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Gender equality

Gender equality is a human right. It is also essential for eradicating poverty and improving the lives of future generations. Gender equality is at the heart of all our programming and advocacy work. IPPF pushes for legal and policy reforms which combat female genital mutilation (FGM), early forced marriage and other forms of gender discrimination.

Articles by Gender equality

Image of gynaecological medical setting
22 November 2022

Gynaecological and Obstetric Violence - a form of GBV

The widespread and systemic mistreatment and violence against women experienced during childbirth and other reproductive health services has gained international visibility in recent years, following pioneering work in several Latin American countries to recognise and criminalise this form of gender-based violence.   International institutions have also spoken out on the issue. In 2014, gynaecological and obstetric violence was acknowledged by the World Health Organisation, and in 2019 the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women described it as a “serious violation of women’s human rights occurring across all geographical and income-level settings”. In Europe, the parliaments of the Council of Europe and of the European Union have very recently adopted resolutions drawing attention to this phenomenon and calling for national and European measures to tackle it. But to date, no national government has put in place legislation specifically to criminalise gynaecological and obstetric violence. This means that currently, people living in EU Member States have few legal protections or means of redress.  With this in mind, IPPF EN produced this research and policy paper to provide an outline of the systemic and widespread nature of gynaecological and obstetric violence across many countries in Europe, and make recommendations to European and national decision-makers to tackle this form of gender-based violence. 2-pager summary of the paper on OBGYN violence coming soon! Check out IPPF EN's Safe From Harm campaign, highlighting the EU action we support to combat gender-based violence. 

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05 May 2022

Protecting EU values and rights

Gender inequality and harmful gender norms remain widespread in the EU. While sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are at the core of gender equality and women’s rights and empowerment, their attainment varies greatly across the EU: women and girls, particularly those marginalized by systemic oppression, face significant barriers to sexual and reproductive health care, information and education, which violates their human rights and hinders progress towards gender equality. At the same time, dramatic changes taking place in Europe, from the backlash orchestrated by anti-rights actors to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, threaten progress towards gender equality and many of the rights and values that the EU aims to protect.  In this context, IPPF EN, together with member associations and partners, is working to progress towards a more gender equal world where people in all their diversity are released from harmful gender norms and fully empowered to make decisions over their lives and bodies. To move toward this, we work to strengthen national support in the EU Institutions and Member States for gender equality and women’s rights by: ensuring that policy and decision makers at all levels (EU, National and Local) are creating progressive legislative and policy frameworks that protect and advance gender equality & women’s rights; educating and empowering young people, as a new generation of EU citizens, to become leaders and drivers of the long-term change process needed around societal norms and behaviours; increasing the capacity of civil society actors to act in a strategic and coordinated manner when promoting gender equality and women’s rights. *** 2022 RESULTS!  Our achievements for the first half of 2022 include:   80 activists trained on strategic communication and security; 2 pieces of national research and 2 toolkits to support social movements in their strategic communication campaigns on gender equality and SRHR; More than 80 EU decision-makers reached and informed about relevant gender equality issues and 21 inputs submitted into EU processes, contributing to 8 advocacy wins related to gender equality and SRHR; 13 joint cross-border amplification and mobilization actions and 59 pieces of communications content delivered towards decision-makers, citizens and media to support social movements and demonstrate international solidarity where women’s rights are under attack 23 educators strengthened their capacity to train other educators in delivering Gender Transformative Sex and Relationship Education    What’s next: Gender assessments for four of our members and our Regional Office to improve IPPF EN ability to deliver gender transformative projects A new gender transformative strategy by YSAFE, IPPF EN's youth network, to engage more youth as champions for gender equality, plus a series of podcasts produced by YSAFE on SRHR/gender equality. An EU advocacy and communication workshop for our members to strengthen capacity on national advocacy and share best practices ***     This work is funded by the European Union through the Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values programme which aims to protect and promote Union rights and values as enshrined in the EU Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The programme will contribute to sustain and further develop open, rights-based, democratic, equal and inclusive societies based on the rule of law.

Youth Voices, Youth Choices research report front cover
30 March 2022

Youth access to SRH information, education and care in the Balkans in COVID times

