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CEE Bulletin on Sexual and Reproductive Rights

No 9 (65) 2008

table of contents:

burning issue

VATICAN: 40 Anniversary of ban on modern contraception. Ban on modern family planning known as Humanae Vitae is a papal encyclical released on 25th of July 1968 during the Second Vatican Council by pope Paul VI confirming total prohibition of modern contraceptives usage, such as (fe)male condoms - the most effective means of preventing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV – or hormonal pills. At the 40 anniversary of the document, Jon o’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice (www.catholicsforchoice.org) recalls thecontext in which the encyclical was adopted. Back in 1968, the majority of members of the Vatican Birth Control Commission did not vote in favor of upholding the ban on modern family planning. Quite the contrary, it was been recommended by the majority of the Commission to lift the ban as the previous pope’s teachings were not believed to be infallible in the end. For inexplicable reasons, Pope Paul VI did not take the Commission’s recommendations into account and adopted the minority report to uphold the ban on condoms and other effective means of contraception. He claimed that the ban could not be revoked as there had been no consensus reached within the Commission. Nevertheless, it has to be highlighted that unanimity had not been required in adoptions of other encyclicals during the Second Vatican Council. This particular case remains to be clear and blatant deviation from normal procedure. The radical restriction on modern methods of contraception usage is highly controversial in the context of the constant spread of HIV/AIDS pandemic which can be prevented if condoms were used consistently. The impact of Humanae Vitae on public health has been vital and in spite of continuous efforts of progressive Catholics and civil society to amend the restrictive and harmful ban, there are no signs of the Vatican shifting its position on condoms and other modern contraceptives. Not to mention the fact that the majority of Catholics all over world support the use of (fe)male condoms as a mean of preventing both: unwanted pregnancy and STDs. And the ban has the most severe effect on poorest women who are mostly vulnerable to HIV transmission. The ban continues to be a source of great conflict and rupture within the Church and Catholic community. Catholics for Choice keeps on campaigning on lifting the ban and asks Catholics worldwide to contact their bishops and share their concerns in regards to the Vatican’s position on contraceptives.

More information is available at: Catholics For Choice

regional updates

Update from Astra Youth: We choose to be healthy! On 12th June Astra’s youth groups from Macedonia, Bulgaria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Poland and Georgia organized a campaign “We choose to be healthy!”. The event was organized on the occasion of the International Youth Day. The goal of the campaign was to raise awareness among young people concerning the importance of medical tests and also STI’s (sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS) prevention. Astra Youth members arranged happenings and meetings with young people in main cities of Astra’s members’ countries. They were distributing leaflets prepared specifically for this event as well as some nice gadgets such as silicone bracelets, t-shirts, caps with a slogan of the action written on it. Young people showed big interest and enthusiasm for the objectives of action. Many of them expressed the importance of universal sex education and agreed that the subject of STI’s infections among young people is still being neglected. Astra Youth finds “We choose to be healthy!” as a success! We also congratulate Georgia that they managed to implement this event, despite the extremely difficult situation in their country!

For more information please contact us at: Astra Youth

UN CEDAW Committee has examined country reports of Slovakia and Lithuania. At its 39th session held on July 23 – August 10 the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) reviewed the progress and regression in the field of gender equality and women’s empowerment in two countries of the CEE region – Slovakia and Lithuania. Astra’s member organizations from both countries have contributed to the shadow/alternative reports and participated in the session together with their governments. CEDAW committee’s concluding observations and recommendations for governments are strong and comprehensive and they surely will be used by the CSOs (Civil Society Organizations) to advocate for women’s rights. The committee did not omit questioning countries on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). NGOs from Slovakia raised concerns about restrictive access to sexual and reproductive health care in Slovakia (mainly the issue of conscientious objection, high price of contraception and other SRH services, forced and coerced sterilizations of Roma women, limited sexuality education in schools, discrimination of lesbians and single women in access to assisted reproduction -- all these concerns were addressed by the Committee during the dialog with the Slovak government). As concerns Lithuania, the Committee expressed its concern about the high rate of abortions resulting from limited access to family planning services, especially for women living in remote rural areas. The Committee remained alarmed by the fact that over 50 percent of young women aged 15-25 do not use any method of contraception to protect themselves against both: unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV/AIDS. And most importantly, the Committee is deeply concerned about the draft law on the protection of human life in the prenatal phase, which stipulates only three situations, in which abortion would be lawful within very strict time-limits.

