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Eldik Uzdar, Kyrgyzstan

eldik_thumb.jpg"We want to raise the status of rural women, prepare them for the market economy and create conditions in which women are able to make a living wage.” — Bubuzura Azhumudinova, founder of Eldik Uzdar

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Women for Women's Human Rights, Turkey

turkey_thumb.jpg“Women for Women’s Human Rights has [made a] great contribution to the women’s movement in Turkey. Three years ago, they organized women’s groups to change the Turkish Civil and Family Code, and they got the government to change the laws.” — Nurcan Baysal, GFW Advisor

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The Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children

The Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP)

Context

The practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is internationally recognized as a violation of the human rights of girls and women, with significant and long-lasting consequences on their physical and mental health and wellbeing. FGM refers to all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.i An estimated 100 to 140 million girls and women worldwide have undergone FGM, with 92 million over the age of 10 and residing on the African continent. Moreover, an estimated three million girls are at risk or undergo FGM each year.

FGM is very localized, as the nature and socio-cultural significance of the practice as well as the age when girls undergo FGM are culturally-embedded and may vary significantly, even within one country. However, FGM is also a globalized challenge for the women’s rights movement, as it affects girls and women in contexts where there is a high prevalence as well as those where overall prevalence is very low. With varying prevalence, FGM is practiced in 28 African countries, in the Middle East, and in Southeast Asia. It is also practiced in Europe and North America, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of Africa where it was not previously practiced, primarily within immigrant communities from cultures where FGM has a traditionally high prevalence.

International laws and protocols have clearly identified FGM as a harmful traditional practice and a human rights violation. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child call on national governments to eliminate harmful traditional practices, and the African Union Protocol to the Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women explicitly calls on states to prohibit and condemn FGM through the adoption and enactment of laws aimed at its elimination. However, supporting an enabling environment for change requires a national-level commitment. To date, only 19 of the 28 African countries where FGM is practiced have enacted national legislation to eliminate its practice.

FGM has both immediate and long-term physiological and psychological health impacts. Immediate impacts can include hemorrhage, inflammatory diseases, and infections. Long-term consequences can include chronic pain, infections, cysts and abscesses, painful sexual intercourse and increased risks at childbirth, including increased child mortality and the formation of fistulae. Girls who undergo FGM often must shoulder a lifetime burden from the procedure. A multi-country study in six African countries showed that women who had undergone FGM had significantly increased health risks during childbirth, with additional risks for newborns. The study showed that an additional one to two babies per 100 deliveries die as a result of FGM. Moreover, deliveries for women who have undergone FGM are significantly more likely to be complicated by caesarean section, postpartum hemorrhage, episiotomy, extended maternal hospital stay, resuscitation of the infant, and inpatient perinatal death, than deliveries to women who have not undergone FGM.ii The consequences of FGM for most women who deliver outside the hospital setting are expected to be even more severe, especially in rural areas and places where health services are weak or women cannot easily access them.

According to most recent data, the prevalence of FGM in Gambia is 78 percent for women aged 15-49 years—with higher percentages occurring in rural areas and in border communities.iii In many communities, FGM is regarded as a rite of passage to womanhood with strong ancestral and sociocultural roots. Ninety percent of Gambians are practicing Muslims. FGM has often been perceived as a religious obligation for Muslim women, a message reinforced by a number of religious leaders. The practice of FGM is often rationalized as being for the preservation of ethnic and gender identity, femininity, female purity/virginity, and “family honor”; maintenance of cleanliness and health; and assurance of women’s marriageability. In the Gambia, FGM is carried out on girls from newborns to pre-adolescence. As in other contexts, girls and women continue to suffer from adverse health impacts of FGM. For example, a recent study of patients requiring a gynecological examination in Gambia found that 34 percent of those had undergone FGM experienced medical complications as a direct result of FGM.

