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Violations of Women’s and Newborns’ Rights in Childbirth Getting Worse in Slovak Hospitals during Pandemic

ODZ + ŽK, 29. 10. 2020

Slovak non-governmental organisations Občan, demokracia a zodpovednosť (Citizen, Democracy and Accountability, CDA) and Ženské kruhy (Women’s Circles) warn of the increasing number of violations of the human rights of women and newborns in childbirth in Slovak hospitals during the current pandemic crisis. The separation of mothers from their newborns is one of the most severe forms of these violations. The organisations urgently stress that healthcare facilities and the state must ensure that childbirth care is provided in compliance with human rights and medical standards even in this complicated situation.

CDA and Women’s Circles had already warned of the deteriorating situation with respect to the violations of the rights of women and children in birthing facilities during the first wave of the pandemic. The same was observed in the second wave as well. “For example, newborn babies continue to be separated from their mothers, and this practice gets even worse if the woman giving birth has tested positive for COVID-19 or shows its typical symptoms. In a number of cases, women with COVID-19 have been discharged from hospital the next day after giving birth, but their babies remained in the hospital without any contact with their mothers whatsoever. There are also cases where parents have no contact with their infants kept at intensive care units for several days or even weeks. Continue reading

When gynecologists gaslight women

ŽK, 17. 9. 2020

From the UK to Ukraine, women are forced to endure traumatic reproductive health procedures without adequate pain relief because their pain “is not possible” or not important enough to prevent. In some cases this leads to torn uteruses and PTSD.

“This is what happens when you like men too much.” These words were spoken by a Zagreb doctor to a young woman during a surgical abortion. The woman then had her womb scraped without anesthetic, while the surgeon joked with his medical team about her sex life.

Her devastating testimony is recorded in a complaint to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right To Health by the Croatian Parents’ Rights organization RODA. The organization invited women to submit their experiences of enduring reproductive healthcare without anesthetic under the campaign banner “Breaking The Silence” (#PrekinimoŠutnju). In the space of a weekend, they received 400 handwritten submissions.

“The stories involved women who had biopsies on their uterus, cervix or vagina without anesthetic,” RODA’s Head of Reproductive Rights Daniela Drandic told me over the phone. Continue reading

Coronavirus: Women denied abortions because of the pandemic

BBC News, 24. 6. 2020

In some European countries, hospitals have stopped performing abortions. In others, where abortion is severely restricted, women have been unable to travel to get treatment elsewhere. In the past few weeks we’ve spoken to women who have resorted to backstreet abortions, and others left with no choice but to continue with unwanted pregnancies. Human rights organisations are now urging countries to make sure abortions are safely available.

See the BBC News report about the current struggle of women in some European countries to get abortions during the pandemic, due to restrictions of leading decision-makers. The reporters found a similar situation in countries across Europe – in Romania, Italy, Croatia, and Slovakia. According to Jean Mackenzie, the BBC Europe Correspondent, “in these countries it had been already difficult for women to get an abortion, and this crisis has just put more obstacles in their way”.

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Continue reading

Denied beds, pain relief and contact with their babies: the women giving birth amid Covid-19

The Guardian, 28. 5. 2020

Following reports worldwide, experts are warning that pandemic is pushing back progress on prenatal and maternity care

After Denisa’s son was born premature at 26 weeks she was unable to hold him, but spent as much time as possible near his incubator so he could get used to her voice. By the time he was well enough to be held by his mother, a state of emergency had been declared in Slovakia and Denisa was told to vacate her bed and leave the hospital to make way for Covid-19 patients.

The rush of patients never came, but strict rules meant she was unable to see her baby until he was discharged six weeks later. “Instead of a hug, I went home empty-handed only with my head full of questions,” she says. “Each day without my baby was taking away my strength and harming my mental health.”

Unable to have a birth companion, coerced into undergoing medical interventions, denied pain relief and separated from their newborns. This is the new reality for expectant and new mothers in many countries, as experts warn the coronavirus outbreak is leading to an infringement of women’s birth rights. Continue reading

Istanbul ratification still nowhere in sight

The Slovak Spectator, 19. 4. 2018

The international document preventing violence against women was one of the reasons why a former justice minister left the government.