COVID-19 created the largest health and socio-economic crisis of our generation. Many health systems were pushed to the brink by restrictive measures rushed in to respond to the pandemic, resulting in the deprioritisation of some existing healthcare services. In almost all European countries, COVID-19 had a negative impact on the delivery of vital sexual and reproductive healthcare, including maternal health and family planning, for women and groups that face barriers to accessing care, including young people. The pandemic also uncovered weaknesses within our systems and exposed the fact that countries are not adequately prepared to deal with health emergencies. To help bring about positive change for young people, IPPF European Network is working to strengthen healthcare systems through the project Youth Voices, Youth Choices, and to remove all kinds of barriers preventing youth from accessing essential care in five Balkan countries: Albania; Bosnia & Herzegovina; Bulgaria, Kosovo and North Macedonia. We are focusing particularly on the needs of those living in remote areas, as well as those from communities that face challenging social conditions, such as the Roma. NEW - POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS In October 2022, IPPF EN is launching a set of regional policy recommendations that call on decision-makers to listen to young people and uphold their SRHR as they build back health and social systems in the wake of the pandemic. Presented at the European Parliament on 26 October by youth advocates and experts, with the support of MEP Fred Matić, the recommendations were developed by a group of specialists who came together to develop a blueprint for designing systems that prioritise access to youth-friendly SRH care, and better support of young people’s health and well-being. The policy recommendations are available for download below. RESEARCH REPORT  As a basis for this work, in 2021 and early 2022, we conducted a study to provide us with a clearer picture of the impact of the pandemic on young people’s SRHR. The data was published in a series of reports presenting the findings of the study, carried out by and among youth in five Balkan countries. The reports, available for download below, document young people’s SRH needs and experiences and the perspectives of healthcare providers and other relevant stakeholders on these needs. They also capture the latter’s needs as they deliver services, information and education to young people, building on their experience of COVID-19. YOUTH VOICES Young people are at the heart of this work. They were part of the teams that carried out the research presented in the reports below. They participated in the expert groups that developed our regional recommendations for policy change at national and regional level, and they are being supported and empowered to advocate for these changes. And they have carried out a series of interviews among their peers to share stories in young people's own words of how the pandemic affected their access to SRHR, and what their vision is for a more youth-friendly future that listens to the younger generations and upholds their SRHR.

Still Stop Violence one character.PNG
25 November 2021

Sex without consent is rape – so why are governments failing to act?

“Sex without consent is rape”. This statement sounds self-evident. And yet our laws and our lived experiences show that it is still far from being universally recognized and understood. On two recent occasions, watching fiction with friends - Game of Thrones and Basic Instinct - where scenes of rape were depicted, we found ourselves debating whether these were in fact rapes. To me, it was very clear that the female characters on screen did not consent to sex. But since in both scenes, they knew the men, and had previous relationships with them, others felt that this was somehow enough to downplay these situations and question whether they did constitute rape. This brought home for me, once again, how far we still have to go. If my friends, who are pretty committed to gender equality, cannot identify rape in fiction, then what about broader society, and most importantly what about real life?   A societal problem Polls reflect this alarming reality. More than a quarter of Europeans believe that sexual violence can be excused: 27% said that "sexual intercourse without consent can be justifiable" in certain situations, most such circumstances having to do with the behaviour of the victim. When surveys don’t use the word “rape” but factually describe situations that constitute rape, they expose how pervasive it is: a poll in France revealed that out of almost 100 000 female respondents, more than half (53.2%) reported having experienced non-consensual penetrative sex with one or more partners. On the other side of the same coin, recently 63 male students out of 554 surveyed in the UK admitted to having committed 251 sexual assaults, rapes, and other coercive and unwanted incidents. The study also showed that these perpetrators were significantly more likely to believe that women are to blame for being assaulted, and to hold hostile views about women. We are still collectively terrible at identifying, and condemning, sexual violence. It’s not a mystery why. We live in a society which blames victims/survivors, in order to let violent men off the hook: that is the primary function of rape culture. Laws are the result of the patriarchal culture we live in and reflect this toxic mindset. We need urgent and concrete actions to address sexual violence on both fronts: to change legislation, and to change mentalities.   Reflected in legislation In Europe, shockingly, most countries do not criminalise sex without consent. Their laws usually require the use of force or coercion as an additional factor in order for a non-consensual act to be considered as sexual violence. According to a review of the legislation of European countries done by Amnesty International in 2020, only 12 European countries out of 31 analysed had laws that define rape as sex without consent. This is despite the fact that most countries have ratified the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention, the first legally binding comprehensive instrument to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence. The Convention clearly states that engaging in non-consensual sexual activity constitutes sexual violence. It further says that “consent must be given voluntarily as the result of the person’s free will assessed in the context of the surrounding circumstances”. How is it possible that so many countries ratified this landmark treaty, yet have not changed their legislation to bring it in line with its binding requirements? Inadequate laws on sexual violence have a devastating impact on victims/survivors. They encourage victim blaming, excuse violence, and fail to prosecute rapists. Instead of looking for proof that the perpetrator used enough force or assessing whether the victim/survivor put up enough resistance, the legal system should focus on whether the victim/survivor explicitly consented to sex. And if not, that should be enough to constitute sexual violence. “Yes means Yes” laws represent a necessary change of paradigm to protect victims/survivors more effectively.   The road ahead In June 2021, in a most welcome development only made possible by intense mobilization by women’s rights NGOs, Slovenia changed its law on sexual violence to adopt a consent-based legislative proposal. Spain is also currently reviewing its legislation on sexual violence, to adopt a consent-based model. The “Only Yes Means Yes” bill follows the shocking ‘La Manada’ case, where a group of men were initially found guilty of the lesser offence of sexual abuse instead of rape, because the prosecution could not prove that they used force against the victim/survivor. Other countries must follow suit, urgently. All European countries must ratify and implement the Istanbul Convention, including by changing their legislation to comply with its legal definition of sexual violence. Changing laws and mentalities goes hand in hand: putting an end to rape culture will require not just a change of legislation, but profound societal transformation too. Education is key in that regard. Relationship sexuality education, which teaches children and young people about consent in intimate relationships, is essential [1]. The European Commission is now working on a new legislative proposal to prevent and combat violence against women. This Directive should tackle the issue of sexual violence, and unequivocally adopt the definition of the Istanbul Convention, namely that sex without consent is rape. The Directive should also include comprehensive relationship and sex education as a key prevention measure, to improve young people’s understanding of consent, enable them to identify sexual violence, discourage them from perpetrating it, and empower them to report it.   By Camille Butin, Advocacy Adviser IPPF EN   [1] Facing the facts: the case for comprehensive sexuality education Can education stop abuse? Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Advancing Human Rights, Gender Equality and Improved Sexual and Reproductive Health Preventing Intimate Partner Violence Among Young People—a Qualitative Study Examining the Role of Comprehensive Sexuality Education

