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stories

Stories

Latest stories from IPPF EN

Spotlight

A selection of stories from across the Federation

image CSE comic strip
Story

Sexuality education keeps young people safe from harm

A comic strip story about how all young people have the right to build the crucial skills and knowledge that they need to be safe, healthy and happy.
YVYC illustration young people advocating
story

| 13 October 2022

"It would make a real difference if we could be open with health professionals about what really concerns us."

We spoke to young people from the Western Balkans about how their access to sexual and reproductive health and rights was affected by the COVID pandemic, and asked them about their vision for re-designing a more youth-friendly future in which young people can flourish.  Alex is a 19-year-old LGBTIQ girl, studying at university in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. As a peer educator, she supports other young people to learn and develop crucial life skills relating to their sexual and reproductive health.   Alex, describe your experience of access to SRHR* education, information and care before and during COVID.  My access to sexual and reproductive healthcare before COVID was relatively normal, for example a gynaecologist visit, but during the pandemic, it was rather harder to go because I had to present a negative COVID test to be examined. At some point, in-person consultations with doctors were extremely limited, unless it was with reference to COVID or life-threatening - so regular check-ups were not really happening. I didn’t receive any adequate sexuality education either before or during the pandemic. The only time sexual health was discussed in my 12 years of schooling was back in elementary school and it only included only a talk with the girls on menstrual pads and periods. I believe online information became more accessible because of COVID. As a result of the limited consultations with professionals, more people sought answers on the Internet. Of course, we must keep in mind that information has to be checked carefully. Also, reliable information in Bulgarian is very limited.   Did anything change for the better during the pandemic in terms of access to SRHR? I suppose more information regarding SRHR became available online because of the huge demand. A good thing is that the information is still relevant today even though COVID is no longer an urgent crisis. Personally, I got into the habit of looking for answers myself and checking if the source was reliable or not. Other than that, I would not say that COVID had any positives.   What was the biggest challenge to young people’s SRHR during the pandemic? How could decision-makers/medical professionals have removed this obstacle?   One of the biggest problems was the misleading and unreliable sources of information about sexual and reproductive health. In addition, adequate information is mostly in English. I believe a fact-checking system to verify all factual information could be helpful in preventing the spread of misinformation. I faced that problem when I and other 3 friends conducted a few educational workshops on the topic of comprehensive sexuality education. While putting together the information we needed, we came across numerous invalid data and false statements.   What lessons should governments and professionals who work with youth learn from the pandemic about how to look after young people’s health and wellbeing in a crisis?   From what I have seen, many adults do not seem to understand the burden this crisis has had on us and therefore neglect our mental health. Affordable and regular psychologist appointments should be a priority. There is this stigma around mental health that you seek help only if you are “not normal”. That is completely false and puts our generation under pressure and makes us not take proper care of our well-being (which often includes going to a psychologist). Also, many of the professionals (both teachers and medical practitioners) were sharing their personal and controversial opinion on the pandemic and vaccinations which has to be limited. A personal experience I had was when I went to get vaccinated and my GP would not allow me to, saying that it was unnecessary and even “dangerous”.   What is your number 1 recommendation on what is needed to make services more youth-friendly? What difference would this make in the life of a young person like you? More young and inclusive professionals working in the sphere are needed. For example, many of my female peers insist that female gynecologists examine them. LGBT+ inclusivity is also important, as currently many of us cannot share a key part of our life neither with a gynecologist nor a psychologist. The difference would be that we will be more open and share what really concerns us so we can seek adequate help. It is much easier to talk to someone close to your age or background.   What helped you to become engaged as an activist? How has this experience been so far? The idea that I can do something about the desperate need for a change and make my voice heard was what helped me get involved. So far, I mostly enjoy working with other young people and seeing them as determined and hopeful as I am. Every new idea has been welcomed with enthusiasm and encouragement by many of my peers, which makes it clear that youngsters are looking forward to a change and improvement. However, as I mentioned, we held several workshops about comprehensive sexuality education and we faced many obstacles. The project was very scarcely funded, which made it very hard to implement properly and exactly how we have envisioned it. Also, finding people to attend the workshops was fairly hard as well and we could not get any support from our teachers and school staff. They did not welcome the idea because the topics of sexual health and LGBT+ inclusivity are still taboo in our society - so they were scared of how the parents would react. On the other hand, the people that came to the workshops had very encouraging feedback and even a demand for more similar events. * SRHR = sexual and reproductive health and rights Interview conducted by Viktoria Nikolova, a member of the regional youth group of the IPPF EN project Youth Voices, Youth Choices, funded by MSD for Mothers

YVYC illustration young people advocating
story

| 25 October 2022

"It would make a real difference if we could be open with health professionals about what really concerns us."

