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Advocating for elimination of serious violations of women´s human rights and discrimination of women (employment and reproductive rights)

From July 2013 till November 2014, we implemented the project Advocating for elimination of serious violations of women´s human rights and discrimination of women in the fields of employment and reproductive rights in Slovakia. The project was supported by Open Society Foundation (New York), within its program Human Rights Initiative 2013.

The project sought to contribute to eliminating serious violations of women´s human rights in two fields – employment and reproductive rights. In the field of employment, the project focused on discrimination of women, such as discriminatory dismissals and discrimination of pregnant women. Special attention was paid to discrimination carried out by public bodies as employers and to systemic and procedural problems with implementation of the principle of equality. In the field of reproductive rights, the main focus concentrated on the lack of access of women to high quality contraceptives that are acceptable to them, and disrespectful, non-dignified and abusive treatment of women while they are giving birth.

Current situation:

In Slovakia, women face massive violations of their rights in many areas of life, including employment and reproductive rights. In the field of employment, discrimination of women is taking place basically with regard to all aspects – discrimination in access to employment, working conditions, remuneration, promotion, job termination, as well as sexual harassment and other gender-based harassment, etc. The situation gets even worse for women from ethnic minorities, women with disabilities, elder women, and for other vulnerable women groups. Public institutions and public bodies, instead of acting as employers – role models, are often places where gravest breaches of anti-discrimination legislation occur.

In the field of women reproductive rights, the national law and practice are far from meeting fundamental human rights of women and international obligations of states requiring that contraceptives are affordable (and hence also subsidised through public health insurance schemes) and acceptable for the women concerned. One of the issues is a limited access of many women to reliable and high quality contraceptives. As a fact finding undertaken by CDA together with the Centre for Reproductive Rights (New York) and the Freedom of Choice (Slovakia) in 2010 confirmed, one of the main causes is the contraceptives cost. In 2011, a new law was introduced that prohibits coverage of contraceptives by public insurance altogether, which is against international standards, and which is at the same time a retrogressive measure undertaken by the Slovak Republic.

Another issue is disrespectful, non-dignified and abusive treatment of women connected to giving birth in public health care facilities. This includes, for example, non-respecting the wishes women have as to the way they would like their births to take place (e. g. regarding the position at giving birth), physical abuse and coercive non-consented treatment (such as episiotomies without women´s consent; coercive gynaecological examinations; tightening women to gynaecological arm-chairs while women are delivering their babies; forcing them to give birth in a position that suits the hospital staff and not the women concerned), non-respecting their privacy and intimacy (such as various women giving births at once, separated only symbolically; hospital staff entering the room, in excessive and unnecessary numbers, any time without knocking), non-respecting them as beings with full legal capacity and the capacity to decide for themselves (e. g. by ridiculing them if they ask a question or express a wish; or by not providing them with sufficient and adequate information), discrimination based on patients´ specific attributes (such as discrimination of Roma women, of very young women), abandonment of care (for example if women express a legitimate wish connected to their birth that a particular hospital or a doctor does not want to accept), or detention in facilities (e. g. when women wish to leave the maternity hospital earlier than the practice is), etc.

Although the occurrence of this disrespectful and abusive treatment is very massive, violating a whole spectrum of fundamental rights of women, and has massive impact on women´s lives, there is no public and expert debate on the issue as such. If a debate on some fragments of the problem emerges (such as home births), it is usually simplified and polarised. These discussions usually do not use legal and human rights arguments, one of the reasons being an absolute nonexistence of monitoring and data.

Main project objectives:

  • Improve the level of implementation of national, international and EU law prohibiting discrimination of women in the field of employment.
  • Challenge and reduce the legal and societal obstacles that hinder women´s access to modern contraceptives and improve the prospects of women living in Slovakia to have their right to access to contraceptives duly respected in practice, mainly through subsidisation of contraceptives through public health insurance.
  • Conceptualise the problem of disrespectful, non-dignified and abusive treatment of women connected to giving birth as a human rights issue, map the basic features of the treatment and present them to the general and professional public, as well as initiate legal advocacy steps aimed at reducing the women´s fundamental rights violations while giving birth.


The main approach was legal advocacy and strategic litigation. The strategic litigation was carried out in the field of discrimination in employment, being a continuation of two on-going cases where CDA had been legally representing two women discriminatorily dismissed by public employers. Both of the cases had won before the first instance courts but appeals and requests for supplementing the courts´ legal reasoning were subsequently submitted for various legal and human rights shortcomings of the decisions.

Legal advocacy was firmly entrenched in all areas of the project and comprised various types of activities:

  • submitting public comments on legislation bills and on public policies
  • international advocacy connected to access to contraceptives (submitting a written communication to the Human Rights Council)
  • monitoring of disrespectful, non-dignified and abusive treatment of women connected to giving birth and launching the monitoring report (also through a half-a-day meeting for decision-makers)
  • roundtable on access to contraceptives for decision-makers and all other stakeholders
  • advocacy activities through governmental advisory bodies
  • individual meetings with decision-makers and other stakeholders
  • attendance of public sessions of public bodies (e. g. the Parliament)
  • communication with media and individual journalists
  • communication with the public through the media, CDA´s website and a specialised web portal on discrimination Diskriminacia.sk

The project was carried out by a team of experts on women´s rights of various professional backgrounds including lawyers, psychologists, sociologists, media experts, etc.