More information is available at: www.un.org

UNITED KINGDOM: Row over morning-after pill. Recently published data on the number of emergency hormonal contraceptives delivered to schoolgirls in Lothian region where the teenage pregnancy is the highest in the UK raised a heated debate. The Scottish Executive program named Healthy Respect set up to curb unwanted and early pregnancies rate in the region received severe critique from conservative authorities and the Catholic Church. Healthy Respect coordinators report that during the duration of the project (past three years) they have been contacted by 11,067 young people who were seeking assistance and help. They have been also searching for emergency contraception after risky and unprotected sexual intercourse. Many girls aged 14-25 were provided with Levonelle, a morning after pill registered and available in the UK by Healthy Respect staff members. Last June, it was also communicated that almost 50 schoolgirls under the age of 16 were given the pill. This fact has outraged the conservative public. What concerns the critiques of the programme is that the pill should not have been given to such young girl as the manufacturer of Levonelle did not test the drug in this age group. The company confirmed that and added that girls below 16 years of age are not psychologically ready to take the morning after pill. It stays in stark contrast with the existing law and practice as emergency contraception is available over the counter without prescription form the doctor in the UK. Obtaining it also does not require parental permission. Nevertheless, opponents are concerned about proper controls over who is being given the drug. They also argue that the project Healthy Respect did not yield any results as teenage pregnancy has not dropped within the duration of the project. Opposition, obviously including the Catholic Church argues that the Scottish executive programme promotes the wrong attitude towards sexuality and thus the project remains ineffective. Healthy Respect has also published its statistics on delivering free of charge condoms but this topic did not raise a debate though it was indicated that staff members have handed about 5,500 condoms to young people under 16 years of age.

Source: CCMC PUSH Journal 02/06/2008

UZBEKISTAN: Speculations on government’s efforts to curb population growth. Uzbekistan remains the only post-soviet country where the yearly number of new marriages is not falling, but is on the rise. It is also a country considered as having a relatively high fertility rate. Large families with five or more children are still common, though experts claim that the number of medium families (2 plus 2) is growing, especially among city residents. Nevertheless, the birth rate remains in the spotlight of the government’s interests. Though recently no direct measures have been introduced by state authorities to discourage pregnancies, opposition and foreign media as well as experts and observers speculate on the government’s policy towards family planning. It is claimed that no ‘loud’ action would be undertaken but rather clandestine mechanisms like gradual withdrawal from supporting families and single parents. Uzbek opposition media articles on state’s efforts to reduce birth rate raised immediate protest gtom the government’s side and state owned media denied the speculations. In 2008, Uzbek population will exceed 27 million, accounting for 47 percent of the total population in the whole region of Central Asia. The already difficult economic situation is even more challenging in terms of securing jobs for Uzbeks when population is growing that fast. According to official statistics, the annual growth rate of Uzbekistan's population constitutes no less than 1.2 per cent, that is, 600,000 newborns every year. At the same time the increase in jobs currently lags behind the rate of the demographic explosion and it needs to be kept in mind that Uzbekistan is still predominantly an agrarian country. Experts report that the government is failing to create jobs and boost economic growth in the country, especially concerning young people for whom it is not uncommon to face financial difficulties. As we read in independent media, a recent governmental programme to increase employment for youth turned out to have negative effects on the older part of population. It has been named as a massive campaign for dismissing all pensioners and those who have reached retirement age from state budget-funded organizations. How the Uzbek government is going to respond to this problem remains unclear but we increasingly hear that it is possible that the state will regulate the birth rate with top down measures.

Source:CCMC PUSH Journal 02/06/2008


New data on European demographic situation available now. European demographic trends have been high on the political agenda for some time now. Low birth rate poses economic challenges in most of the experts’ views. Newest estimates provided by the European Union indicate the from the year 2015, deaths will outnumber child births in the EU. The report alarms that the European population is aging rapidly which can have vast consequences on pension systems and access to public medical health care. It also points that migration will be a major contributor fueling birth rate. So, what does the situation look like according to Eurostat expert estimates? Today’s population amounts 495 million and it will slightly grow to 521 million in 2035. This is predicted to be the peak of the curve as from that point the population will start shrinking and will reach 506 million in 2060. As life expectancy is on the rise, it is estimated that the percentage of people over 80 will triple by 2060. The decrease of population will be mostly experienced by eastern European countries. Eurostat forecasts that in such countries like Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania or Romania the number of inhabitants will drop by 20 percent. Poland will experience a fall by 18 percent. Though those are only estimates that do not necessarily need to materialize, we might expect that governments would take action to respond to the demographic situation of their countries through development of pensions of family policy. NGOs dealing with sexual and reproductive health and rights issue need to keep a close eye at those processes.