Thousands of people protested against the international convention to prevent violence against women, but the government ratified it anyway. That is last week’s news from Croatia, where the protest in the city of Split on April 12 did not stop the parliament from giving the green light to the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention. Slovakia signed the convention under the government of Iveta Radičová in 2011 but the governments that followed, all led by Smer, have been reluctant to ratify the document, along with nine other EU countries. Continue reading

Individualized, supportive care key to positive childbirth experience, says WHO

WHO, 15. 2. 2018

WHO has issued new recommendations to establish global care standards for healthy pregnant women and reduce unnecessary medical interventions. Worldwide, an estimated 140 million births take place every year. Most of these occur without complications for women and their babies. Yet, over the past 20 years, practitioners have increased the use of interventions that were previously only used to avoid risks or treat complications, such as oxytocin infusion to speed up labour or caesarean sections.

“We want women to give birth in a safe environment with skilled birth attendants in well-equipped facilities. However, the increasing medicalization of normal childbirth processes are undermining a woman’s own capability to give birth and negatively impacting her birth experience,” says Dr Princess Nothemba Simelela, WHO Assistant Director-General for Family, Women, Children and Adolescents. “If labour is progressing normally, and the woman and her baby are in good condition, they do not need to receive additional interventions to accelerate labour,” she says. Continue reading

Commissioner for Human Rights: Progress needed to ensure women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in Europe

Commissioner for Human Rights, 4. 12. 2017

“Women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights are human rights. Regrettably, however, women in Europe still have these rights denied or restricted as a result of laws, policies and practices that ultimately reflect continuing gender stereotypes and inequalities. States must acknowledge and address these violations and resolutely commit to advancing gender equality in this crucial sphere of life”, said today Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, while releasing a report on this topic.

The document provides an overview of states’ obligations under international and European human rights standards in the field of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. It provides examples of shortcomings that European states must address in particular as regards the rights to life, health, privacy, non-discrimination as well as the right to be free from torture and ill-treatment, with a particular focus on comprehensive sexuality education, modern contraception, safe and legal abortion care, and quality maternal health care. Continue reading

Commissioner Nils Muižnieks: Protect women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights

The Council of Europe, 22. 7. 2016

The Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks released human rights comment on women´s sexual and reproductive health and rights yesterday (21. 7.). We appreciate that among other, he refers to the research report elaborated by CDA WOMEN – MOTHERS – BODIES as well as concluding observations of the CEDAW Committee we contributed to.

In these times of resurgent threats to women’s rights and gender equality, we must redouble our efforts to protect women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. Among the international and European legal instruments that protect these rights, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) guarantees women’s rights to decide freely and responsibly about the number and spacing of their children and to have access to information, education and means to enable them to exercise these rights. Continue reading

“Mrs Mária” is not Mária and she will not vote in Slovakia

The Slovak Spectator, 16. 2. 2016

A stolen photo of a woman taken in New York has been used for calling on people to go to the ballot box in the upcoming election.

An anonymous online leaflet with a photo of an older lady and a question: Do you want Mrs Mária to decide about your future? calls for participation in March parliamentary elections. With rigidly clenched lips and a slightly restrained look, Mrs Mária is not smiling in the photo. She is dressed fittingly for the season in a winter coat; and in a fur cap she looks determined. She will apparently go to cast her vote and ruin the future of young people. This is the basic message of the pre-election online leaflet that started spreading over the internet during recent days. Continue reading

Refugee crisis will stand out also in 2016

The Slovak Spectator, 26. 1. 2016

A responsible migration, asylum, and integration policy should be one of the priorities of the next government, but the programmes of parties leave little room for optimism, according to NGOs.

Human rights advocates expect the mass arrival of refugees to Europe to dominate the human rights agenda in 2016. The Human Rights League has been pointing to Slovakia’s lack of an asylum process. Zuzana Števulová from the Human Rights League says that the immigration and asylum-granting process in Slovakia suffers from absence of experts on the part of the government, and lack of vision. “It has been a topic that nobody wanted to touch,” Števulová says. Continue reading