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31 January 2022

The new Council of the EU Presidency Trio - an opportunity for SRHR and gender equality

Over the last years, the EU has been facing many challenges in the realization of its core values: the rule of law, democracy, human rights, equality, gender equality and women’s rights. The upcoming years are an opportunity for the EU to reflect on the direction it wants to take, the values it should stand for, and what more it can do to uphold and defend them. The EU should strive towards a world where everyone can enjoy the same rights, and lead free and safe private and family lives, free from sexism, coercion, and violence. In this crossroads moment, the Council of the EU Presidency Trio – France, Czech Republic and Sweden – has a critical role to play to uphold EU values. We call on this Trio to adopt a feminist approach and show stronger leadership to further advance gender equality and women’s rights, including sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), in the EU and beyond.  More on our recommendations for the Trio in the factsheet below, available in English and French.

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02 August 2021

Economic justice goes hand in hand with sexual and reproductive health and rights

The realisation of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) is a necessary precondition for achieving economic justice. A number of different components together form the basis for economic justice. These components include safe and decent work with equal and fair pay, equal access to resources and opportunities, social protection systems, as well as the right to peaceful assembly. SRHR is often not included in these discussions while it can provide basic solutions to prevailing economic inequality. It is therefore of great importance that SRHR is given priority as an integrated topic in the discussions on economic justice, especially in the light of the growing resistance towards SRHR as well as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and its grave implications for achieving gender equality. Read our factsheet. 

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28 April 2020

Reaction to the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 with a focus on sexual and reproductive health and rights

A joint reaction from IPPF EN, the Center for Reproductive Rights, End FGM European Network, with the support of the European Women's Lobby. We welcome the publication of the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 by the European Commission. The adoption of this Strategy shows the political leadership and commitment of the Commission to promote gender equality within and outside the EU, with important objectives and actions for the next 5 years. As civil society organisations (CSOs) committed to advancing gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in the EU and globally, we would like to make suggestions on how the Strategy can effectively promote and support the realisation of SRHR in the EU, as this is a precondition to the achievement of gender equality. This will be particularly essential in the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic, as we are already observing renewed threats to women’s human rights, SRHR and increased risks of gender-based violence. These challenges will require the adoption of targeted and specific responses and actions by the EU and Member States. We stand ready to share information and ideas about these new challenges and how they can be addressed. To read our full reaction, please see the above document.

IPPF Ethiopia
23 October 2019

Last chance to meet EU commitments under the current multi-annual budget

The European Parliament has today adopted its first reading on the EU 2020 budget. MEPs voted in favour of a €2,7 billion increase of the EU’s budget compared to the Commission’s proposal: an outright rejection of the Council’s proposed cuts.  A budget increase that could save lives and improve health and wellbeing  Dubbed as the last chance for the Union to meet key political commitments during this financial period, including the Sustainable Development Goals, the Parliament’s call for an ambitious budget for the last year of the current MFF is welcome news. With the support of the Committees on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, and Development, the Parliament called for an increase of €10 million in commitment to the budget line on human development compared to the Commission’s proposal. This increase will finance projects on education, tackling diseases, gender equality and access to family planning and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SHRH), focusing directly on the needs and rights of people in developing countries. In addition, the budget line on ‘civil society in development’ would be restored and the one on humanitarian aid would increase by €50 million.  Eef Wuyts, Director of European and International Affairs at IPPF EN, said: “The Human Development line is key to effectively ensuring people can access healthcare and education, and to guarantee women and girls’ access to quality sexual and reproductive health services.’’  But this additional investment falls short of commitments “While this proposed increase is a step in the right direction, it falls short of the EU’s commitment to dedicate at least 20% of its total Official Development Assistance to human development and social inclusion. We urge the Council not to cut this budget line any further’’, said Cécile Vernant, Head of the EU Office at DSW.  “Europe has a responsibility to be a global leader on these issues, and this vote today is an important first step. The upcoming Nairobi Summit in November 2019 will be another important opportunity for the EU to make further concrete commitments – including financial ones – to accelerate progress to fully implement the International Conference on Population and Development’s Programme of Action’’, said Neil Datta, Secretary at EPF. Investing in human development, in areas such as health and SRHR is key to empowering women and achieving gender equality. It is crucial that Member States support the €10 million increase proposed by the European Parliament to ensure access to healthcare and education for all.  END For more information, contact Ffion Storer Jones, Communications Officer at Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung (DSW)’s EU office on [email protected] or +32 2 504 90 62. Notes: DSW is a global development organisation that focuses on the needs and potential of the largest youth generation in history. We are committed to creating demand for and access to health information, services, supplies, and economic empowerment for youth. We achieve this by engaging in advocacy, capacity development, and reproductive health initiatives so that young people are empowered to lead healthy and self-determined lives. DSW also advocates for investment in research and innovation to fight poverty-related and neglected tropical diseases. For more information, visit www.dsw.org/en The International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network (IPPF EN) champions sexual and reproductive health and rights for all. IPPF EN and our partners work in over 40 countries across Europe and Central Asia to empower everyone, especially the most socially excluded, to live with dignity and to have access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. This access is essential to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals in all countries. For more information, visit https://www.ippfen.org/  The European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (EPF) is Europe’s only parliamentary network focusing on sexual and reproductive health and rights. EPF serves as a platform for cooperation and coordination for its 33 all-party groups in Parliaments throughout Europe to promote and defend the sexual and reproductive health and rights of all individuals, to defend and advance gender equality and equity, women’s empowerment, and to eliminate all forms of discrimination, coercion and violence against women and girls worldwide. For more information, visit https://www.epfweb.org/ The European Consensus on Development is a shared vision and framework for action for development cooperation for the European Union (EU) and its Member States. It is a blueprint which aligns the Union’s development policy with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. For more information, go here. 