For more information please consult Eurostat webpage at: Eurostat

UNAIDS launches new report on global AIDS epidemic. Some improvements have been recorded, most significant is the drop in new HIV infections in areas hit the hardest by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The report also hails increasing condom use among youth and the postponing of time of first sexual intercourse. Nevertheless, AIDS remains the leading cause of death in Africa. As for Eastern Europe and Central Asiaa, the most alarming situation has been recorded in Russia. The pace of the development of the epidemic is also very fast in Ukraine. In general, almost 90 percent of newly reported HIV cases in the region occurred in those two countries: 66 and 21 percent respectively. But HIV transmission in other countries is on the rise as well, including: Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan has the highest HIV prevalence in Central Asia. The major modes of transmission are as follows: IDU (injecting drug users), sex workers and to a lesser scope MSM (men having sex with men). Nevertheless, 37 percent of cases result from heterosexual intercourse. UNAIDS concludes that the growing HIV/AIDS pandemic requires strong leadership to stop it and sustained financing.

Full information to be found at the UNADIS website: www.unaids.org

MEXICO CITY: Still far from securing access to legal and safe abortion. Latin America is known for pervasive violations of sexual and reproductive rights and thus the adoption of the law that secures the right to termination of pregnancy last year in Mexico City must be viewed as a landmark decision. Though in theory women in the city can undergo abortion on demand until 12 weeks of pregnancy, in reality they still face serious obstacles. From the very beginning, no conditions were created for women to ensure that their right to decide freely over their bodies is respected. When the law was adopted in April 2007, most of the doctors were against the new provision and 85 percent of gynecologists declared themselves as conscientious objectors meaning that they did not perform abortions on the ground of moral beliefs. This obviously poses serious hurdles for women seeking abortion. The procedure is now only available in a limited number of facilities. Mexico City had to bring doctors from outside the city as there were not enough medical professionals to deal with the demand for terminations. Now there are merely 35 doctors who perform abortions. However, what is most alarming in case of Mexico City is the number of attempts undertaken by anti-choice circles to overturn the existing one-year-old law. The law could be changed if 8 out of 11 magistrates voted in favour of the backlash. On 28th of August, the recently adopted was reviewed by the Mexican Supreme Court (The Supreme Court of the Justice of the Nation) which fortunately upheld the law by a vast majority. Eight justices voted against the claim to change it, while only three voted in favor. The abortion debate continues not only in Mexico City but in the whole country as well. Obviously restrictive laws affect the poorest women the most, but it is not only law, as this example shows, that creates obstacles in accessing abortions but also how it is implemented.

More information is available at: www.iht.com

SUB-SHARAN AFRICA: New HIV transmission slowing down. Though everyone – academics, experts and practitioners – hail the reported drop in new HIV infections in the most hardest-hit areas by HIV/AIDS that is sub-Saharan Africa, there is an awareness that no universal access to prevention, treatment and care has been yet achieved. The statistics regarding global HIV/AIDS epidemics are still thrilling. Everyday, there are 6,800 people who become infected and a similar number dies due to AIDS related reasons. In total in 2007, 2.5 million new transmissions were recorded. The actual number of those, however, remains unclear. It is estimated that 1.7 million infections happened in Sub-Saharan Africa – a huge percentage of the total number. Though the epidemic is expanding and each year the number of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) is bigger, new infections are slowing down. The total number of PLWHA increases due to a variety of reasons. Just to list a few - the world population is growing and people living with AIDS live longer when they have access to proper treatment. There are different rationales behind the welcomed drop in Sub-Saharan Africa. First of all, we can attribute it to effective and successful programmes aimed at achieving universal access to prevention and care. Secondly, it has been reported that reduction in number of sexual partners and increased fidelity among partners played a role here as well. More consistent use of condoms has been also observed. Finally, experts claim that the drop in new transmissions is in fact a natural course of epidemics and its curves are absolutely general trends. Nevertheless, sub-Saharan Africa still needs urgent attention as in this region there are 22.5 million people living with HIV/AIDS which amounts to almost 68 percent of the global number. Scaled up response to this burning problem can however yield results. Uganda seems to be the best example here, as it is the first country in the region to record a drop in national HIV prevalence.