We spoke to young people from the Western Balkans about how their access to sexual and reproductive health and rights was affected by the COVID pandemic, and asked them about their vision for re-designing a more youth-friendly future in which young people can flourish.  Alex is a 19-year-old LGBTIQ girl, studying at university in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. As a peer educator, she supports other young people to learn and develop crucial life skills relating to their sexual and reproductive health.   Alex, describe your experience of access to SRHR* education, information and care before and during COVID.  My access to sexual and reproductive healthcare before COVID was relatively normal, for example a gynaecologist visit, but during the pandemic, it was rather harder to go because I had to present a negative COVID test to be examined. At some point, in-person consultations with doctors were extremely limited, unless it was with reference to COVID or life-threatening - so regular check-ups were not really happening. I didn’t receive any adequate sexuality education either before or during the pandemic. The only time sexual health was discussed in my 12 years of schooling was back in elementary school and it only included only a talk with the girls on menstrual pads and periods. I believe online information became more accessible because of COVID. As a result of the limited consultations with professionals, more people sought answers on the Internet. Of course, we must keep in mind that information has to be checked carefully. Also, reliable information in Bulgarian is very limited.   Did anything change for the better during the pandemic in terms of access to SRHR? I suppose more information regarding SRHR became available online because of the huge demand. A good thing is that the information is still relevant today even though COVID is no longer an urgent crisis. Personally, I got into the habit of looking for answers myself and checking if the source was reliable or not. Other than that, I would not say that COVID had any positives.   What was the biggest challenge to young people’s SRHR during the pandemic? How could decision-makers/medical professionals have removed this obstacle?   One of the biggest problems was the misleading and unreliable sources of information about sexual and reproductive health. In addition, adequate information is mostly in English. I believe a fact-checking system to verify all factual information could be helpful in preventing the spread of misinformation. I faced that problem when I and other 3 friends conducted a few educational workshops on the topic of comprehensive sexuality education. While putting together the information we needed, we came across numerous invalid data and false statements.   What lessons should governments and professionals who work with youth learn from the pandemic about how to look after young people’s health and wellbeing in a crisis?   From what I have seen, many adults do not seem to understand the burden this crisis has had on us and therefore neglect our mental health. Affordable and regular psychologist appointments should be a priority. There is this stigma around mental health that you seek help only if you are “not normal”. That is completely false and puts our generation under pressure and makes us not take proper care of our well-being (which often includes going to a psychologist). Also, many of the professionals (both teachers and medical practitioners) were sharing their personal and controversial opinion on the pandemic and vaccinations which has to be limited. A personal experience I had was when I went to get vaccinated and my GP would not allow me to, saying that it was unnecessary and even “dangerous”.   What is your number 1 recommendation on what is needed to make services more youth-friendly? What difference would this make in the life of a young person like you? More young and inclusive professionals working in the sphere are needed. For example, many of my female peers insist that female gynecologists examine them. LGBT+ inclusivity is also important, as currently many of us cannot share a key part of our life neither with a gynecologist nor a psychologist. The difference would be that we will be more open and share what really concerns us so we can seek adequate help. It is much easier to talk to someone close to your age or background.   What helped you to become engaged as an activist? How has this experience been so far? The idea that I can do something about the desperate need for a change and make my voice heard was what helped me get involved. So far, I mostly enjoy working with other young people and seeing them as determined and hopeful as I am. Every new idea has been welcomed with enthusiasm and encouragement by many of my peers, which makes it clear that youngsters are looking forward to a change and improvement. However, as I mentioned, we held several workshops about comprehensive sexuality education and we faced many obstacles. The project was very scarcely funded, which made it very hard to implement properly and exactly how we have envisioned it. Also, finding people to attend the workshops was fairly hard as well and we could not get any support from our teachers and school staff. They did not welcome the idea because the topics of sexual health and LGBT+ inclusivity are still taboo in our society - so they were scared of how the parents would react. On the other hand, the people that came to the workshops had very encouraging feedback and even a demand for more similar events. * SRHR = sexual and reproductive health and rights Interview conducted by Viktoria Nikolova, a member of the regional youth group of the IPPF EN project Youth Voices, Youth Choices, funded by MSD for Mothers

YVYC illustration of young people
story

| 12 October 2022

"Governments & health professionals need to give young people more opportunities."

We spoke to young people from the Western Balkans about how their access to sexual and reproductive health and rights was affected by the COVID pandemic, and asked them about their vision for re-designing a more youth-friendly future in which young people can flourish.  Greis Osmani is a 23-year-old from Tirana, Albania. She is a medical student, peer educator and activist for young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.   Greis, describe your experience of access to SRHR* education, information and care before and during COVID.  Before the pandemic, I used to take part in a lot of workshops, projects and volunteer work in national NGOs. As a volunteer, especially with the Albanian Center for Population and Development (ACPD), I was trained in subjects like abortion stigma, gender equality and rights, contraceptive methods and sexuality education. I was well informed about other topics such as HIV/AIDS. The first year of the pandemic, the focus of the government and NGOs etc shifted more towards COVID and general health issues, not related to SRHR. Step by step, young people and the general public started getting used to online platforms, which gave us other opportunities to hold trainings online and carry on sharing safe information with other youth.   Did anything change for the better during the pandemic in terms of access to SRHR? I believe it had pros and cons. First, we had to learn how to properly use new digital platforms and tools such as Zoom, Google Classroom and Meet, and add more interesting activities such as Murals and Quizzes. This made our online experience much more fun, aside from basic informative meetings, and we continue to use these platforms. Online platforms enable us to create a broader network of young people from different countries who connect more quickly, and for free, to share personal experiences as SRHR activists and empower one another. We are still learning and developing digital communication skills. We hope the moment will come when all young people feel comfortable using online tools, without facing a single barrier.   What was the biggest challenge for SRHR during the pandemic? One of the biggest challenges I personally faced was the inability to express myself freely online and completely share personal experiences. Face-to-face meetings connect young people more with one another. One feels freer to talk with peers in person rather than share with those you may never meet in real life. It’s hard to break the ice in digital meetings that make people feel uncomfortable speaking directly and opening up. Also, it is very important that, as educators, the things we share in theory with other peers come to life in practical ways. For example, online we can’t distribute free condoms, and it’s harder to teach young people how to use them correctly.   What lessons should governments and professionals who work with youth learn from the pandemic about how to look after young people’s health and wellbeing in a crisis?   They need to understand the realities of young people’s access to SRHR, the gaps we face, our needs etc. They need to carry out more surveys to see how young people are coping with all the changes since the pandemic. They need to give us youngsters more opportunities to raise our voices, to engage in activities, to work as volunteers, to give us more hope for our future. It’s extremely hard for a teenager to stay at home distancing him/herself from everyday life and joy. COVID-19 was devastating for young people and had a big impact on their perspectives on life and desire to do more. Mental health was affected. Young people need to be able to maintain a healthy life, to experience happiness, and to invest in their future to become good doctors, lawyers, engineers and so on, to build a better lifestyle. Social connections and communication are key to mental health - that’s why creating safe platforms with adequate and necessary information for young people’s needs is crucial for their well-being.   What is your number 1 recommendation on what is needed to make services more youth-friendly?  For services to be youth-friendly, it is crucial to build trust between young people and health professionals. Youth-friendly services are included in our primary health care package and are provided by other private institutions and NGOs such as ACPD through its own clinics. However, trust and communication need to be built. The role of health mediators is also very important, especially if they are young themselves. This facilitates communication with youth as it is easier to share with someone your age; you feel more understood and can open up when the service is presented in a friendly way. It’s also important to create positive environments where young people can engage with each other, for example reading or studying in groups to make it less hard for them to express their true selves. It makes a big difference when a young person finds a reliable service, and seeks help when they are feeling lost. So social workers and innovative communication methods in my opinion are the key.   Tell us about your experience as an activist for young people's health and rights! My experience has been great. It started in high school taking part in a social experiment and then I got more interested in topics like human rights, comprehensive sexuality education and SRH. I have learned so much from people I met during my activism years, I feel like my public speaking skills have gotten better with time. I have found subjects like SRHR which I feel are close to me because I’m about to become a doctor next year and my contribution started long ago in young people’s health. I’m constantly inspired by different projects to keep doing what I am doing now and create a stronger and empowered future for next generations here in my country Albania and beyond. I am happy that I have found role models in this journey of mine, I have heard speeches that are quotes for me to live by. I am grateful that there have been individuals that have pushed me to do better and engage more. I’m looking forward to the next chapters... * SRHR = sexual and reproductive health and rights Interview conducted by Marjo Rabiaj, a member of the regional youth group of the IPPF EN project Youth Voices, Youth Choices, funded by MSD for Mothers  