European Parliament
27 September 2019

Tough questions for Dalli and Suica on women's rights and reproductive freedom

Next week, the European Parliament will begin holding hearings with the candidates for European Commissioners proposed by Ursula von der Leyen. The proposed titles, allocation of portfolios, and the hierarchical structure of the European Commission are a clear departure from the current state of affairs - and present both opportunities and challenges for advancing gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights in the EU and outside of its borders. A welcome development is the creation of a specific portfolio on equality, to be held by Helena Dalli. Dalli will be tasked with leading the fight against discrimination and proposing new anti-discrimination legislation, as well as coming up with a European gender strategy to address barriers faced by women. Her biggest challenge is surely set to be securing EU accession to the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention), which is currently blocked in the Council. Blocked? If member states' opposition means that the deadlock remains in place, the commissioner is expected to go around it by finding other ways to strengthen the support, protection and rights of victims of violence against women. Whatever the solution, it is clear that prompt and forceful action needs to be taken to protect women from violence in the EU, as data collected by the Fundamental Rights Agency shows that one-in-three women in the EU have suffered some form of physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15. In their hearing with the commissioner, MEPs should make sure that strong commitments are made to address these shocking statistics. Dalli's collaboration with the commissioner for international partnerships will further be crucial to ensure that the EU continues its efforts to empower women and girls through its external and development policies - notably by continuing to implement and fund the successful Spotlight Initiative - which aims to eliminate violence against women and girls across the world, and by renewing the gender action plan, which promotes women and girls' rights in all EU external actions. It is crucial that the rights of women and girls, the work of women human rights defenders, grassroots women's organisations and organisations fighting for women's rights are further supported and mainstreamed through all of the EU's external policies, and not siloed within a few initiatives. This issue should be stressed by MEPs in their exchange with Dalli, who is explicitly tasked with mainstreaming gender equality measures across all the areas of work of the European Commission. Concerns over Suica At the same time, the creation of a post of vice president of the commission tasked with a portfolio on democracy and demography could be seen as concerning. Neither of the two issues have been explicitly taken on by the European Commission in the past, and the addition of a specific portfolio on demography raises questions on why this issue is being explicitly addressed now, when declarations on a "demographic crisis" are being increasingly used in coercive or anti-migrant discourses by actors such as Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban. While demographic changes – such as low birth rates, the ageing of societies and outwards migration – are a significant challenge that European policy-makers must face, any commissioner holding this portfolio must steer clear of rhetoric linking these to the need to boost 'family' or migration-limitation policies. Indeed, any attempts to address demographic changes in Europe must have women's reproductive freedom and the equal distribution of household responsibilities between women and men at heart, while strengthening social provisions and boosting care, education and healthcare policies. In this context, the allocation of this portfolio to Dubravka Suica is very worrying. As an MEP, Suica has a track record of voting against the inclusion of calls in support of sexual and reproductive health and rights in European parliament resolutions, going as far as proposing an alternative motion for her own resolution to exclude references to abortion care and provision of contraceptives when these were added in by her more progressive colleagues. MEPs should make sure that Suica makes a clear commitment to placing women's reproductive freedom at the heart of her demography mandate – as a commissioner tasked with responding to challenges and making the most of the opportunities brought by demographic change, her work should not be influenced by her personal convictions but by the interests of European citizens. The newly-proposed European Commission indeed has the potential to address some of the persistent challenges relating to gender (in)equality in the EU and women's access to a full range of their rights, including reproductive freedom. However, a strong oversight of the European parliament will be indispensable to ensure that these principles are held firm and included in all policy areas. Next week, as the parliament gets a first opportunity to influence the priorities of the proposed commission, is the time to show that the respect of these values is an essential precondition for the parliament's support.   By Elena Zacharenko, IPPF EN    This opinion was originally published in the EU Observer.

gender equality and SRHR in the EU
19 July 2019

How can you, as a MEP, promote gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights in the EU?

In 2019-2024, we call on Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to ensure that all Europeans can lead free and safe private and family lives, in a society free from sexism and discrimination. This paper lays down the areas where the EU has internal competences and where MEPs have the power to act.   Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have a critical role in promoting SRHR in EU external action and upholding the right of young women and men around the world to lead safe and dignified lives, free from coercion and harm. These are just some of the steps MEPs can take to champion SRHR.