Although the Government of the Gambia (GoTG) has expressed a commitment to promoting the human rights of girls and women, it has yet to enact an explicit law to eliminate FGM. GoTG has ratified almost all international and regional instruments regarding women and children’s rights, but the explicit references to legal protection of girls and women from the practice of FGM were removed from the texts of both the 2005 National Children Act and the 2010 Women’s Act. Moreover, although there is reference to the elimination of discriminatory and harmful practices that adversely affect women in the National Gender Policy for 2010-2020, there is no explicit mention of FGM in the document and only one reference to “harmful traditional practices.” Women’s rights organizations in Gambia have highlighted that while national laws against FGM are important, making FGM illegal does not eradicate it and should be done in a cautious and thoughtful way so that it does not drive FGM underground. The use of law should thus be one component of a multidisciplinary approach, and must be preceded or complemented by public education and outreach by civil society and government to change perceptions and attitudes regarding FGM. Simply put, creating the enabling environment is necessary but not sufficient for sustained change of attitudes and behaviors around the practice of FGM.

The Gambia is witnessing a growing movement of communities, religious leaders, youth and women’s organizations speaking out about FGM and other harmful traditional practices. According to UNFPA/UNICEF, through the collective efforts of UN agencies and women’s rights organizations, in 2011 alone over 586 communities throughout Gambia announced their commitment to the abandonment of FGM. This momentum builds on the work of the Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP), one of Gambia’s oldest women’s rights organizations, and a leader in opening spaces and facilitating conversations about the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women in Gambia. Moreover, GAMCOTRAP is recognized as a leader in West Africa in challenging the deep-seated attitudes that perpetuate the violation of women’s bodily integrity.

Organizational Background

The Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP) was established as the Gambian National Chapter of the Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices in 1984. With its head office in Serrekunda, The Gambia, GAMCOTRAP works nationwide to raise awareness with the aim of preserving beneficial practices while eliminating all forms of harmful traditional practices. GAMCOTRAP’s work extends throughout the seven administrative districts of The Gambia, including: Banjul; Kanifing Municipality; Western Region; Lower River Region; Central River Region; Upper River Region; and the North Bank Region. In 2011, the organization directly reached a total of 2,720 individuals (approximately 53 percent of whom were girls and women). It estimates that it indirectly reached over 33,000 individuals throughout the country in 2011.

GAMCOTRAP’s main activities include: 1) organizing awareness programs about the harmful effects of FGM for youth, school children, health workers, religious and community leaders, and women’s organizations; 2) coordinating peer health education programs; 3) disseminating human rights and FGM information through media, seminars, and women’s symposiums; 4) operating a trust fund for girls’ education; and 5) advocating for legislation banning FGM. Dr. Isatou Touray, the Founder and Executive Director of GAMCOTRAP, is the Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Inter Africa Committee on Traditional Practices, a regional network encompassing 32 national chapters throughout the continent, as well as in countries in the Global North with large African immigrant populations.

The Global Fund for Women provided its first grant to GAMCOTRAP in 1997 and has awarded six grants totaling $115,000 since then. Our support has contributed to specific projects and initiatives, including providing scholarships to increase girls’ access to education and keep over 700 girls in school; training and information campaigns for circumcisers and traditional birth attendants; and an initiative to dispel links between Islam and FGM. Our support has also contributed to operating expenses and institutional strengthening, which has enabled GAMCOTRAP to retain qualified program staff and strengthen its organizational capacity. GAMCOTRAP boldly self-identifies as a feminist organization, in its core values, operations and approaches to its work. The organization unequivocally advocates for women’s leadership in all aspects of decision-making, for breaking the silence around African women’s sexuality, and in interrogating the conservative social norms that greatly shape attitudes and behavior around sexual and reproductive rights of women.