YVYC illustration of young people
story

| 25 October 2022

"Governments & health professionals need to give young people more opportunities."

We spoke to young people from the Western Balkans about how their access to sexual and reproductive health and rights was affected by the COVID pandemic, and asked them about their vision for re-designing a more youth-friendly future in which young people can flourish.  Greis Osmani is a 23-year-old from Tirana, Albania. She is a medical student, peer educator and activist for young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.   Greis, describe your experience of access to SRHR* education, information and care before and during COVID.  Before the pandemic, I used to take part in a lot of workshops, projects and volunteer work in national NGOs. As a volunteer, especially with the Albanian Center for Population and Development (ACPD), I was trained in subjects like abortion stigma, gender equality and rights, contraceptive methods and sexuality education. I was well informed about other topics such as HIV/AIDS. The first year of the pandemic, the focus of the government and NGOs etc shifted more towards COVID and general health issues, not related to SRHR. Step by step, young people and the general public started getting used to online platforms, which gave us other opportunities to hold trainings online and carry on sharing safe information with other youth.   Did anything change for the better during the pandemic in terms of access to SRHR? I believe it had pros and cons. First, we had to learn how to properly use new digital platforms and tools such as Zoom, Google Classroom and Meet, and add more interesting activities such as Murals and Quizzes. This made our online experience much more fun, aside from basic informative meetings, and we continue to use these platforms. Online platforms enable us to create a broader network of young people from different countries who connect more quickly, and for free, to share personal experiences as SRHR activists and empower one another. We are still learning and developing digital communication skills. We hope the moment will come when all young people feel comfortable using online tools, without facing a single barrier.   What was the biggest challenge for SRHR during the pandemic? One of the biggest challenges I personally faced was the inability to express myself freely online and completely share personal experiences. Face-to-face meetings connect young people more with one another. One feels freer to talk with peers in person rather than share with those you may never meet in real life. It’s hard to break the ice in digital meetings that make people feel uncomfortable speaking directly and opening up. Also, it is very important that, as educators, the things we share in theory with other peers come to life in practical ways. For example, online we can’t distribute free condoms, and it’s harder to teach young people how to use them correctly.   What lessons should governments and professionals who work with youth learn from the pandemic about how to look after young people’s health and wellbeing in a crisis?   They need to understand the realities of young people’s access to SRHR, the gaps we face, our needs etc. They need to carry out more surveys to see how young people are coping with all the changes since the pandemic. They need to give us youngsters more opportunities to raise our voices, to engage in activities, to work as volunteers, to give us more hope for our future. It’s extremely hard for a teenager to stay at home distancing him/herself from everyday life and joy. COVID-19 was devastating for young people and had a big impact on their perspectives on life and desire to do more. Mental health was affected. Young people need to be able to maintain a healthy life, to experience happiness, and to invest in their future to become good doctors, lawyers, engineers and so on, to build a better lifestyle. Social connections and communication are key to mental health - that’s why creating safe platforms with adequate and necessary information for young people’s needs is crucial for their well-being.   What is your number 1 recommendation on what is needed to make services more youth-friendly?  For services to be youth-friendly, it is crucial to build trust between young people and health professionals. Youth-friendly services are included in our primary health care package and are provided by other private institutions and NGOs such as ACPD through its own clinics. However, trust and communication need to be built. The role of health mediators is also very important, especially if they are young themselves. This facilitates communication with youth as it is easier to share with someone your age; you feel more understood and can open up when the service is presented in a friendly way. It’s also important to create positive environments where young people can engage with each other, for example reading or studying in groups to make it less hard for them to express their true selves. It makes a big difference when a young person finds a reliable service, and seeks help when they are feeling lost. So social workers and innovative communication methods in my opinion are the key.   Tell us about your experience as an activist for young people's health and rights! My experience has been great. It started in high school taking part in a social experiment and then I got more interested in topics like human rights, comprehensive sexuality education and SRH. I have learned so much from people I met during my activism years, I feel like my public speaking skills have gotten better with time. I have found subjects like SRHR which I feel are close to me because I’m about to become a doctor next year and my contribution started long ago in young people’s health. I’m constantly inspired by different projects to keep doing what I am doing now and create a stronger and empowered future for next generations here in my country Albania and beyond. I am happy that I have found role models in this journey of mine, I have heard speeches that are quotes for me to live by. I am grateful that there have been individuals that have pushed me to do better and engage more. I’m looking forward to the next chapters... * SRHR = sexual and reproductive health and rights Interview conducted by Marjo Rabiaj, a member of the regional youth group of the IPPF EN project Youth Voices, Youth Choices, funded by MSD for Mothers  

abortion care IPPF EN
story

| 22 September 2022

San Marino legalizes abortion care overturning a century-old law: interview with women’s rights advocate