Image of gynaecological medical setting
22 November 2022

Gynaecological and Obstetric Violence - a form of GBV

The widespread and systemic mistreatment and violence against women experienced during childbirth and other reproductive health services has gained international visibility in recent years, following pioneering work in several Latin American countries to recognise and criminalise this form of gender-based violence.   International institutions have also spoken out on the issue. In 2014, gynaecological and obstetric violence was acknowledged by the World Health Organisation, and in 2019 the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women described it as a “serious violation of women’s human rights occurring across all geographical and income-level settings”. In Europe, the parliaments of the Council of Europe and of the European Union have very recently adopted resolutions drawing attention to this phenomenon and calling for national and European measures to tackle it. But to date, no national government has put in place legislation specifically to criminalise gynaecological and obstetric violence. This means that currently, people living in EU Member States have few legal protections or means of redress.  With this in mind, IPPF EN produced this research and policy paper to provide an outline of the systemic and widespread nature of gynaecological and obstetric violence across many countries in Europe, and make recommendations to European and national decision-makers to tackle this form of gender-based violence. 2-pager summary of the paper on OBGYN violence coming soon! Check out IPPF EN's Safe From Harm campaign, highlighting the EU action we support to combat gender-based violence. 

London_Brook_RSE_60998_IPPF_Laura Lewis_UK_IPPF_1.jpg
05 May 2022

Protecting EU values and rights

Gender inequality and harmful gender norms remain widespread in the EU. While sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are at the core of gender equality and women’s rights and empowerment, their attainment varies greatly across the EU: women and girls, particularly those marginalized by systemic oppression, face significant barriers to sexual and reproductive health care, information and education, which violates their human rights and hinders progress towards gender equality. At the same time, dramatic changes taking place in Europe, from the backlash orchestrated by anti-rights actors to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, threaten progress towards gender equality and many of the rights and values that the EU aims to protect.  In this context, IPPF EN, together with member associations and partners, is working to progress towards a more gender equal world where people in all their diversity are released from harmful gender norms and fully empowered to make decisions over their lives and bodies. To move toward this, we work to strengthen national support in the EU Institutions and Member States for gender equality and women’s rights by: ensuring that policy and decision makers at all levels (EU, National and Local) are creating progressive legislative and policy frameworks that protect and advance gender equality & women’s rights; educating and empowering young people, as a new generation of EU citizens, to become leaders and drivers of the long-term change process needed around societal norms and behaviours; increasing the capacity of civil society actors to act in a strategic and coordinated manner when promoting gender equality and women’s rights. *** 2022 RESULTS!  Our achievements for the first half of 2022 include:   80 activists trained on strategic communication and security; 2 pieces of national research and 2 toolkits to support social movements in their strategic communication campaigns on gender equality and SRHR; More than 80 EU decision-makers reached and informed about relevant gender equality issues and 21 inputs submitted into EU processes, contributing to 8 advocacy wins related to gender equality and SRHR; 13 joint cross-border amplification and mobilization actions and 59 pieces of communications content delivered towards decision-makers, citizens and media to support social movements and demonstrate international solidarity where women’s rights are under attack 23 educators strengthened their capacity to train other educators in delivering Gender Transformative Sex and Relationship Education    What’s next: Gender assessments for four of our members and our Regional Office to improve IPPF EN ability to deliver gender transformative projects A new gender transformative strategy by YSAFE, IPPF EN's youth network, to engage more youth as champions for gender equality, plus a series of podcasts produced by YSAFE on SRHR/gender equality. An EU advocacy and communication workshop for our members to strengthen capacity on national advocacy and share best practices ***     This work is funded by the European Union through the Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values programme which aims to protect and promote Union rights and values as enshrined in the EU Treaties and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The programme will contribute to sustain and further develop open, rights-based, democratic, equal and inclusive societies based on the rule of law.

Youth Voices, Youth Choices research report front cover
30 March 2022

Youth access to SRH information, education and care in the Balkans in COVID times

COVID-19 created the largest health and socio-economic crisis of our generation. Many health systems were pushed to the brink by restrictive measures rushed in to respond to the pandemic, resulting in the deprioritisation of some existing healthcare services. In almost all European countries, COVID-19 had a negative impact on the delivery of vital sexual and reproductive healthcare, including maternal health and family planning, for women and groups that face barriers to accessing care, including young people. The pandemic also uncovered weaknesses within our systems and exposed the fact that countries are not adequately prepared to deal with health emergencies. To help bring about positive change for young people, IPPF European Network is working to strengthen healthcare systems through the project Youth Voices, Youth Choices, and to remove all kinds of barriers preventing youth from accessing essential care in five Balkan countries: Albania; Bosnia & Herzegovina; Bulgaria, Kosovo and North Macedonia. We are focusing particularly on the needs of those living in remote areas, as well as those from communities that face challenging social conditions, such as the Roma. NEW - POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS In October 2022, IPPF EN is launching a set of regional policy recommendations that call on decision-makers to listen to young people and uphold their SRHR as they build back health and social systems in the wake of the pandemic. Presented at the European Parliament on 26 October by youth advocates and experts, with the support of MEP Fred Matić, the recommendations were developed by a group of specialists who came together to develop a blueprint for designing systems that prioritise access to youth-friendly SRH care, and better support of young people’s health and well-being. The policy recommendations are available for download below. RESEARCH REPORT  As a basis for this work, in 2021 and early 2022, we conducted a study to provide us with a clearer picture of the impact of the pandemic on young people’s SRHR. The data was published in a series of reports presenting the findings of the study, carried out by and among youth in five Balkan countries. The reports, available for download below, document young people’s SRH needs and experiences and the perspectives of healthcare providers and other relevant stakeholders on these needs. They also capture the latter’s needs as they deliver services, information and education to young people, building on their experience of COVID-19. YOUTH VOICES Young people are at the heart of this work. They were part of the teams that carried out the research presented in the reports below. They participated in the expert groups that developed our regional recommendations for policy change at national and regional level, and they are being supported and empowered to advocate for these changes. And they have carried out a series of interviews among their peers to share stories in young people's own words of how the pandemic affected their access to SRHR, and what their vision is for a more youth-friendly future that listens to the younger generations and upholds their SRHR.

