Success Stories

Holding the Line in Poland

Working in a country with some of Europe’s most restrictive laws on abortion and contraception, The Federation for Women and Family Planning is one of the only organizations dedicated to protecting women’s reproductive rights in Poland.

The Federation advocates the government for reproductive rights

Photo credit: ASTRA network.

“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.

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. Largely due to its efforts, a greater part of the Polish society has started recognizing reproductive rights as part of human rights.


  • Over 200 calls in the first three hours on its summer hotline for teens. For many, the hotline is their sole source of reproductive health information.
  • 56 experienced volunteer attorneys provide free counseling services and legal representation through the Federation's country-wide network.
  • Stopped a total ban on abortion in 2011 by targeting legislators, organizing protests, and getting the media's attention.

In addition to its work 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.

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.

Despite the group’s multiple achievements and successes, the restrictions, taboo, and stigma surrounding sexuality and abortion in Poland remain.

“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," said Krystyna Kacpura.

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Government Accountability in Malaysia

Across the Asia Pacific region, as in other parts of the world, patriarchal and fundamentalist religious views routinely limit women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights and often sanction violence against women. Asia has the world’s largest population, and the highest number of unsafe abortions – about 9.2 million each year. Nearly half of the world’s unsafe abortions take place in Asia; almost one-third of abortions are carried out in South Asia alone. Taboos and lack of knowledge about abortion laws – even among service providers – continue to be an issue in Nepal, Pakistan, and India.

arrow pic

Photo credit: Eduardo Oliviera via ARROW.

An innovative leader in the field of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in Asia, The Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW) is an invaluable network and resource center that enables women to better define and control their lives.

ARROW's research was used to:

  • Repeal EO 003 in Manila, Philippines, which eliminated government funding for contraception.
  • Provide free surgery for uterine prolapse in Nepal.
  • Amend Indonesia's abortion law.
  • Shape major laws on reproductive health in Malaysia and Vietnam.

ARROW’s far-reaching research and advocacy makes a big impact on society, as they've shaped the way governments think about reproductive rights in more than 120 countries. They closely monitor and conduct research on the actions of international bodies, such as the International Conference on Population and Development, and national governments. The evidence they collect is used to hold these powerful players accountable to their sexual and reproductive rights commitments.

ARROW is one of the very few research hubs in Asia Pacific bridging the information divide, bringing research into action, and training local organizations in evidence-based advocacy at the national, regional, and international levels.

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Saving Lives in Mexico

In April 2007, Mexico City passed a law legalizing abortion within 12 weeks of pregnancy. The Supreme Court upheld the law in August 2008, ruling that it did not violate the Mexican constitution. Since then, in a massive backlash, 17 Mexican states have passed constitutional reforms defining life from the moment of conception until natural death. As a result of these reforms, many women will be forced into clandestine, unsafe abortion – the fifth leading cause of maternal death in Mexico – and many will likely face criminal charges.


  • 100 life-saving abortions were facilitated by the network in one year.
  • 7 women freed from prison, all of whom were imprisoned on homicide charges for terminating their pregnancies. One had a miscarriage, two others aborted due to rape, and the rest had aborted accidental pregnancies.

In response to this conservative backlash, an alliance of women’s organizations from Guanajuato, Veracruz, and Michoacán, spearheaded by Global Fund for Women grantee partner Las Libres, established the Articulación Interestatal Por el Derecho A Decidir de las Mexicanas (Interstate Articulation for Mexican Women’s Right to Choose).

The Articulación advocates for a woman's right to safe therapeutic abortion services by promoting laws and policies. They expedite procedures in both the legal and health domains; and push states to decriminalize and destigmatize abortion. In the states where the Articulación is present, women have access to safe abortion without being criminalized, and they get adequate legal support in cases where they face criminal charges. In one year, these networks facilitated potentially life-saving access to abortion for more than 100 women.

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Roma Women Ditch the Script

woman against gun violence

Roma activists filming "I’m a Roma Woman" campaign in Budapest, Hungary.

When Katalin Bársony’s grandmother wanted to send her daughter to high school in Budapest, her husband said she would become an “outsider whore.” Her grandmother didn’t listen to him, went against tradition and as a result, Katalin’s mother became a well-known activist for Roma rights.

When it was Katalin’s turn to go to school, there was no question about her right to education. Even though only one in ten Roma children complete high school in Hungary, she went to university and bucked the patriarchal tradition and anti-Roma prejudice that prevented many of her girl friends from even getting through schoolhouse doors.

At the age of 23, Katalin directed the first-ever documentary series on Roma communities around the world. Mundi Romani, a project of Global Fund for Women grantee partner, Romedia Foundation, was broadcasted on TV stations all over Hungary and received numerous awards. After an episode uncovering the death of 28 Roma due to the worst lead poising in Europe’s history, the Roma refugee camp was closed and around 3,000 people relocated to a safer, nevertheless segregated, neighborhood.

“Things are changing and we are part of that change,” said Katalin, today the executive director of Romedia Foundation, where she uses film to change how people perceive Roma communities. Not an easy job, as hatred of Romahas been woven into Europe’s cultural fabric for hundreds of years.

A History of Social Exclusion

At 12 million, Roma are the largest and most discriminated minority in Europe. Roma communities are isolated in ghettos and have trouble getting jobs because employers don’t want to hire Roma workers. Roma students are segregated into substandard schools and often sent to institutions for children with mental disabilities. There is such an inequality in health care that infant mortality rates are doubled and the average lifespan for Roma is around 10 years lower than the rest of the population, according to an OSCE study.

On top of all this, Roma women experience high levels of violence and in many traditional Roma communities a woman’s job is only to support her family. When they do exist, data on Roma women show that they are less educated and fare worse economically than their male counterparts.


Katalin Bársony, Executive Director of Romedia Foundation.

Roma Women Rise Together

Despite these statics, Roma women are the most powerful agents of change as they relentlessly challenge the “customary” ways women are treated in Roma communities and in the society beyond. Global Fund has doubled our support for Roma women’s rights organizations over the past three years and we’ve seen some major wins.

Roma women activists advocated for and won the European Court of Human Rights condemnation of the Czech authorities’ practice of forced sterilization. In Macedonia, Roma women’s organizations are going beyond providing services to local communities by connecting with like-minded groups so they are better positioned to fight for social justice together.

Funding Change

Global Fund steps in with general support for Roma women’s organizations because often times, local authorities in Eastern Europe are unwilling to spend or be seen as spending on the Roma community and “women’s issues.” At the same time, spending on housing, education and health care, which should improve the situation of both the majority population and Roma women, often stops where the Roma neighborhood starts.

“If you just throw money at the problem, but neglect changing society, then nothing will happen,” said Gabriela Hrabanova, Policy Coordinator at European Roma Grassroots Organizations Network and RomaReact.

A New Future

One of the only ways to fight prejudice is to change cultural norms - change the way people perceive and relate with their Roma neighbors. This is a serious undertaking that requires work across generations. Knowing this, Katalin and her colleagues train Roma girls to use media so they can become advocates of a different vision for their community.

“You have to keep moving, even when it seems that the work is leading nowhere, the impact will come later,” said Gabriela about what motivates her. “You have to sacrifice to make life better.”


10 Favorite Quotes for International Women's Day

Happy International Women’s Day! What better way to celebrate our favorite holiday than sharing the voices and photos of women we are lucky to know, admire, and support. Check out and share these inspiring images »

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