Central and Eastern Europe region can strongly contribute to blocking international progress on SRHR - an interview with ASTRA Coordinator

On the 5th of July the anti-choice “Stop Abortion” Committee submitted to the Polish parliament the draft law aiming to introduce a total ban on abortion with over 450,000 citizen signatures. This mass anti-choice mobilization is just another example of the backlash against women’s rights in Central and Eastern Europe. Marta Szostak from Astra gave us an insight into the regional anti-SRHR dynamics and its consequences for the European and global processes.

Could you tell us please about the recent challenges in Central and Eastern Europe related to SRHR and how they could possibly influence the processes happening at European and global level, such as implementation of the SDGs?

Marta Szostak, Astra: The recent challenges can be discussed in terms of a backlash on women’s rights. For a few years we are now observing various steps, sometimes very small, sometimes very drastic, to limit women’s reproductive rights and influence their reproductive health choices. The most blatant example is the one of Poland where very shortly we may face a reality where the current, already very strict law on abortion denies women the right to decide on their pregnancy. This is also the case for fetal impairment and rape. The new law, if successful aims also to punish women for illegal abortions. Anti-choice initiatives in Poland have become a standard procedure in the last years, we have witnessed them literally every year, or every second year, for the last decade. With the current conservative government, they have gained power and support like never before, this has not been without consequences on the global and regional level. Already this year some countries of the region, including Poland, have been reluctant to go along with the common EU position at some of the global negotiations at the United Nations. Only recently Russian Federation, followed by Poland and other countries of the Middle East blocked the decriminalisation language from being included in a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly on June 8 that called for ending the AIDS pandemic by 2030.

Another common trend for the region is Governments publically endorsing global commitments but executing its own agenda at national level, sometimes contrary to these international standards and agreements. This is especially visible in regard to human rights standards related to SRHR.

While there is a continued backlash towards women’s rights in the region, do you see any new forms of this phenomena? Are there any new actors present in the growing opposition to SRHR?

Marta Szostak, Astra: The groups which are pushing for anti-choice and very often “anti-gender” messages and initiatives (usually covering issues such as LGBTI rights and comprehensive sexuality education) have been around for a very long time. Many of them have gained power and support in the recent years, fueled by the rise conservative politics, the rebirth of nationalistic rhetoric and the promotion of a return  to “traditional values”. This trend has been observed in countries like Russia and post-Soviet Republics such as Lithuania, Hungary and Croatia. The growing SRHR opposition in CEE region is very often supported (in terms of resources, know-how and financially) by United States anti-choice groups and sometimes seems like a well-coordinated regional / global action. For many years the opposition groups were connected to religious groups, mostly the Catholic or Russian Orthodox Church. In our opinion this has however slightly changed in the recent years and more groups acting without the Church’s support are vocal and visible. What is also quite new is the involvement of young people in the anti-choice movement as well as the presence of collectives of specific groups protesting against a certain issue, such as parents against sexuality education.

What can be done to tackle these challenges and how can the European SRHR community support your work in the region?

Marta Szostak, Astra: Firstly, the European SRHR community should see this as a wider issue, not solely relevant to CEE region only. The rise of nationalism and anti-choice initiatives can be observed in some countries of Western Europe as well, and the recent case of the Spanish battle over abortion law and the situation of Ireland are good reminders that reproductive rights are not of a permanent status and must be fought for and secured over and over again. Of course, the West versus East divide, with the EU dynamics as background, has its repercussions.

Reaching the moveable middle should become a priority for all SRHR advocates in Europe, either by education or by media. With the many connections between advocates and activists from European countries from both East and West this can make a difference. However, it is usually more productive to work in national context and avoid top-down dynamics, also in regard to international cooperation.

Last, but not least, Western European advocates should be aware that the CEE region with its current trends, and the UK leaving the EU, can strongly contribute to blocking the international progress on SRHR. As a consequence their work, also the development work done in Global South, may become more difficult with this backlash taking place. It will also have, and in fact, this is already happening, impact on the funding for SRHR initiatives, abortion especially. We count on solidarity and support from our colleagues in Europe, their assistance in conversations with their politicians and representatives within the European Parliament.

Source: EuroNGOs

Battle for abortion?

On the 5th of July the anti-choice “Stop Abortion” Committee submitted to the Polish parliament the draft law aiming to introduce a total ban on abortion with over 450,000 citizen signatures. As consequence of such a law we are going to face another attempt of limiting women’s reproductive rights. It means not only the human rights of women and girls will be violated, but also their life and health will be endangered.
In opposition to the cruel proposal from anti-choice community, “Save Woman” Civic Committee prepared a draft law which guarantees an access to abortion, contraception, sexual education and respectful care during childbirth and miscarriage. A Committee was established at the beginning of May what means it must collect 100 000 signatures till the end of July to ensure that the law will be debated in the Polish Parliament. Until now, there are over 90 000 signatures and a struggle to collect at least 10 thousands more signatures is going to be continued for two more weeks.

