Advocating for systemic changes towards protection of human rights of women with the emphasis on reproductive rights

From January 2016 till December 2017, we have been implementing the project Advocating for systemic changes towards protection of human rights of women with the emphasis on reproductive rights. The project is supported by Open Society Foundation (New York), within its program Human Rights Initiative 2014. The project comprises advocacy activities aimed at systemic changes towards protection of human rights of women mainly in the field of reproductive rights and the human rights of women in general. All of the activities present a continuation of CDA´s long-lasting efforts and achievements in this field. The issues dealt with include access to contraceptives, access to abortion services, and violations of women´s human rights in childbirth.

Slovakia is a country with omnipresent and multi-layered violations of the human rights of women. These violations are of a strong structural nature and exist and deepen despite Slovakia´s formal acknowledgements of the principle of equality and other human rights of women, both at the level of national law and internationally. The reasons for this state of affairs are manifold, intertwined and mutually reinforcing and include:

  • lack of understanding of the values behind the human rights of women and of the legal standards in the field, accompanied by inadequate or non-existent legal education and human rights, women´s rights, gender equality and gender sensitive education in general;
  • very low level of implementation and enforcement of existing legislation relating to the human rights of women, gaps in legislation in the field, and legislation that is contradicting international human rights standards;
  • non-existence of policies/adequate policies in the field;
  • reluctance of each of the governments to fully observe the constitutional principle of secular state, and hence an inappropriate influence of the Catholic church on the politics, on the State and the law, as well as on everyday life;
  • sexism, misogyny and gender stereotypes strongly present in everyday life and in all segments of population including decision-makers at all levels and in all fields.

It is this context, a strong backlash relating to the rights of women, but also to other human rights and values, is taking place nowadays in Slovakia. The referendum on the ´protection of the family´, constant and at times successful attacks on reproductive rights legislation (e. g. with regards to abortion – introducing waiting periods, compulsory counseling and parental consent in case of minors, or with regard to contraception – removal of a legislative duty to subsidize contraceptives through public health insurance and introducing a legislative ban on such subsidization), and constant (and successful) efforts to prevent the adoption of a national strategy on sexual and reproductive health and rights, are just a few examples to name. The already heavily masculinized and conservative political representation is becoming even more masculine and conservative. The reductions in the scope of legal protection of rights is taking place in spite of the fact that UN and other international bodies (e. g. the CEDAW or the CESCR Committee, or individual countries under the UN Universal Periodic Review process) are requesting the national authorities to strengthen the level of protection of the reproductive rights of women.

It is indeed the field of reproductive rights of women in which the backlash is extremely visible – and extremely dangerous. Attacks on sexual and reproductive rights do not only affect these rights as such but, when combined with lack of gender sensitive policies and lack of implementation of women´s rights/gender equality standards in other fields (such as the field of employment, family law, or social protection), they often become the departure points for or accompany violation of rights of women also in many other fields, such as in the field of employment or family relations. They also serve their initiators as means to perpetuate negative stereotypes against women.

Therefore in this project, we primarily focus on the respect for and promotion of the reproductive rights of women, as a central value and a central concept relating to women´s autonomy, equality and rights in all possible fields. However, we partly also focus on other rights which are intertwined with sexual and reproductive rights, or on issues that are relevant on the systemic and structural level (such as institutional or procedural mechanisms). The main focus is on access to contraceptives, access to abortion, and human rights in childbirth.

The project comprises various types of advocacy activities mainly in the field of reproductive rights of women. Most of the attention is devoted to the right of women to respectful treatment in childbirth, to access abortion and modern contraceptives, and to the right of girls and young women (but also boys and young men) to have access to adequate sexuality education. Some other rights that are connected to reproduction, mainly the right to non-discrimination in employment (connected e. g. to pregnancy and motherhood), are also dealt with to some extent (mainly through strategic litigation of CDA´s pending cases which). Where necessitated by the systemic nature of the issues dealt with by the project, other relevant issues are dealt with as well (e. g. designing broader gender equality policies, political developments threatening women´s rights or liberal values as such, matters connected to public institutional mechanisms, etc.).

The strategic focus of the project is systemic changes in the thematic fields of the project. Various advocacy and accompanying tools and approaches are used, in particular monitoring and data collection and analysis and presentation of the information/data acquired, shadow reporting to UN Committees and advocacy work aimed at securing implementation of the UN bodies´ concluding observations/recommendations, commenting on legislative bills and public policy documents, influencing legislation, policies and the public discourse through participation in the governmental advisory human rights bodies, through communication with stakeholders and decision-makers, with media and with the public, communication with existing and new partners abroad and other advocacy activities on the international level, and strategic litigation.

Many of the activities are carried out in partnerships with other NGOs, above all the grassroots NGO Women´s Circles and the internationally working Centre for Reproductive Rights (CRR), but also other partners (mainly NGOs) from abroad and other women´s rights NGOs in Slovakia.

Project activities:

  • Monitoring the situation, with a special focus on monitoring of violations of human rights of women in childbirth and the systemic causes for them, monitoring some of the barriers women face in access to abortion services
  • Drafting shadow report to the Human Rights Committee (HRC) and to the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and carrying out corresponding activities; advocacy activities towards implementation of the committees´ concluding observations (including those of CEDAW Committee of 2015)
  • Other advocacy activities in the field of legislation, policy-making and institutional setting/practice
  • Strategic litigation
  • works on publication about systemic aspects of violation of human rights of women in childbirth
  • Developing communication strategy and carrying out media communication