San Marino recently legalised abortion care, one year after the landmark referendum. In 2021, 77% of citizens voted overwhelmingly to overturn the 150-year-old law to make abortion legal in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion care is also available after the 12 weeks mark if serious foetal anomalies put a woman’s life or health -- physically or psychologically -- at risk. The cost of the procedure will be covered by San Marino’s public health system. Previously, women living in San Marino, were forced to travel to Italy or somewhere else to access the care they needed. We sat down with Karen Pruccoli, activist and President of the Union of San Marino Women to discuss the changes in the microstate. Karen is an entrepreneur and advocate for civil rights and women’s rights. How does it feel to have legal abortion in San Marino after 150 years of criminalisation? It feels great – incredible that we have this law. We are celebrating this long journey to get this law, but also we are also feeling sad we have this law only after so many years of trying to convince our politicians that San Marino’s citizens deserve to have this kind of law. Italy had its abortion law from 1978, so we were very behind. I am satisfied and happy, but unfortunately it arrived after too many years. What was the combination of factors that led to a win on abortion rights in San Marino despite having such a strict past on the issue? The main factor why we have this law is Unione Donne Sammarinesi – Union of San Marino Women - which was re-vitalised in 2019, but originally dates from the early 70s and started as a movement for women’s rights. The Union was revived in 2019 and geared its efforts towards trying to convince politicians that a new law on abortion was necessary. Once we realised it was difficult to gain political support, we courageously decided to ask for a referendum. It would have been nearly impossible to get legal abortion in place with the current makeup of the parliament, having a conservative majority, against reproductive freedom. If we were waiting for the parliament to be more progressive and pro-women’s rights, it would have taken another 20 years. So I think the main reason why we have this law is because of the Union which fights for women rights, civil rights, and human rights in the Republic of San Marino. What are your thoughts on the new abortion law in San Marino? We are very happy with the quality of this law, but it was a difficult journey. We met with conservative parties and groups against abortion to discuss how the new law would look like. They initially wanted to propose a law that was much more conservative and stricter. We were very worried at this stage. Those involved in the drafting of the San Marino law on abortion even considered implementing conditions similar to those in Hungary - where women are now forced to listen to the embryonic cardiac activity before being able to access care. It was indeed difficult to push for a modern law, a progressive law that would respect women’s freedom of choice and place it at the centre of the legislation. However, Unione Donne Sammarinesi did not give up and advocated daily on social media, in the press, and by reaching out to communities and the country at large.  The resulting law is in line with the decision of the referendum – where 77% voted YES to ‘women being able to make reproductive choices in their lives’. To a certain extent the current San Marino law is better than the Italian one. In San Marino, we have family planning centres where women, men and young people can receive unbiased sexual and reproductive care. We also tried to mitigate the risk of medical professionals denying care based on personal beliefs, a huge problem in Italy. In San Marino, in the event doctors are not willing to provide abortion care, the state is obliged to find doctors who will, even if they need to bring them from aboard. What are the next steps for your advocacy work? Next, we will be working on combatting violence against women and domestic violence. An expert group on the topic from the Council of Europe visited San Marino and produced a report on how the Istanbul Convention (on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence) was implemented in the country. We had a lot of issues and are currently working on amending these. What is your opinion on deciding rights through popular vote?   We had two referendums on human rights: one asking to include the protection of sexual orientation in our human rights charter and one on abortion. This first referendum was in 2019 and 72% were in favour of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation. And we know the result on the referendum on abortion. But, I think it is dangerous to have a referendum on human rights especially in Italy as it is a Catholic state, with strong conservative parties. We had no statistics that could could help us understand if people in San Marino were ready to legalize abortion. At that point we were asking for legal abortion for the past 20 years and we saw no other solution than to put it in the hands of the people. We followed closely what happened in countries like Gibraltar and Ireland and took inspiration from their successes. So, we decided to take the risk and go for the referendum. But, as far as I am concerned, a referendum on human rights or civil rights is risky.   What is your message to those still fighting for their reproductive freedom? Never give up! I think it is important to have at least one big and strong organisation of women’s rights activists that include women, men and young people. It’s also important to create a conversation, provide information and keep the attention on the topic. For so many years in San Marino, abortion was not discussed. Same as topics like domestic violence and medical assisted suicide (euthanasia). Even today, misleading information on abortion exists out there, so we need to be a strong organised group that is able to share accurate information and create a space for conversation.   Illustration: Ipsita Divedi for IPPF EN x Fine Acts

abortion care IPPF EN
story

| 28 September 2022

San Marino legalizes abortion care overturning a century-old law: interview with women’s rights advocate