GAMCOTRAP’s model is anchored on the idea that change is gradual, especially when dealing with issues that are directly related to sexuality (e.g. FGM, early marriage, sexual and reproductive health), which are considered taboo within the Gambian context. The organization pushes for change by engaging through the traditional socio-cultural and political structures, and builds alliances by engaging key traditional and religious leaders and sensitizing them on the impact of FGM. Moreover, the leaders of GAMCOTRAP present themselves as daughters of the communities in which they work, who have undergone FGM themselves, and not as outsiders. In order to effectively engage in communities, GAMCOTRAP works to understand the dynamics of the culture and decision-making process in individual communities. In its outreach work, GAMCOTRAP emphasizes that while FGM is a cultural practice, cultural practices can and should change when communities realize that they have outlived their value. The organization addresses FGM through the use of several key messages in its outreach activities:

  • FGM is a not a religious obligation (neither Farda nor Sunnah) for Muslim women;
  • FGM negatively affects the health of women and children;
  • FGM violates the bodily rights and sexuality of women;
  • FGM is a form of violence against women and children and;
  • Allah, the Creator of the women’s body, designed it for a purpose and it should be left intact for such functions.

Moreover, by involving allied religious leaders and health care providers in its interventions, the organization is able to make an even stronger case for the promotion of women’s human rights.

Program Methodologies

GAMCOTRAP’s strategies include community sensitization; action research; and capacity-building through training and information campaigns, social mobilization, and advocacy. Collectively, these strategies aim to raise public consciousness about the need to protect the rights of girls and women from the threats of FGM and other forms of gender-based violence. In particular, this case study aims to highlight three specific strategies that are raising awareness about FGM and the need to end the practice in The Gambia.

Community Engagement: Cluster Approach GAMCOTRAP utilizes a cluster approach in which communities are brought together to reach consensus to protect their girl-children. Cluster communities are characterized by a shared geographical location, shared cultural ties, a high level of socialization, and shared circumciser(s) and Traditional Birth Attendant(s). GAMCOTRAP works closely with traditional leaders and chiefs who lead the mapping process and identify clusters that encompass between eight and 19 communities each. By targeting specific clusters, GAMCOTRAP develops a long-standing relationship with the communities that it works with. This approach also supports more extensive outreach. GAMCOTRAP undertakes five to six interventions in each cluster over the course of two days, which include exercises on decision-making, values clarification, and consensus building.

This approach enables the organization to identify and train Community Based Facilitators, who continue the engagement even after GAMCOTRAP’s interventions. Moreover, this approach has enabled representatives from 564 communities in three regions to support their circumcisers to stop the practice of FGM. In many rural communities, circumcisers are also Traditional Birth Attendants, which underlines the need to engage them not only on FGM but also on other matters of women’s sexual and reproductive health. The strategy also ensures that communities act collectively to abandon the practice, so that girls or their families who choose not to undergo FGM are not socially penalized or ostracized by their communities. Overall, GAMCOTRAP has experienced notable success in getting the communities in the clusters to reach a consensus to abandon FGM through public declaration. Having observed considerable success in change of behavior and attitudes around FGM through the use of this strategy, GAMCOTRAP is now using the cluster approach to address other issues related to gender-based violence.

Shifting Cultural Norms: Pubic Declarations through “Dropping of the Knife”Ceremonies GAMCOTRAP organized the first “Dropping of the Knife” ceremony in 2007, where 18 circumcisers, supported by 63 communities, made a public declaration to stop FGM. This launched a movement of Gambian communities coming out to publicly state that FGM was a violation of the GAMCOTRAP (Gambia) - 5 rights of women and girls and to declare their commitment to stopping the practice. The second Dropping of the Knife celebration involved 60 circumcisers supported by 351 communities in the Upper River and some parts of the Central River Region South. GAMCOTROP hosted the third Dropping of the Knife celebration in 2011, where 20 circumcisers, supported by 150 communities in the Lower River Region, made a public declaration to stop FGM and other harmful traditional practices such as early and forced marriages. The next Dropping of the Knife celebration was planned for November/December 2012 and involved 25 circumcisers, along with their children and supporting communities.