Still Stop Violence one character.PNG
25 November 2021

Sex without consent is rape – so why are governments failing to act?

“Sex without consent is rape”. This statement sounds self-evident. And yet our laws and our lived experiences show that it is still far from being universally recognized and understood. On two recent occasions, watching fiction with friends - Game of Thrones and Basic Instinct - where scenes of rape were depicted, we found ourselves debating whether these were in fact rapes. To me, it was very clear that the female characters on screen did not consent to sex. But since in both scenes, they knew the men, and had previous relationships with them, others felt that this was somehow enough to downplay these situations and question whether they did constitute rape. This brought home for me, once again, how far we still have to go. If my friends, who are pretty committed to gender equality, cannot identify rape in fiction, then what about broader society, and most importantly what about real life?   A societal problem Polls reflect this alarming reality. More than a quarter of Europeans believe that sexual violence can be excused: 27% said that "sexual intercourse without consent can be justifiable" in certain situations, most such circumstances having to do with the behaviour of the victim. When surveys don’t use the word “rape” but factually describe situations that constitute rape, they expose how pervasive it is: a poll in France revealed that out of almost 100 000 female respondents, more than half (53.2%) reported having experienced non-consensual penetrative sex with one or more partners. On the other side of the same coin, recently 63 male students out of 554 surveyed in the UK admitted to having committed 251 sexual assaults, rapes, and other coercive and unwanted incidents. The study also showed that these perpetrators were significantly more likely to believe that women are to blame for being assaulted, and to hold hostile views about women. We are still collectively terrible at identifying, and condemning, sexual violence. It’s not a mystery why. We live in a society which blames victims/survivors, in order to let violent men off the hook: that is the primary function of rape culture. Laws are the result of the patriarchal culture we live in and reflect this toxic mindset. We need urgent and concrete actions to address sexual violence on both fronts: to change legislation, and to change mentalities.   Reflected in legislation In Europe, shockingly, most countries do not criminalise sex without consent. Their laws usually require the use of force or coercion as an additional factor in order for a non-consensual act to be considered as sexual violence. According to a review of the legislation of European countries done by Amnesty International in 2020, only 12 European countries out of 31 analysed had laws that define rape as sex without consent. This is despite the fact that most countries have ratified the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention, the first legally binding comprehensive instrument to prevent and combat violence against women and domestic violence. The Convention clearly states that engaging in non-consensual sexual activity constitutes sexual violence. It further says that “consent must be given voluntarily as the result of the person’s free will assessed in the context of the surrounding circumstances”. How is it possible that so many countries ratified this landmark treaty, yet have not changed their legislation to bring it in line with its binding requirements? Inadequate laws on sexual violence have a devastating impact on victims/survivors. They encourage victim blaming, excuse violence, and fail to prosecute rapists. Instead of looking for proof that the perpetrator used enough force or assessing whether the victim/survivor put up enough resistance, the legal system should focus on whether the victim/survivor explicitly consented to sex. And if not, that should be enough to constitute sexual violence. “Yes means Yes” laws represent a necessary change of paradigm to protect victims/survivors more effectively.   The road ahead In June 2021, in a most welcome development only made possible by intense mobilization by women’s rights NGOs, Slovenia changed its law on sexual violence to adopt a consent-based legislative proposal. Spain is also currently reviewing its legislation on sexual violence, to adopt a consent-based model. The “Only Yes Means Yes” bill follows the shocking ‘La Manada’ case, where a group of men were initially found guilty of the lesser offence of sexual abuse instead of rape, because the prosecution could not prove that they used force against the victim/survivor. Other countries must follow suit, urgently. All European countries must ratify and implement the Istanbul Convention, including by changing their legislation to comply with its legal definition of sexual violence. Changing laws and mentalities goes hand in hand: putting an end to rape culture will require not just a change of legislation, but profound societal transformation too. Education is key in that regard. Relationship sexuality education, which teaches children and young people about consent in intimate relationships, is essential [1]. The European Commission is now working on a new legislative proposal to prevent and combat violence against women. This Directive should tackle the issue of sexual violence, and unequivocally adopt the definition of the Istanbul Convention, namely that sex without consent is rape. The Directive should also include comprehensive relationship and sex education as a key prevention measure, to improve young people’s understanding of consent, enable them to identify sexual violence, discourage them from perpetrating it, and empower them to report it.   By Camille Butin, Advocacy Adviser IPPF EN   [1] Facing the facts: the case for comprehensive sexuality education Can education stop abuse? Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Advancing Human Rights, Gender Equality and Improved Sexual and Reproductive Health Preventing Intimate Partner Violence Among Young People—a Qualitative Study Examining the Role of Comprehensive Sexuality Education