San Marino recently legalised abortion care, one year after the landmark referendum. In 2021, 77% of citizens voted overwhelmingly to overturn the 150-year-old law to make abortion legal in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion care is also available after the 12 weeks mark if serious foetal anomalies put a woman’s life or health -- physically or psychologically -- at risk. The cost of the procedure will be covered by San Marino’s public health system. Previously, women living in San Marino, were forced to travel to Italy or somewhere else to access the care they needed. We sat down with Karen Pruccoli, activist and President of the Union of San Marino Women to discuss the changes in the microstate. Karen is an entrepreneur and advocate for civil rights and women’s rights. How does it feel to have legal abortion in San Marino after 150 years of criminalisation? It feels great – incredible that we have this law. We are celebrating this long journey to get this law, but also we are also feeling sad we have this law only after so many years of trying to convince our politicians that San Marino’s citizens deserve to have this kind of law. Italy had its abortion law from 1978, so we were very behind. I am satisfied and happy, but unfortunately it arrived after too many years. What was the combination of factors that led to a win on abortion rights in San Marino despite having such a strict past on the issue? The main factor why we have this law is Unione Donne Sammarinesi – Union of San Marino Women - which was re-vitalised in 2019, but originally dates from the early 70s and started as a movement for women’s rights. The Union was revived in 2019 and geared its efforts towards trying to convince politicians that a new law on abortion was necessary. Once we realised it was difficult to gain political support, we courageously decided to ask for a referendum. It would have been nearly impossible to get legal abortion in place with the current makeup of the parliament, having a conservative majority, against reproductive freedom. If we were waiting for the parliament to be more progressive and pro-women’s rights, it would have taken another 20 years. So I think the main reason why we have this law is because of the Union which fights for women rights, civil rights, and human rights in the Republic of San Marino. What are your thoughts on the new abortion law in San Marino? We are very happy with the quality of this law, but it was a difficult journey. We met with conservative parties and groups against abortion to discuss how the new law would look like. They initially wanted to propose a law that was much more conservative and stricter. We were very worried at this stage. Those involved in the drafting of the San Marino law on abortion even considered implementing conditions similar to those in Hungary - where women are now forced to listen to the embryonic cardiac activity before being able to access care. It was indeed difficult to push for a modern law, a progressive law that would respect women’s freedom of choice and place it at the centre of the legislation. However, Unione Donne Sammarinesi did not give up and advocated daily on social media, in the press, and by reaching out to communities and the country at large.  The resulting law is in line with the decision of the referendum – where 77% voted YES to ‘women being able to make reproductive choices in their lives’. To a certain extent the current San Marino law is better than the Italian one. In San Marino, we have family planning centres where women, men and young people can receive unbiased sexual and reproductive care. We also tried to mitigate the risk of medical professionals denying care based on personal beliefs, a huge problem in Italy. In San Marino, in the event doctors are not willing to provide abortion care, the state is obliged to find doctors who will, even if they need to bring them from aboard. What are the next steps for your advocacy work? Next, we will be working on combatting violence against women and domestic violence. An expert group on the topic from the Council of Europe visited San Marino and produced a report on how the Istanbul Convention (on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence) was implemented in the country. We had a lot of issues and are currently working on amending these. What is your opinion on deciding rights through popular vote?   We had two referendums on human rights: one asking to include the protection of sexual orientation in our human rights charter and one on abortion. This first referendum was in 2019 and 72% were in favour of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation. And we know the result on the referendum on abortion. But, I think it is dangerous to have a referendum on human rights especially in Italy as it is a Catholic state, with strong conservative parties. We had no statistics that could could help us understand if people in San Marino were ready to legalize abortion. At that point we were asking for legal abortion for the past 20 years and we saw no other solution than to put it in the hands of the people. We followed closely what happened in countries like Gibraltar and Ireland and took inspiration from their successes. So, we decided to take the risk and go for the referendum. But, as far as I am concerned, a referendum on human rights or civil rights is risky.   What is your message to those still fighting for their reproductive freedom? Never give up! I think it is important to have at least one big and strong organisation of women’s rights activists that include women, men and young people. It’s also important to create a conversation, provide information and keep the attention on the topic. For so many years in San Marino, abortion was not discussed. Same as topics like domestic violence and medical assisted suicide (euthanasia). Even today, misleading information on abortion exists out there, so we need to be a strong organised group that is able to share accurate information and create a space for conversation.   Illustration: Ipsita Divedi for IPPF EN x Fine Acts

defend the defenders
story

| 17 February 2022

Women's human rights defenders fight for sexual and reproductive freedom in Poland

Human rights defenders in Poland have been working tirelessly for years to fight the dismantling of the rule of law and human rights. They continue to do so in the face of increasing oppression, orchestrated and encouraged by the government – including intimidation, detention, and criminal charges. Many have been subjected to threats and attacks, both from state actors and far-right groups. The Polish Women’s Strike and other organisations have received bomb threats and now need to have security at their buildings. Activists are also being targeted with smear campaigns in state-owned media. The actions of the police have been insufficient to ensure their protection. These are their stories.

defend the defenders
story

| 17 February 2022

Women's human rights defenders fight for sexual and reproductive freedom in Poland

Human rights defenders in Poland have been working tirelessly for years to fight the dismantling of the rule of law and human rights. They continue to do so in the face of increasing oppression, orchestrated and encouraged by the government – including intimidation, detention, and criminal charges. Many have been subjected to threats and attacks, both from state actors and far-right groups. The Polish Women’s Strike and other organisations have received bomb threats and now need to have security at their buildings. Activists are also being targeted with smear campaigns in state-owned media. The actions of the police have been insufficient to ensure their protection. These are their stories.

Iwona Ochocka Gdańsk Pamela Palma Zapata21.jpg
story

| 17 January 2022

Iwona: Teacher With A Mission

Women’s rights defenders in Poland have faced violence from law enforcement and far-right groups, as well as smear campaigns in state-controlled media and excessive criminal charges. This harassment has been orchestrated and encouraged by the government. This is Iwona's story. For Iwona, the last six months have been the toughest of her life – emotionally, physically and financially. Iwona has been actively involved in the Women’s Strike movement – the biggest women and social justice movement revolt since the 80s – in a small town with 60,279 inhabitants – ever since Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, dominated by right-wing judges and backed by Julia Przyłębska who presides over the illegitimate Constitutional Tribunal, banned abortion on the grounds of foetal abnormality on 22 October 2020. Since then, the teacher turned activist has organised six “Walk for Freedom and Women’s Rights” protests in her home city. The first of these was held on Sunday 25 October amassing around two thousand people. Three days later, after President Kaczynski's famous "address", where he urged Neo Nazis to defend the churches from “Bad feminist abortion b**ches from hell”, about 5,000 people came to "walk" with the activist, holding a banner: "Forgive the obstruction, Tczew has a government to overthrow".   Someone Had To Light The First Match As the headmistress of a non-public school, she was previously only known within the teaching community. Iwona had yet to catch on to the growing feminist movement in Poland kickstarted by the first All-Poland Women’s Strike (Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet, OSK) in 2016 against proposed legislation to tighten abortion laws. However, two years later she was protesting to defend courts free from political influence, the rights of teachers, and the rights of LGBTQI+ people. She travelled to Poland’s Tri-City area for Manifa, an annual demonstration organized around International Women’s Day on March 8 and across Poland for Gay Pride marches. There have never been such large-scale demonstrations in Tczew before, especially anti-government ones. Iwona admits that she herself was surprised by the turnout and the response to the slogan: “I took part in the protests anonymously, without party symbols. First in a rainbow mask, then one bearing a lightning bolt. I didn’t want to appear party-affiliated. The demands were more important than the emblems. My data was later leaked by a Tczew paper, the local propaganda mouthpiece of the PiS (Law and Justice) Party.” Tczew has a population of around 53,000. During one of the protests Iwona “brought” almost 10% of the community onto the streets, much to the annoyance of a prominent and unscrupulous Member of Parliament (MP) from PiS, who is also a dangerous Catholic fundamentalist, chauvinist and homophobe. The activist and her entire family were immediately affected by the street actions.   PiS Won’t Forgive And Forget Soon after the first protests, Iwona’s husband lost his job at a state-owned company. “His qualifications relate to big industry, which at the moment either has ties to the authorities or belongs to the authorities,” says Iwona. In response, on 15 November, over 300 people took to the streets of Tczew in solidarity. Although encouraging, it did little to change the situation. He became one of the “unemployables”. In turn, a government-run campaign was unleashed against her and continues. Disciplinary proceedings against her by the Board of Education are underway. In November, she was officially charged with incitement to animal abuse. An absurd move, which was orchestrated by the same fundamentalist PiS MP,  Kazimierz Smolinski. Over several months, the teacher has been summoned to successive “hearings” at the Department of Education. She is now at risk of losing her teaching licence. This is a textbook example of the regime’s repression of rebellious citizens.