Overall, more than one hundred circumcisers have dropped their knives in more than 564 Communities from the Upper River, Central River South and Lower River Regions of the Gambia.GAMCOTRAP works with circumcisers who drop their knives through enterprise development training (provided by A GAMCOTRAP partner organization) as well as grants to engage in alternative livelihoods. Moreover, the Dropping of the Knife ceremonies are also significant because the circumcisers are publicly recognized for the important roles that they play as custodians and leaders within their communities. In turn, many become advocates against FGM in their respective regions. As a result of GAMCOTRAP’s engagement, communities and individuals have been calling for a law to protect girls from FGM. The Dropping of the Knife ceremonies have received significant media attention within Gambia and internationally, and are helping to break the silence and taboo around discussing women’s sexualities.

National Advocacy and Partnerships: Strengthening the Enabling Environment through Advocacy. Since its inception, GAMCOTRAP has worked to strengthen the enabling environment for elimination of FGM through advocacy and outreach to key decision-makers at national and international levels. The organization’s social mobilization initiatives use existing international and national instruments ratified by The Gambia (i.e. Convention on the Rights of the Child; CEDAW; African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child; and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa) as well as the National Policy for the Advancement of Gambian Women to advocate that FGM is a human rights violation.

GAMCOTRAP initiated the drafting of a specific bill against FGM for the Government of the Gambia to consider. This draft continues to be discussed at various levels, and is currently undergoing revisions in preparation for submission to the National Assembly. GAMCOTRAP has conducted consultative trainings with Security Officers, including the Child Protection Unit of the Police, the Army and Immigration Officers, to engage them in creating a protective environment for children against FGM. The organization works closely with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and has worked with various departments in the Department of State for Basic and Secondary Education on developing a module to sensitize primary school students on FGM. An ongoing priority for GAMCOTRAP is the strategic and constructive engagement with key religious leaders and Islamic scholars, particularly given their role in informing social and cultural norms, and in advising policies and procedures. A key outcome of engagement is that communities are now increasingly demanding greater accountability for government policies and services, overall.

In August 2012, GAMCOTRAP received a letter from the Office of the President of the Gambia acknowledging the receipt of the organization’s 2011 final report. The letter, signed by the representative of the Secretary General, stated, I have been directed to convey that the report is duly noted and to assure you of Government’s full support of the crusade against FGM. Furthermore, Government will take appropriate action in consultation with traditional and religious leaders in this regard. Although there is still considerable work to be done to eliminate the practice of FGM in The Gambia, this letter is a powerful and significant recognition of the impact of GAMCOTRAP’s work over the past 28 years.

Learnings

GAMCOTRAP works at various levels and is compelled by community engagement, building relationships of trust, and engaging within traditional structures. In some instances, the national government and certain religious leaders have seen the organization as a threat. However, by working in a steadfast manner to build partnerships, working directly with traditional and religious authorities, and encouraging communities to advocate for women’s rights, it is progressively transforming conversations around women’s rights in Gambia.

The case study of GAMCOTRAP highlighted several aspects of the organization’s work that contribute to the Sub-Saharan Africa team’s learning and regional strategy on sexual and reproductive health and rights. GAMCOTRAP’s cluster approach has facilitated geographically expansive coverage, and it provides a space and opportunity to engage traditional and religious leaders in the mapping process – a crucial precursor to GAMCOTRAP’s interventions. Building trust and a sense of ownership amongst community gatekeepers is essential for addressing sensitive topics such as FGM, and GAMCOTRAP’s work highlights one such strategy.

The cluster approach also demonstrates an awareness of the complex and culturally-embedded nature of the practice. In supporting alternative livelihood options for former circumcisers, GAMCOTRAP’s strategy underlines that SRHR issues are closely interlinked with economic issues, and that it is necessary to address the economic realities that contribute to the perpetuation of some harmful traditional practices Moreover, by engaging former circumcisers and their communities in the public Dropping the Knife ceremonies, GAMCOTRAP affirms the progressive role that these individuals can play in promoting women’s human rights, rather than demonizing them for being circumcisers. Throughout most of Sub-Saharan Africa, public conversations about issues related to women’s sexual and reproductive health are often very sensitive, if not taboo. GAMCOTRAP’s strategies demonstrate examples of culturally-appropriate and affirming approaches to addressing very challenging issues such as FGM.