Source: www.allafrica.com 26/08/2008/

upcoming events

INTERIGHTS Europe Programme: Funded Internship on Women's Human Rights for Visiting Lawyer. INTERIGHTS’ Europe Programme covering Council of Europe countries within Central and South Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union is pleased to invite applications for an internship as part of the development and implementation of its work on Women’s Human Rights. The six-month-long internship will be offered to a lawyer from Council of Europe states within Central and South Eastern Europe/ former Soviet Union and will begin in January 2009. INTERIGHTS will arrange and pay for travel, travel insurance and visa costs, along with a monthly stipend of L1,250. Accommodation is not provided but INTERIGHTS can advise on finding a suitable place to stay. To apply please send a cover letter, curriculum vitae indicating two references and a recent unedited writing sample of no more than two thousand words. The writing sample should be on human rights issues, desirably on women’s human rights, and authored by the candidate. Short listed applicants will be interviewed by telephone. Applications should be sent to Beth Fernandez, Programme Coordinator (Europe Programme) by email only to: Beth Fernandez

The closing date for applications is 5pm BST Friday 19 September 2008.

Conference on Secularism and Religions in the European Union, Brussels, Belgium, August, 27 – 29, 2008. This event will bring together influential personalities from the political, religious and scientific sphere with a view to gauging the impact and evolution of the current pontificate of Benedict XVI three years after his election. It will last one and a half a day and it will be structured along three separate sessions, the goal of which is to weigh up the consequences of the Vatican policy and policies. The programme of the conference on Secularism and Religions in the European Union is currently being finalised. The names of the speakers will be announced in upcoming days. Below you will find a list of the main subjects which will be dealt with by the different panels. Anka Grzywacz, member of the CFC European Advisory Group will be speaking on Religion, Reproduction and Politics.

To participate in the Conference please contact the office of Marco Pannella at: Marco Pannella Tel: +32 2 284 51 20

The right to abortion: European political challenges, Paris, France, September, 19 – 20, 2008. Taking the opportunity of French Presidency of the European Union, the French Family Planning Movement organizes in Paris a European event on "the right to abortion: European political challenges" on September 19 and 20. This conference will focus on the right to abortion in countries which are member of the European Union. This conference will be on the official program of the French Presidency (with support of our minister of health-youth and sports). Translation French/English will be organized. The general idea of this conference is to talk about different kinds of obstacles to abortion right and about strategies to promote this right. We plan to give a lot of space to decision makers and NGOs from different European countries.


New resources from IWHC on Women and HIV. The International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) has just released the newest issue brief in IWHC’s series on Health and Rights, Empower Women and Girls to Stay HIV-Negative (http://iwhc.org/resources/hivprevention.cfm). The brief provides policy and programmatic recommendations to prevent new HIV infections among women and young people. For more in IWHC’s series on Health and Rights, go to www.iwhc.org There are also new resources from the XVII International AIDS Conference earlier this month (August 3-8) in Mexico City, Mexico available. In anticipation of the conference, IWHC, on behalf of the With Women Worldwide Compact to End HIV/AIDS, issued a Call to Commitment(Call to Commitment) asking global leaders, advocates, and policymakers to empower women and young people to stay HIV negative. The Call to Commitment reflects the growing realization that policies, programs, and budgets do not adequately address gender inequality and discrimination against women and girls.

Progress report on universal access to HIV/AIDS medical interventions. WHO/UNAIDS and UNICEF have launched the 2008 Progress report - Towards Universal Access - Scaling up priority HIV/AIDS interventions in the health sector. The report details the latest treatment figures and provides an overview of global progress towards priority health sector interventions.

The full report and supporting documents can be found at the following link:Report

Views of adults on Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health in Ghana. The Guttmacher Institute recently released a new report on the views and attitudes of adults regarding the sexual and reproductive health needs of young people in Ghana. This qualitative study draws on 60 in-depth interviews with parents, teachers, health care workers and community leaders, in two urban and two rural areas of Ghana and presents policy and program recommendations on adolescent HIV and other STIs and unwanted pregnancy prevention in Ghana.

To read the report titled, Views of Adults on Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health: Qualitative Evidence from Ghana, go to:Report

The report is the final analysis in a larger five-year study of adolescent sexual and reproductive health called Protecting the Next Generation: Understanding HIV Risk Among Youth