Iwona Ochocka Gdańsk Pamela Palma Zapata21.jpg
story

| 08 July 2021

Iwona: Teacher With A Mission

Women’s rights defenders in Poland have faced violence from law enforcement and far-right groups, as well as smear campaigns in state-controlled media and excessive criminal charges. This harassment has been orchestrated and encouraged by the government. This is Iwona's story. For Iwona, the last six months have been the toughest of her life – emotionally, physically and financially. Iwona has been actively involved in the Women’s Strike movement – the biggest women and social justice movement revolt since the 80s – in a small town with 60,279 inhabitants – ever since Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, dominated by right-wing judges and backed by Julia Przyłębska who presides over the illegitimate Constitutional Tribunal, banned abortion on the grounds of foetal abnormality on 22 October 2020. Since then, the teacher turned activist has organised six “Walk for Freedom and Women’s Rights” protests in her home city. The first of these was held on Sunday 25 October amassing around two thousand people. Three days later, after President Kaczynski's famous "address", where he urged Neo Nazis to defend the churches from “Bad feminist abortion b**ches from hell”, about 5,000 people came to "walk" with the activist, holding a banner: "Forgive the obstruction, Tczew has a government to overthrow".   Someone Had To Light The First Match As the headmistress of a non-public school, she was previously only known within the teaching community. Iwona had yet to catch on to the growing feminist movement in Poland kickstarted by the first All-Poland Women’s Strike (Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet, OSK) in 2016 against proposed legislation to tighten abortion laws. However, two years later she was protesting to defend courts free from political influence, the rights of teachers, and the rights of LGBTQI+ people. She travelled to Poland’s Tri-City area for Manifa, an annual demonstration organized around International Women’s Day on March 8 and across Poland for Gay Pride marches. There have never been such large-scale demonstrations in Tczew before, especially anti-government ones. Iwona admits that she herself was surprised by the turnout and the response to the slogan: “I took part in the protests anonymously, without party symbols. First in a rainbow mask, then one bearing a lightning bolt. I didn’t want to appear party-affiliated. The demands were more important than the emblems. My data was later leaked by a Tczew paper, the local propaganda mouthpiece of the PiS (Law and Justice) Party.” Tczew has a population of around 53,000. During one of the protests Iwona “brought” almost 10% of the community onto the streets, much to the annoyance of a prominent and unscrupulous Member of Parliament (MP) from PiS, who is also a dangerous Catholic fundamentalist, chauvinist and homophobe. The activist and her entire family were immediately affected by the street actions.   PiS Won’t Forgive And Forget Soon after the first protests, Iwona’s husband lost his job at a state-owned company. “His qualifications relate to big industry, which at the moment either has ties to the authorities or belongs to the authorities,” says Iwona. In response, on 15 November, over 300 people took to the streets of Tczew in solidarity. Although encouraging, it did little to change the situation. He became one of the “unemployables”. In turn, a government-run campaign was unleashed against her and continues. Disciplinary proceedings against her by the Board of Education are underway. In November, she was officially charged with incitement to animal abuse. An absurd move, which was orchestrated by the same fundamentalist PiS MP,  Kazimierz Smolinski. Over several months, the teacher has been summoned to successive “hearings” at the Department of Education. She is now at risk of losing her teaching licence. This is a textbook example of the regime’s repression of rebellious citizens.

Poland Marta Lempart
story

| 17 January 2022

Marta: The Freedom Fighter – “The Only Thing I Have Left is to Keep Running”

It is said that no one is irreplaceable. If this is true, Marta Lempart is the exception that proves the rule. For most female activists who have been in the Women’s Strike since the beginning, this is obvious. Although she herself usually says otherwise: “I am not indispensable”. But she is. Without her, this speeding train would not go on. Yes, a whole group of people contribute to the success of the Strike’s work, but Marta is the engine. She is the one who sets the tone and gives a ‘face’ to the social movement. It is thanks to her instinct and strategic sense that this crazy train has not yet derailed and landed in a ditch somewhere. Those who work most closely with her on a daily basis look after her health and well-being, because they know that the movement leader’s charisma drives activists across the country. This locomotive has to deliver, it has to keep giving. And yet it is pulling more and more carriages behind it. Because the Strike is growing, spreading endlessly to new places. There are more and more duties, tasks to be fulfilled, new challenges that appear, problems to be solved. Marta is crucial to the Strike because for a long time she carried it almost on her own shoulders. “There were times when we were carrying out these daily duties and running the [Polish Women’s Strike] Foundation practically alone with my partner and co-founder.” She has the contacts, the Strike’s history and the narrative at her fingertips. And she has kind of gotten people used to the idea that she takes care of everything herself. She has a tendency to take on too much, but she is working on this, learning to delegate tasks, to involve other people in her work and to distribute responsibilities. She knows she has to, because this social movement is expanding and developing at great pace and needs more and more people to support it. The central helpdesk team needs to grow with it.   An Influential Woman Of The Year Marta was awarded this title by Forbes Magazine in 2020. She was also voted Superheroine of 2020 by High Heels, a weekly magazine connected with Gazeta Wyborcza. When she’s on top form, Marta is fearless, relentless, focused, deadly logical and unflappable. She writes brilliantly and performs even better live. She gets to the point, speaks simply, clearly and lucidly, and knows how to reach out to anyone. At the same time, she is able to appeal to people’s emotions and get the crowd behind her. She is known for not throwing words to the wind and for being able to condense the message into a single word, as with the famous “F*©µ off!” She describes herself as “selectively high functioning”. She gives her best when she needs to give her best. She rises to the occasion. But after she gets to the peak of what she can do, a dip in form and a slump inevitably follow. Or, as in the last few months, a real crisis and depression.