The Sub-Saharan Africa team is particularly interested in strengthening the enabling environment for SRHR and a key strategy is to support organizations working to increase women’s access to information, resources, and services while building community ownership and commitment in order to sustain the promotion of women’s human rights. The Sub-Saharan Africa team’s support to GAMCOTRAP’s work is reflective of our commitment to expanding support to women’s rights organizations working to advance SRHR, particularly because of ways in which SHRH intersects with so many aspects of the daily lives of girls and women throughout the region.

Citations

 

The Federation for Women and Family Planning

The Federation for Women and Family Planning

Context

Located at the heart of Europe, with a population of just under 40 million, Poland prides itself on its rich history, traditions, and strong democratic record since the fall of the communist regime. To many women and human rights advocates, however, Poland is also known as a country with some of Europe’s most restrictive laws on abortion that fundamentally limit women’s reproductive choices and their rights to dignity, self-determination, autonomy, and privacy. “Poland is a member of the European Union and signatory to major international human rights instruments – yet, when it comes to women’s rights, we are a black spot on the map of Europe,” says Krystyna Kacpura, Executive Director of the Federation for Women and Family Planning.

According to Poland’s Family Planning Act, abortion is allowed only under three circumstances: when pregnancy poses a threat to a woman’s health or life; when there is evidence of damage to the fetus; and when a pregnancy is a result of a criminal act (rape or incest). In reality, the application of this restrictive law is even more detrimental to women’s reproductive rights, as public hospitals and doctors even in the legally admissible cases frequently refuse to terminate pregnancy on the grounds of conscientious objection. According to government estimates, in 2011 only 669 legal abortions were performed in Poland. All of these procedures were conducted due to fetus malformation and on the grounds of risk to woman’s health or life. There were no recorded legal terminations of pregnancies resulting from a crime. As access to safe and legal abortion remains severely restricted, the incidence of illegal and generally unsafe abortions remains extremely high, jeopardizing women’s health and lives. In addition to difficulties accessing legal abortion services, women and young girls also suffer from limited access to other sexual reproductive health services such as accessing timely and adequate information about contraception, family planning, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and Poland remains one of the few countries in the European Union not providing sex education at schools.

Much of the strong anti-choice sentiment in Polish society continues to be driven and reinforced by the Catholic Church, which exerts immense influence on policy-makers, medical professionals, and the general public. Poland remains one of the most devoutly religious countries in Europe with close to 80 percent of Poles self-identifying as practicing Catholics. Only half of the population support a woman’s legal right to abortion, making the Polish society one of the most “anti-choice” in Europe.

Organizational Background

In this highly complex and challenging context, the Federation has become widely recognized as the most influential advocate for women’s rights in Poland and one of the most powerful defenders of women’s reproductive freedoms in Europe. For many years, the group has tirelessly advocated for women’s interests, holding legislators and governments accountable, providing women with critical services and support, and mobilizing a much-needed opposition to the powerful anti-choice movement.

The Federation continues to be the sole organization in the country dedicating its work exclusively to the protection of women’s reproductive rights. Largely due to its efforts, a greater part of the Polish society has started recognizing reproductive rights as part of human rights.

During the two decades of operation, the Federation has continuously adapted its programmatic model and activities based on the changing political, social, and cultural circumstances. “This ability to respond to different contexts is reflected in our modus operandi – we focus on a range of activities including evidence-based advocacy, education, and counseling, and constantly modify our approach in response to the changing needs and expectations of both beneficiaries and opponents,” says Kacpura. The group’s holistic and comprehensive approach, tackling sexual and reproductive health and rights from various perspectives – legal, medical, political, religious, social, human rights, patients’ rights, and other – makes the organization not only powerful, but truly unique in the Polish and international context.