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31 January 2022

The new Council of the EU Presidency Trio - an opportunity for SRHR and gender equality

Over the last years, the EU has been facing many challenges in the realization of its core values: the rule of law, democracy, human rights, equality, gender equality and women’s rights. The upcoming years are an opportunity for the EU to reflect on the direction it wants to take, the values it should stand for, and what more it can do to uphold and defend them. The EU should strive towards a world where everyone can enjoy the same rights, and lead free and safe private and family lives, free from sexism, coercion, and violence. In this crossroads moment, the Council of the EU Presidency Trio – France, Czech Republic and Sweden – has a critical role to play to uphold EU values. We call on this Trio to adopt a feminist approach and show stronger leadership to further advance gender equality and women’s rights, including sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), in the EU and beyond.  More on our recommendations for the Trio in the factsheet below, available in English and French.

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02 August 2021

Economic justice goes hand in hand with sexual and reproductive health and rights

The realisation of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) is a necessary precondition for achieving economic justice. A number of different components together form the basis for economic justice. These components include safe and decent work with equal and fair pay, equal access to resources and opportunities, social protection systems, as well as the right to peaceful assembly. SRHR is often not included in these discussions while it can provide basic solutions to prevailing economic inequality. It is therefore of great importance that SRHR is given priority as an integrated topic in the discussions on economic justice, especially in the light of the growing resistance towards SRHR as well as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and its grave implications for achieving gender equality. Read our factsheet. 

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28 April 2020

Reaction to the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 with a focus on sexual and reproductive health and rights

A joint reaction from IPPF EN, the Center for Reproductive Rights, End FGM European Network, with the support of the European Women's Lobby. We welcome the publication of the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 by the European Commission. The adoption of this Strategy shows the political leadership and commitment of the Commission to promote gender equality within and outside the EU, with important objectives and actions for the next 5 years. As civil society organisations (CSOs) committed to advancing gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in the EU and globally, we would like to make suggestions on how the Strategy can effectively promote and support the realisation of SRHR in the EU, as this is a precondition to the achievement of gender equality. This will be particularly essential in the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic, as we are already observing renewed threats to women’s human rights, SRHR and increased risks of gender-based violence. These challenges will require the adoption of targeted and specific responses and actions by the EU and Member States. We stand ready to share information and ideas about these new challenges and how they can be addressed. To read our full reaction, please see the above document.

IPPF Ethiopia
23 October 2019

Last chance to meet EU commitments under the current multi-annual budget

The European Parliament has today adopted its first reading on the EU 2020 budget. MEPs voted in favour of a €2,7 billion increase of the EU’s budget compared to the Commission’s proposal: an outright rejection of the Council’s proposed cuts.  A budget increase that could save lives and improve health and wellbeing  Dubbed as the last chance for the Union to meet key political commitments during this financial period, including the Sustainable Development Goals, the Parliament’s call for an ambitious budget for the last year of the current MFF is welcome news. With the support of the Committees on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, and Development, the Parliament called for an increase of €10 million in commitment to the budget line on human development compared to the Commission’s proposal. This increase will finance projects on education, tackling diseases, gender equality and access to family planning and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SHRH), focusing directly on the needs and rights of people in developing countries. In addition, the budget line on ‘civil society in development’ would be restored and the one on humanitarian aid would increase by €50 million.  Eef Wuyts, Director of European and International Affairs at IPPF EN, said: “The Human Development line is key to effectively ensuring people can access healthcare and education, and to guarantee women and girls’ access to quality sexual and reproductive health services.’’  But this additional investment falls short of commitments “While this proposed increase is a step in the right direction, it falls short of the EU’s commitment to dedicate at least 20% of its total Official Development Assistance to human development and social inclusion. We urge the Council not to cut this budget line any further’’, said Cécile Vernant, Head of the EU Office at DSW.  “Europe has a responsibility to be a global leader on these issues, and this vote today is an important first step. The upcoming Nairobi Summit in November 2019 will be another important opportunity for the EU to make further concrete commitments – including financial ones – to accelerate progress to fully implement the International Conference on Population and Development’s Programme of Action’’, said Neil Datta, Secretary at EPF. Investing in human development, in areas such as health and SRHR is key to empowering women and achieving gender equality. It is crucial that Member States support the €10 million increase proposed by the European Parliament to ensure access to healthcare and education for all.  END For more information, contact Ffion Storer Jones, Communications Officer at Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung (DSW)’s EU office on [email protected] or +32 2 504 90 62. Notes: DSW is a global development organisation that focuses on the needs and potential of the largest youth generation in history. We are committed to creating demand for and access to health information, services, supplies, and economic empowerment for youth. We achieve this by engaging in advocacy, capacity development, and reproductive health initiatives so that young people are empowered to lead healthy and self-determined lives. DSW also advocates for investment in research and innovation to fight poverty-related and neglected tropical diseases. For more information, visit www.dsw.org/en The International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network (IPPF EN) champions sexual and reproductive health and rights for all. IPPF EN and our partners work in over 40 countries across Europe and Central Asia to empower everyone, especially the most socially excluded, to live with dignity and to have access to sexual and reproductive health and rights. This access is essential to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals in all countries. For more information, visit https://www.ippfen.org/  The European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (EPF) is Europe’s only parliamentary network focusing on sexual and reproductive health and rights. EPF serves as a platform for cooperation and coordination for its 33 all-party groups in Parliaments throughout Europe to promote and defend the sexual and reproductive health and rights of all individuals, to defend and advance gender equality and equity, women’s empowerment, and to eliminate all forms of discrimination, coercion and violence against women and girls worldwide. For more information, visit https://www.epfweb.org/ The European Consensus on Development is a shared vision and framework for action for development cooperation for the European Union (EU) and its Member States. It is a blueprint which aligns the Union’s development policy with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. For more information, go here. 