Poland Marta Lempart
story

| 16 July 2021

Marta: The Freedom Fighter – “The Only Thing I Have Left is to Keep Running”

It is said that no one is irreplaceable. If this is true, Marta Lempart is the exception that proves the rule. For most female activists who have been in the Women’s Strike since the beginning, this is obvious. Although she herself usually says otherwise: “I am not indispensable”. But she is. Without her, this speeding train would not go on. Yes, a whole group of people contribute to the success of the Strike’s work, but Marta is the engine. She is the one who sets the tone and gives a ‘face’ to the social movement. It is thanks to her instinct and strategic sense that this crazy train has not yet derailed and landed in a ditch somewhere. Those who work most closely with her on a daily basis look after her health and well-being, because they know that the movement leader’s charisma drives activists across the country. This locomotive has to deliver, it has to keep giving. And yet it is pulling more and more carriages behind it. Because the Strike is growing, spreading endlessly to new places. There are more and more duties, tasks to be fulfilled, new challenges that appear, problems to be solved. Marta is crucial to the Strike because for a long time she carried it almost on her own shoulders. “There were times when we were carrying out these daily duties and running the [Polish Women’s Strike] Foundation practically alone with my partner and co-founder.” She has the contacts, the Strike’s history and the narrative at her fingertips. And she has kind of gotten people used to the idea that she takes care of everything herself. She has a tendency to take on too much, but she is working on this, learning to delegate tasks, to involve other people in her work and to distribute responsibilities. She knows she has to, because this social movement is expanding and developing at great pace and needs more and more people to support it. The central helpdesk team needs to grow with it.   An Influential Woman Of The Year Marta was awarded this title by Forbes Magazine in 2020. She was also voted Superheroine of 2020 by High Heels, a weekly magazine connected with Gazeta Wyborcza. When she’s on top form, Marta is fearless, relentless, focused, deadly logical and unflappable. She writes brilliantly and performs even better live. She gets to the point, speaks simply, clearly and lucidly, and knows how to reach out to anyone. At the same time, she is able to appeal to people’s emotions and get the crowd behind her. She is known for not throwing words to the wind and for being able to condense the message into a single word, as with the famous “F*©µ off!” She describes herself as “selectively high functioning”. She gives her best when she needs to give her best. She rises to the occasion. But after she gets to the peak of what she can do, a dip in form and a slump inevitably follow. Or, as in the last few months, a real crisis and depression.

YVYC illustration young people advocating
story

| 13 October 2022

"It would make a real difference if we could be open with health professionals about what really concerns us."

We spoke to young people from the Western Balkans about how their access to sexual and reproductive health and rights was affected by the COVID pandemic, and asked them about their vision for re-designing a more youth-friendly future in which young people can flourish.  Alex is a 19-year-old LGBTIQ girl, studying at university in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. As a peer educator, she supports other young people to learn and develop crucial life skills relating to their sexual and reproductive health.   Alex, describe your experience of access to SRHR* education, information and care before and during COVID.  My access to sexual and reproductive healthcare before COVID was relatively normal, for example a gynaecologist visit, but during the pandemic, it was rather harder to go because I had to present a negative COVID test to be examined. At some point, in-person consultations with doctors were extremely limited, unless it was with reference to COVID or life-threatening - so regular check-ups were not really happening. I didn’t receive any adequate sexuality education either before or during the pandemic. The only time sexual health was discussed in my 12 years of schooling was back in elementary school and it only included only a talk with the girls on menstrual pads and periods. I believe online information became more accessible because of COVID. As a result of the limited consultations with professionals, more people sought answers on the Internet. Of course, we must keep in mind that information has to be checked carefully. Also, reliable information in Bulgarian is very limited.   Did anything change for the better during the pandemic in terms of access to SRHR? I suppose more information regarding SRHR became available online because of the huge demand. A good thing is that the information is still relevant today even though COVID is no longer an urgent crisis. Personally, I got into the habit of looking for answers myself and checking if the source was reliable or not. Other than that, I would not say that COVID had any positives.   What was the biggest challenge to young people’s SRHR during the pandemic? How could decision-makers/medical professionals have removed this obstacle?   One of the biggest problems was the misleading and unreliable sources of information about sexual and reproductive health. In addition, adequate information is mostly in English. I believe a fact-checking system to verify all factual information could be helpful in preventing the spread of misinformation. I faced that problem when I and other 3 friends conducted a few educational workshops on the topic of comprehensive sexuality education. While putting together the information we needed, we came across numerous invalid data and false statements.   What lessons should governments and professionals who work with youth learn from the pandemic about how to look after young people’s health and wellbeing in a crisis?   From what I have seen, many adults do not seem to understand the burden this crisis has had on us and therefore neglect our mental health. Affordable and regular psychologist appointments should be a priority. There is this stigma around mental health that you seek help only if you are “not normal”. That is completely false and puts our generation under pressure and makes us not take proper care of our well-being (which often includes going to a psychologist). Also, many of the professionals (both teachers and medical practitioners) were sharing their personal and controversial opinion on the pandemic and vaccinations which has to be limited. A personal experience I had was when I went to get vaccinated and my GP would not allow me to, saying that it was unnecessary and even “dangerous”.   What is your number 1 recommendation on what is needed to make services more youth-friendly? What difference would this make in the life of a young person like you? More young and inclusive professionals working in the sphere are needed. For example, many of my female peers insist that female gynecologists examine them. LGBT+ inclusivity is also important, as currently many of us cannot share a key part of our life neither with a gynecologist nor a psychologist. The difference would be that we will be more open and share what really concerns us so we can seek adequate help. It is much easier to talk to someone close to your age or background.   What helped you to become engaged as an activist? How has this experience been so far? The idea that I can do something about the desperate need for a change and make my voice heard was what helped me get involved. So far, I mostly enjoy working with other young people and seeing them as determined and hopeful as I am. Every new idea has been welcomed with enthusiasm and encouragement by many of my peers, which makes it clear that youngsters are looking forward to a change and improvement. However, as I mentioned, we held several workshops about comprehensive sexuality education and we faced many obstacles. The project was very scarcely funded, which made it very hard to implement properly and exactly how we have envisioned it. Also, finding people to attend the workshops was fairly hard as well and we could not get any support from our teachers and school staff. They did not welcome the idea because the topics of sexual health and LGBT+ inclusivity are still taboo in our society - so they were scared of how the parents would react. On the other hand, the people that came to the workshops had very encouraging feedback and even a demand for more similar events. * SRHR = sexual and reproductive health and rights Interview conducted by Viktoria Nikolova, a member of the regional youth group of the IPPF EN project Youth Voices, Youth Choices, funded by MSD for Mothers

