burning need for stronger pressure on behalf of the European Commission to prioritize gender equality in the foreign aid budgets administered by new Member States.

Source: The PUSH Journal 26/06/2008

Updates on the 8th session of UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Geneva, June, 2- 18. The first round of Universal Periodic Review (UPR), new UN mechanism for human rights monitoring in member states, started in April. Poland and the Czech Republic have been among the first countries that submitted country reports for examination. In case of Poland, the UNHRC urged the government to scale up action to eliminate domestic violence, social exclusion and poverty and gender discrimination. The Council also noted that until now Polish government has failed to adopt the anti-discrimination act. It is worth noticing that during the session the problem of preventable maternal mortality was discussed for the first time on the UNHRC forum. The issue had also never been debated by its predecessor body - Commission on Human Rights. It is an important step forward that this high-level body has pledged its commitment to address the problem within the framework of human rights at its 8th session. Maternal mortality must be finally recognized as a violation of women's right to life, health and non-discrimination. Many recommendations came out of the Council's debate on maternal mortality, including many addressed to Governments and to the Council itself. Recommendations to the Council included: creating a mechanism to hold States and others to account in relation to maternal mortality and incorporating maternal mortality as a critical component of its new Universal Periodic Review mechanism. Another expert panel organized during UNHRC session dealt with the topic of violence against women and ended up with a recommendation to appoint focal point for the Council that will be responsible for identifying linkages between gender-based violence and any topic the Council is to discuss. The next session will take place in December 2008. Four countries from the CEE region will be reviewed: Montenegro, Serbia, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

More information is available at: UNHCR

USA: Bush administration continues to withhold funds for UNFPA. For the seventh straight year of governance, the Bush administration has held back funding amounting almost USD 40 million that has been authorized by the US Congress for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Civil society groups and more progressive analysts are outraged and claim that Republicans have proved once again to be religious conservatives. The Bush administration has also been accused by some congressional critics of political extremism. UNFPA is a respected international agency that works in 154 countries to empower women and eradicate poverty. It promotes family planning and sexual and reproductive health and rights. The alleged justification of highly controversial decision not to financially support the mission of UNFPA lies in the accusation that the agency supports the "one child policy" in China. This charge has been formulated by ultra-right wing and anti-choice groups in 2001 but numerous independent and reliable studies have not found any data confirming these allegations. To sum up, the US government remains the only country in the world that does not provide funds to UNFPA for political reasons. In total, during the period of the Bush administration's ruling, USD 235 million for this respected agency have been withheld.

Source: http://www.planetwire.org/

United Nations Security Council adopts landmark resolution on sexual violence. On Thursday, June, 19, UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1820, which recognizes sexual violence, especially rape, as a weapon of war and crime against humanity. It is the US which took up the initiative of strengthening the Council's recognition of this kind of war crime in the peace and security issues. The draft resolution has been extensively discussed by civil society organizations (CSOs), UN member states and UN agencies. It is crucial as it obliges the UN Security Council to analyze and address the occurrence of sexual violence in conflict-affected situations. It also follows up on the UN Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. However, some women's groups claim that the new resolution does not sufficiently strengthen the provisions of the previous one. Nevertheless, it states that eradicating sexual violence is crucial for the maintenance of international peace and security and does not allow to treat this global problem as an isolated issue anymore. It is claimed that by now the UN Security Council has failed to realize that as it is only recently that the Council gave strong statements on sexual violence occurring in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cote d'Ivoire.

For the full text of the resolution go to:Human Security Gateway

upcoming events

XVII International AIDS Conference, Mexico City, August, 3-8, 2008. This is one of the most prominent events about the HIV/AIDS pandemic organized by International AIDS Society (IAS). It will be held for the first time in Latin America. The full programme of the conference is now available online at: http://www.aids2008.org/Pag/PAG.aspx We would like to draw your attention to one of the sessions which involves IPPF, WHO, UNFPA, GNP+, ICW and Ipas. The meeting is called Sex and Sensibility and will be focused on sexual and reproductive health needs of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). It will be held on Thursday, August, 7. The panel discussion will include the topic of unwanted pregnancy and abortion services for HIV-positive women.

Full information about the conference is available at: www.aids2008.org

International Conference on Rights and Realities in Promoting Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, November, 10-11, 2008, Rotterdam, the Netherlands. This conference is jointly organized by the Netherlands-based organizations - World Population Foundation (WPF) and Youth Incentives (YI) which is an international programme on sexuality of the Rutgers Nisso Groep. The idea behind this initiative is to get together community advocating for SRHR with the Rights Based Approach (RBA) to discuss its challenges and to identify strategies to overcome obstacles. Youth organizations are welcome.

For more information visit www.wpf.org

WIDE Annual Conference 2008, October, 9-11, 2008 the Hague, the Netherlands. Scheduled for upcoming October, 9-11, this year's conference is titled "Feminist visions for a just Europe". It will be hosted by the WO=MEN, which is a Dutch Gender Platform; and it will bring together at least 200 women's rights activists from West, East and South.

More information: WIDE


Broken Promises: Human Rights, Accountability and Maternal Death in Nigeria. New report by the Center for Reproductive Rights and Women Advocates Resource and Documentation Centre, illustrates the systematic failure of the Nigerian government to live up to its human rights obligations. The fact that so many women die due to pregnancy related complications can be directly attributed to political and economic factors the government has the power to address. As it documents, Nigeria has both the policies and the resources to make good maternal healthcare a reality for all women. Institutional and structural problems, combined with a lack of political will, leave Nigerian women underserved and often desperate. The responsibilities for healthcare are separated between local, state and federal governments, increasing bureaucratization and diminishing accountability. Though maternal health policies exist, they are frequently not implemented. Low levels of funding for healthcare are made worse by financial corruption throughout the system. Broken Promises calls on the Nigerian government to make good on its commitment to saving women's lives by implementing systematic changes to improve maternal health throughout the country.

For more information and to download an electronic version of the report go to: www.reproductiverights.org

Report on the consequences of Polish anti-abortion law now available in English! The Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning has just released an English version of the report which depicts the SRHR situation in Poland. The publication is the outcome of the larger monitoring project co-financed by the European Commission. The main findings of the report preceded by comprehensive research indicate that the existing anti-abortion law is much more strict de jure than de facto. Abortion tourism (mostly to neighbouring Germany and the Czech Republic) and underground are well developed and illegal abortion services easily available. The study shows that there is rising interest in pharmacological abortion among women seeking clandestine abortion.

Electronic version of the report is available for download at: www.federa.org.pl



Go to RH Reality Check to read the new blog entry posted by Patty Skuster, who is Ipas Policy Associate dealing with the topic of criminalization of abortion in light of the fact that according to opinions of the majority of people polled in some of the world's most populous countries, abortion should not be penalized. The website is the unique blog open for contribution from the whole sexual and reproductive health and rights community.


International Museum of Women (I.M.O.W) This is an online museum that publishes exhibitions capturing various women's experiences in order to trigger discussion. The current display deals with the topic Women, Power and Politics. We encourage you to visit this unique space devoted to promoting women's rights via visual material.