WGNRR Statement for the 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women

Statement submitted by Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR), a non-governmental organisation in special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council in advance of the 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women. “Elimination and Prevention of all Forms of Violence against Women and Girls” This is a statement by Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR) representing over one thousand organisations and individuals from seventy three countries, working towards the fulfillment of sexual and reproductive rights of all, with a specific focus on the rights of women and girls. For nearly thirty years, WGNRR has concentrated on the links between sexual and reproductive rights, gender inequality, socioeconomic injustice, and violence against women; grounding its analysis in the realities of those who most lack economic, social and political power. In light of the theme of CSW 57, “Elimination and Prevention of all Forms of Violence against Women and Girls”, WGNRR draws attention to the vital connections between elimination of violence against women and their ability to exercise sexual and reproductive rights without fear of violence and coercion. Drawing on the concerns and struggles as experienced by our members and partners worldwide, particularly in the Global South, we emphasise the following for consideration in the panel discussions and plenary sessions: Institutional violence associated with restrictive access to abortion services The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women and Inter-American Declaration on Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Violence Against Women “Convention of Belem do Para” explicitly state that violence against women includes “physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condoned by the State or its agents regardless of where it occurs”. In this regard systematic denial and withholding of access to safe and legal abortion through restrictive laws on the one hand and through obstructing access to services on the other hand constitutes an act of institutional violence which has a detrimental effect in the lives of all women in need of safe abortion services, specifically impacting the most marginalised groups such as young unmarried women, women with disabilities, HIV positive women, ethnic minorities, sex workers, LGBT and others. Violence against women perpetuated by the State through law In August 2012, a pregnant 16-year-old Esperancita died in the Dominican Republic as a result of being denied lifesaving treatment. The girl was diagnosed with leukemia and desperately needed aggressive chemotherapy which would have probably cause the termination of her pregnancy while giving her a chance of survival. Because of the nation's complete ban on abortion, doctors withheld chemotherapy for fear of being prosecuted under Article 37 of the Dominican Republic Constitution which holds all life sacred from conception. Institutional violence against women is perpetrated in cases when women are forced by restrictive abortion laws to carry to term a pregnancy that puts their health and life at risk. This particularly concerns the countries that prohibit abortion on all grounds including when a woman’s life and health are in danger. Equally it concerns the countries that prohibit abortion of pregnancies resulting from gender-based violence, such as rape and incest. As a result of restrictive laws and policies, women who experience health complications in pregnancy and need a therapeutic abortion and those who are forced to carry a pregnancy as a result of rape or incest are subjected to traumatic, stressful, frightening and life threatening conditions. Evidence shows that where there is a total ban on abortion, maternal mortality and morbidity rates increase because doctors are unable or fearful of providing life-saving treatment that might potentially interrupt the pregnancy even when it is the only way to save the woman’s life. Furthermore, States which subject women to judicial and non-judicial persecution, including imprisonment for undergoing an abortion or pressing charges of illegal abortion for women who suffered miscarriages perpetuate an even greater degree of institutional violence against women, subjecting them to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment firstly by denying access to safe abortion services and secondly by persecuting them under the law. The lack of action on the part of the states to meet the needs of women in above described situations constitutes an act of torture and inhuman treatment. The harm is produced by a law or a barrier that the State is obliged to eliminate under the international and regional human rights law (CEDAW article 16; Maputo Protocol article 12). The International Community has on multiple occasions recognised that restrictive abortion laws lead to violations of the right to freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Violence against women due to denial of access to services The situations where access to safe abortion is legal but services are made deliberately inaccessible are yet another form of violence against women condoned by the State. There are cases when health care personnel refuse to provide legal abortion services because of their own conscientious objection or discriminatory attitudes towards abortion. Another example pertains to the States which despite granting access to safe and legal abortion under a number of circumstances also impose conditions on access to services that are impossible to meet, such as parental consent for young unmarried women or spousal consent, which puts women in a position of dependence on their parents or spouses. Conditions and requirements such as spousal/parental consent deny women’s right to autonomy and self-determination while inflicting psychological damage and perpetuating mental suffering. Women seeking an abortion or post-abortion care in restrictive settings are subject to psychological violence when dealing with the legal and health systems. Such psychological violence includes but is not limited to: threats of harm and intimidation, withholding medical care, and inhuman and degrading treatment in the form of attribution of blame, humiliation and insults. These and above mentioned cases are examples of the institutional violence when it is the State’s failure to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of health care in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, access to health care services, including those related to family planning. (CEDAW article 12). States failing to provide remedies or measures to mitigate the physical or physiological harms actually tolerate, perpetuate and sanction through their laws and policies violence against women associated with restrictive access to abortion services. The restrictive abortion laws accompanied by the institutional violence of the State in enforcing the laws upon women infringe on women’s human dignity by restricting freedoms to which individuals are entitled under the right to health, particularly in respect to decision-making and bodily integrity. In the light of the gravity of institutional violence against women due to restrictions on access to abortion services, WGNRR recommends the following: - Repeal all laws criminalising, penalising and/or restricting women’s access to abortion services. Specifically, repeal laws restricting young women’s access to safe abortion services on grounds of requiring parental or spousal consent; - Ensure women who seek abortion services are not subjected to judicial and non-judicial persecution, including imprisonment, or to harassment and degrading treatment by state authorities, institutions, and non-state actors; - Implement current laws and public health policies that guarantee and uphold women's access to safe abortion services without restrictions, ensure that healthcare workers and health systems are equipped with the necessary knowledge, equipment and resources to provide safe abortion services. - Ensure that religious institutions and groups do not influence the state's judicial, policy and programming efforts in relation to sexual and reproductive health and rights. The sexual and reproductive rights and dignity of all must be guaranteed, not subject to constraints imposed by religious authorities. Download the statement here: http://www.wgnrr.org/sites/default/files/CSWStatement.pdf