Program Methodologies

The Federation’s programmatic model rests on three pillars: advocacy and research; education programs for the public; and direct services and counseling to women. In all of these areas, and especially in advocacy activities, the Federation places high importance on visibility and reacting quickly to emerging opportunities to promote the reproductive rights of women. Keeping a high profile with politicians, media, and the general population; developing holistic and comprehensive programs that reflect the legal, social, and cultural complexity of the issue; boldly tackling difficult issues and entrenched taboos; actively engaging at the local, national, regional, and international levels; and developing vast networks of committed and experienced collaborators are some of the key strategies that have accounted for the Federation’s success.

Direct Services, Litigation, and Community Support

Psychological, legal, and medical counseling to women, intervening in cases of denial of access to abortion, and providing legal support in cases where women decide to bring their cases before a Polish or international court, are at the core of the Federation’s direct community services. The group operates a hotline, which provides essential information and counseling on contraception and sex education, counseling services by psychologists and health practitioners, and referrals. Given the absence of sex education at schools and overall denial of sexuality in the public sphere, for many women in Poland the hotline is the sole source of information on reproductive health and abortion. “Many women in Poland still believe that they will be punished if they perform abortion – whether at home or abroad,” says Kacpura. When the Federation recently launched its new summer hotline program for youth, in the first three hours it received over 200 calls and messages, indicating a very large demand for such services.

A team of highly experienced volunteer lawyers undertakes much of the Federation’s critical legal work on behalf of the Polish women. The Federation considers the creation of a country-wide network of 56 lawyers to be one of its key achievements. It is also a great example of the organization’s collaborative approach. The network consists of lawyers in various parts of the country who provide free counseling services and legal representation in courts. At the same time, the network acts as a consultative body to the Federation, assisting with the preparation of legal opinions and statements. The lawyers provided representation to plaintiffs in several landmark cases brought by the Federation to Polish and international courts. In one such recent example, in the R.R. v. Poland case, the European Court of Human Rights for the first time in Europe’s reproductive rights history, ruled in 2011 that denying a pregnant woman diagnostic services and keeping her uninformed about the health of her fetus was a violation of her human rights.

In another recent example of the group’s successful intervention at the community level, when Catholic pharmacists suddenly stopped selling contraceptive medication basing their decision on conscientious objection, the Federation reacted quickly by urging society to file complaints against pharmacies, appealed to state regulators, and mobilized media attention. The Federation’s prompt and coordinated efforts led to the end of the malpractice, ensuring the basic rights of the patients, predominantly women, are respected.

National Advocacy and Education Campaigns

As a watchdog organization, the Federation closely monitors, reports, and comments on the political and economic events and any proposed changes to policies and laws, not only in Poland, but also in the wider region of Central Europe. The group also provides shadow reports on the effects of the anti-abortion law in Poland to national and international bodies.

Extensive cooperation and inclusion of a wide range of stakeholders are the hallmarks of the Federation’s approach to advocacy. “We will cooperate with any institution that can help us in our issues,” says Kacpura. The Federation actively engages and educates decision-makers, viewing them as key agents of change. When the anti-choice movement, led by the Catholic Church, in June 2011 collected over 600,000 signatures in support of a proposed total abortion ban, the Federation reacted by holding a series of events for legislators to inform them on international standards on reproductive rights, organizing public protests, and mobilizing a large media campaign. Largely as a result of the Federation’s activities, the Parliament rejected the ban by a handful of votes. The group played a crucial role in mobilizing pro-choice forces on many other occasions, including successfully leading opposition to an initiative to introduce a clause on “protecting life from conception” in the Polish Constitution proposed by the conservative coalition government in 2006.

In another powerful example of advocacy and education activities, the Federation recently organized a series of events for politicians and the media about “abortion tourism,” aimed at raising awareness about the high numbers of Polish women traveling abroad to perform the procedure.ii As a result, this critical problem not only became present in the public debate but also is currently being addressed at the policy level by the government. The Federation also organized two sessions on women’s right to abortion at a recent session of the Polish Congress of Women, which gathers the country’s most influential women leaders, that were highly successful and received extensive media coverage.