Both draft laws will be debated in polish parliament in autumn. 

Enough! Women's Dignity March

Women's Dignity March took place on 18th of June in Warsaw. Protest organized by women for women started on Zbawiciele Square at 11:55 which symbolized last chance to react to the proposal to introduce a total ban on abortion, last chance to react to Woman's Right Violation.

- We gathered here to defend Women's Rights - stated one of the organizer of the March, Irina Ovcinicov. - We are here because it is a last moment to say "Enough!". Enough to an ignorance of our fundamental rights! Enough to the violence to the women! Enough to an ignorance of our right to health and life.

Participants of the March walked with the slogan "Women's rights are human rights" to show that they do not agree women's rights to be violated.

Organizers announced that March on 18th might has been the first step in a long struggle.

About March in media:


Le Figaro



Polsat News


Polska The Times


Women's Dignity March in Poland

Women’s rights are human rights

The situation of women in Poland continues to deteriorate – in the recent months we have witnessed a real attempt to further restrict the current law on abortion, which already made it difficult to obtain a legal procedure. The “Stop Abortion” civic committee succeeded in submitting a draft law introducing a complete ban on abortion and a new category into the criminal code – “prenatal murder”, which will  introduce penalty of 3 to 5 years in prison for women, doctors and anyone helping a woman to perform an abortion. The group, supported by the Ordo Iuris, a conservative and anti-choice organization, had already collected the needed 100 000 signatures under its draft law thereby securing its reading and debate in the Polish Parliament, possibly already  in July or early Autumn.

The social movement among Polish society which arose as a response to the current political climate resulted in several civil society initiatives and a rise of awareness in society and growth of public debate around issues such as equal pay, access to health services (especially reproductive health) and effective enforcement of the law and justice for domestic violence survivors.  

This Saturday, June 18th, the Women's Dignity March (Facebook event) is taking place in Warsaw. The protest, with theme of Women’s rights are human rights is organized by a “group of ordinary Polish women” who in a spontaneous reaction to the proposal to introduce a total ban on abortion on April 1st, 2016 decided to organise a protest. The group does not have politicians standing behind tchem and they are not members of feminist organisations. “We work in the film industry, in the corpo-world or are selfemployed. We decided we can use our energy and potential to organise a march. On 18th of June, in Warsaw we will march with the slogan "Women's rights are human rights" to show that we will allow our rights be violated. This is the first step in a long struggle that awaits us.”

What does the Women Dignity March wish to achieve?

RESPECT for our dignity and bodily integrity

RIGHT to privacy, health and life protection

PUNISHMENT for perpetrators of physical and psychological domestic violence




SEXUALITY EDUCATION for us and our children

ACCESS to the newest medical discoveries

The right to safe interruption of pregnancy under applicable law

We demand EQUALITY and respect for women’s DIGNITY!

See message from the organizers with background information HERE.

If you wish to show your support please send a photo of yourself with #MarszGodnosci, #DignityMarch and #SolidarityWithPolishWomen to Ten adres pocztowy jest chroniony przed spamowaniem. Aby go zobaczyć, konieczne jest włączenie w przeglądarce obsługi JavaScript.


Source: Women's Dignity March

Women Deliver Conference and ASTRA panel

Women Deliver’s 4th Global Conference will be taking place on 16-19 May 2016 in Copenhagen, Denmark. It is going to be the largest gathering on girls’ and women’s health and rights in the last decade and one of the first major global conferences following the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The focus of the conference will be on how to implement the SDGs so they matter most for girls and women, with a specific focus on health – in particular maternal, sexual, and reproductive health and rights – and on gender equality, education, environment, and economic empowerment. The conference will bring together world leaders, advocates, policymakers, journalists, young people, researchers, and leaders of corporate companies and civil society to showcase what it means and how it works when girls and women become the focus of development efforts.

To learn more about the Women Deliver 2016 conference download the conference 2-pager here.

ASTRA Network invites to a panel discussion „Threats to Reproductive Health and Rights in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia” with speakers from Poland, Romania, Macedonia and Armenia.




Krystyna Kacpura, Federation for Women and Family Planning, Poland


Daniela Draghici, Society for Feminist Analyses AnA, Romania


Bojan Jovanovski, H.E.R.A., Macedonia


Lida Minasyan, Society Without Violence, Armenia



Marta Szostak, ASTRA Network Coordinator

The panel will be held on Monday, May 16th from 12 to 13.30 hrs at Bella Center, room 66/67J.