European Parliament
27 September 2019

Tough questions for Dalli and Suica on women's rights and reproductive freedom

Next week, the European Parliament will begin holding hearings with the candidates for European Commissioners proposed by Ursula von der Leyen. The proposed titles, allocation of portfolios, and the hierarchical structure of the European Commission are a clear departure from the current state of affairs - and present both opportunities and challenges for advancing gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights in the EU and outside of its borders. A welcome development is the creation of a specific portfolio on equality, to be held by Helena Dalli. Dalli will be tasked with leading the fight against discrimination and proposing new anti-discrimination legislation, as well as coming up with a European gender strategy to address barriers faced by women. Her biggest challenge is surely set to be securing EU accession to the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention), which is currently blocked in the Council. Blocked? If member states' opposition means that the deadlock remains in place, the commissioner is expected to go around it by finding other ways to strengthen the support, protection and rights of victims of violence against women. Whatever the solution, it is clear that prompt and forceful action needs to be taken to protect women from violence in the EU, as data collected by the Fundamental Rights Agency shows that one-in-three women in the EU have suffered some form of physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15. In their hearing with the commissioner, MEPs should make sure that strong commitments are made to address these shocking statistics. Dalli's collaboration with the commissioner for international partnerships will further be crucial to ensure that the EU continues its efforts to empower women and girls through its external and development policies - notably by continuing to implement and fund the successful Spotlight Initiative - which aims to eliminate violence against women and girls across the world, and by renewing the gender action plan, which promotes women and girls' rights in all EU external actions. It is crucial that the rights of women and girls, the work of women human rights defenders, grassroots women's organisations and organisations fighting for women's rights are further supported and mainstreamed through all of the EU's external policies, and not siloed within a few initiatives. This issue should be stressed by MEPs in their exchange with Dalli, who is explicitly tasked with mainstreaming gender equality measures across all the areas of work of the European Commission. Concerns over Suica At the same time, the creation of a post of vice president of the commission tasked with a portfolio on democracy and demography could be seen as concerning. Neither of the two issues have been explicitly taken on by the European Commission in the past, and the addition of a specific portfolio on demography raises questions on why this issue is being explicitly addressed now, when declarations on a "demographic crisis" are being increasingly used in coercive or anti-migrant discourses by actors such as Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban. While demographic changes – such as low birth rates, the ageing of societies and outwards migration – are a significant challenge that European policy-makers must face, any commissioner holding this portfolio must steer clear of rhetoric linking these to the need to boost 'family' or migration-limitation policies. Indeed, any attempts to address demographic changes in Europe must have women's reproductive freedom and the equal distribution of household responsibilities between women and men at heart, while strengthening social provisions and boosting care, education and healthcare policies. In this context, the allocation of this portfolio to Dubravka Suica is very worrying. As an MEP, Suica has a track record of voting against the inclusion of calls in support of sexual and reproductive health and rights in European parliament resolutions, going as far as proposing an alternative motion for her own resolution to exclude references to abortion care and provision of contraceptives when these were added in by her more progressive colleagues. MEPs should make sure that Suica makes a clear commitment to placing women's reproductive freedom at the heart of her demography mandate – as a commissioner tasked with responding to challenges and making the most of the opportunities brought by demographic change, her work should not be influenced by her personal convictions but by the interests of European citizens. The newly-proposed European Commission indeed has the potential to address some of the persistent challenges relating to gender (in)equality in the EU and women's access to a full range of their rights, including reproductive freedom. However, a strong oversight of the European parliament will be indispensable to ensure that these principles are held firm and included in all policy areas. Next week, as the parliament gets a first opportunity to influence the priorities of the proposed commission, is the time to show that the respect of these values is an essential precondition for the parliament's support.   By Elena Zacharenko, IPPF EN    This opinion was originally published in the EU Observer.

gender equality and SRHR in the EU
19 July 2019

How can you, as a MEP, promote gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights in the EU?

In 2019-2024, we call on Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to ensure that all Europeans can lead free and safe private and family lives, in a society free from sexism and discrimination. This paper lays down the areas where the EU has internal competences and where MEPs have the power to act.   Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have a critical role in promoting SRHR in EU external action and upholding the right of young women and men around the world to lead safe and dignified lives, free from coercion and harm. These are just some of the steps MEPs can take to champion SRHR.