Through multifaceted advocacy efforts, strategic media, and public campaigns, the Federation continues to raise awareness about women’s reproductive rights and actively engage decision-makers and the general public. Always staying on the radar of decision-makers and the general public is an important part of the group’s strategy that has kept the organization strong, visible, and influential for more than two decades. “We have to be seen – in front of the Parliament, in the media, in the public space; it is the cornerstone of our strategy,” says Kacpura. “We were the first ones to introduce the term “reproductive rights” in Poland. We have been fighting for over 20 years for the term to be used instead of “family services”, and now we can say with certainty that it is used and accepted by politicians, the media, and society.” The Federation considers achieving acceptance by decision-makers, the media, and society that the issue of reproductive rights exists in Poland and being recognized as the foremost expert in this area to be important indicators of the success of its advocacy strategy.

International Networks

In addition to its activities in Poland, the Federation is also a powerful voice standing for women’s rights on the global stage. The organization actively engages in the United Nations and European advocacy spaces, including the European Union and the Council of Europe. The Federation created and leads the ASTRA and ASTRA Youth networks that unite Eastern and Central Europe’s groups working on reproductive rights. These networks have been recognized as expert advocacy resources on sexual and reproductive rights in the region and actively engage in shaping the thinking and policies on national and regional levels. In a recent example of its advocacy efforts, ASTRA Youth submitted a petition to the European Parliament on compulsory sexuality education in the European Union in 2011; this initiative is currently being considered by member states. The Federation is also invited as an expert to numerous international events on sexual and reproductive health and rights, such as recent public hearing in European Parliament on unsafe abortions in May 2012.

The Federation was awarded ECOSOC status in 1999 and since then has been consistently participating in the UN processes related to women’s rights and health. It has prepared multiple shadow reports to the EU Committee on the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the EU Human Rights Committee, and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Subsequently, the Federation’s reports were used by the UN bodies in their suggestions and recommendations to the Polish government.

Learning

The Federation is truly unique in the international context because of its combination of initiatives on the international, regional, and national levels with the provision of services for individual women on the ground. “We are recognized in Europe as the only organization focusing on these three levels and having such an inclusive and comprehensive strategy,” says Kacpura. This multifaceted approach in combination with the Federation’s holistic strategies, high public profile, programmatic flexibility, and responsiveness to quickly changing circumstances have been the key factors accounting for the success of its programmatic model. “Reproductive rights is a highly political problem that has to be looked at and addressed from various perspectives – legal, medical, sociological, human rights, etc.,” says Kacpura of the group’s programmatic approach. In addition to effective program design, the Federation’s experience exemplifies the crucial importance of working with the media, constantly engaging and working with the public, and cooperating with stakeholders. “We are regarded as a partner by the government,” says Kacpura, recognizing this as one of the main achievements of the organization. “We are asked for advice, invited to seminars and conferences.”

Despite the group’s multiple achievements and successes, the multiple restrictions, taboo, and stigma surrounding sexuality and abortion in Poland remain. The Federation and Polish society will have to fight many battles before women can fully enjoy their reproductive rights. With the majority of European funds diverted to the implementation of Millennium Development Goals and international donors focusing on regions other than Eastern Europe, access to funding remains a big challenge for the group. Accessing flexible core funding to strengthen the organization and continue the development of its programs remains of most crucial importance – and hardest of all. Says Kacpura: “Over 20 years, the general funding provided by the Global Fund for Women was the most important for us. It allowed the Federation to exist, conduct our activities, and evolve. We could not have managed without you.”

 

Red de Mujeres Contra la Violencia, Nicaragua

red_thumb.jpg“What we really want is to change violent attitudes and behaviors. We are trying to find the best way to introduce elements for prevention and protection against family violence.” — Fátima Millón, former director, Red de Mujeres Contra la Violencia

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