This year International Women’s Day will be different. It will be a summary, the culmination, the perfect expression of women power and the determination and energy that we can see so vividly, growing in the hearts of both men and women around the world.
2018 saw an intensive movement in fighting gender discrimination, taking place in different forms and in different countries. From marches and campaigns like #MeToo and #TimesUp in the United States of America to the Black Protests in Central and Eastern Europe, it is clear women feel more empowered to change the social paradigms and the inequalities imposed upon them.
And they are just getting started.
The Black Protest wave that spanned across Europe was not only a fight against the abortion ban but rather a wake-up call for the world to take this matter seriously. Reproduction Rights constitute a large part of Women’s Rights and therefore Human Rights. They are not however given the adequate amount of attention both from society and policy makers.
The rise of opposition to sexual and reproductive health dates back to 1989 at the time of a former Soviet bloc countries’ transition from communism to democracy. It was the Soviet Union collapse that brought back the conservative view of reproduction rights and child bearing. Before that access to education, healthcare and abortion was widespread and free. With the growth of privatization women have lost a range of social and economic rights including access to abortion.
If we narrow it to Poland where European Black Protests were particularly powerful, we can see a strong inclination towards limiting women rights both by government, and in case of Poland, also Catholic Church. Apart from abortion ban and the severe restriction of access to emergency contraception, Polish government has also established a new department responsible for the centralized control of NGOs. Together it means that pro women organizations can simply cease to exist balancing on the edge of their self-funding capabilities and the government’s mercy.
What is happening in Poland but also throughout Central and Eastern Europe can be easily described as cultural backlash. However, this year’s decisions and events taken in the Western world are also rather questionable. We have all the right to think and fear the upcoming anti-liberal changes will endanger women’s rights and we need to stand up for the fight.
The feeling that we move backwards instead of forward is overwhelming and scary. As people we are more aware, knowledgeable and educated than ever before, yet we use all this wisdom for our personal self-destruction. Why, despite all the efforts, advocacy campaigns, research we still decide to choose opposite direction? Is it because of fear, desire to control? One thing is for sure – we need to continue to grow and learn - for ourselves and for those who are blind to the truth.
Reproduction and childbirth are these aspects of human health that are central in international women’s health discourse. HIV/AIDS and complications of pregnancy and childbirth are the leading causes of death among women in developing countries. These are often due to the limited access to contraception and unsafe sex. The latter may lead to unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and even death due to a social and cultural stigma or inadequate health care. Violence is an additional risk factor when it comes to women’s health. Apart from physical, it leaves a trace on mental health and may also lead to chronic health problems.
Why are health systems failing women?
The reasons behind it are often complex but relate closely to the biases and inequalities between men and women when it comes to the access to health care. One of the obstacles is the financial restrictions faced by women who are unemployed or involved in low-paid informal employment with no health benefits. In developed countries where most of the healthcare, including maternal, is privatized, women simply cannot afford it. The waiting lists for public health system are often ridiculously long and not in the position to offer needed help on time. Paradoxically, women constitute the largest part of health systems that themselves remain unresponsive to their needs. Women’s role as primary caregivers in the family, especially in the informal setting and as health-care providers is largely unrecognized and unsupported by governments.