YVYC illustration young people advocating
story

| 25 October 2022

"It would make a real difference if we could be open with health professionals about what really concerns us."

We spoke to young people from the Western Balkans about how their access to sexual and reproductive health and rights was affected by the COVID pandemic, and asked them about their vision for re-designing a more youth-friendly future in which young people can flourish.  Alex is a 19-year-old LGBTIQ girl, studying at university in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. As a peer educator, she supports other young people to learn and develop crucial life skills relating to their sexual and reproductive health.   Alex, describe your experience of access to SRHR* education, information and care before and during COVID.  My access to sexual and reproductive healthcare before COVID was relatively normal, for example a gynaecologist visit, but during the pandemic, it was rather harder to go because I had to present a negative COVID test to be examined. At some point, in-person consultations with doctors were extremely limited, unless it was with reference to COVID or life-threatening - so regular check-ups were not really happening. I didn’t receive any adequate sexuality education either before or during the pandemic. The only time sexual health was discussed in my 12 years of schooling was back in elementary school and it only included only a talk with the girls on menstrual pads and periods. I believe online information became more accessible because of COVID. As a result of the limited consultations with professionals, more people sought answers on the Internet. Of course, we must keep in mind that information has to be checked carefully. Also, reliable information in Bulgarian is very limited.   Did anything change for the better during the pandemic in terms of access to SRHR? I suppose more information regarding SRHR became available online because of the huge demand. A good thing is that the information is still relevant today even though COVID is no longer an urgent crisis. Personally, I got into the habit of looking for answers myself and checking if the source was reliable or not. Other than that, I would not say that COVID had any positives.   What was the biggest challenge to young people’s SRHR during the pandemic? How could decision-makers/medical professionals have removed this obstacle?   One of the biggest problems was the misleading and unreliable sources of information about sexual and reproductive health. In addition, adequate information is mostly in English. I believe a fact-checking system to verify all factual information could be helpful in preventing the spread of misinformation. I faced that problem when I and other 3 friends conducted a few educational workshops on the topic of comprehensive sexuality education. While putting together the information we needed, we came across numerous invalid data and false statements.   What lessons should governments and professionals who work with youth learn from the pandemic about how to look after young people’s health and wellbeing in a crisis?   From what I have seen, many adults do not seem to understand the burden this crisis has had on us and therefore neglect our mental health. Affordable and regular psychologist appointments should be a priority. There is this stigma around mental health that you seek help only if you are “not normal”. That is completely false and puts our generation under pressure and makes us not take proper care of our well-being (which often includes going to a psychologist). Also, many of the professionals (both teachers and medical practitioners) were sharing their personal and controversial opinion on the pandemic and vaccinations which has to be limited. A personal experience I had was when I went to get vaccinated and my GP would not allow me to, saying that it was unnecessary and even “dangerous”.   What is your number 1 recommendation on what is needed to make services more youth-friendly? What difference would this make in the life of a young person like you? More young and inclusive professionals working in the sphere are needed. For example, many of my female peers insist that female gynecologists examine them. LGBT+ inclusivity is also important, as currently many of us cannot share a key part of our life neither with a gynecologist nor a psychologist. The difference would be that we will be more open and share what really concerns us so we can seek adequate help. It is much easier to talk to someone close to your age or background.   What helped you to become engaged as an activist? How has this experience been so far? The idea that I can do something about the desperate need for a change and make my voice heard was what helped me get involved. So far, I mostly enjoy working with other young people and seeing them as determined and hopeful as I am. Every new idea has been welcomed with enthusiasm and encouragement by many of my peers, which makes it clear that youngsters are looking forward to a change and improvement. However, as I mentioned, we held several workshops about comprehensive sexuality education and we faced many obstacles. The project was very scarcely funded, which made it very hard to implement properly and exactly how we have envisioned it. Also, finding people to attend the workshops was fairly hard as well and we could not get any support from our teachers and school staff. They did not welcome the idea because the topics of sexual health and LGBT+ inclusivity are still taboo in our society - so they were scared of how the parents would react. On the other hand, the people that came to the workshops had very encouraging feedback and even a demand for more similar events. * SRHR = sexual and reproductive health and rights Interview conducted by Viktoria Nikolova, a member of the regional youth group of the IPPF EN project Youth Voices, Youth Choices, funded by MSD for Mothers

YVYC illustration of young people
story

| 12 October 2022

"Governments & health professionals need to give young people more opportunities."

We spoke to young people from the Western Balkans about how their access to sexual and reproductive health and rights was affected by the COVID pandemic, and asked them about their vision for re-designing a more youth-friendly future in which young people can flourish.  Greis Osmani is a 23-year-old from Tirana, Albania. She is a medical student, peer educator and activist for young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.   Greis, describe your experience of access to SRHR* education, information and care before and during COVID.  Before the pandemic, I used to take part in a lot of workshops, projects and volunteer work in national NGOs. As a volunteer, especially with the Albanian Center for Population and Development (ACPD), I was trained in subjects like abortion stigma, gender equality and rights, contraceptive methods and sexuality education. I was well informed about other topics such as HIV/AIDS. The first year of the pandemic, the focus of the government and NGOs etc shifted more towards COVID and general health issues, not related to SRHR. Step by step, young people and the general public started getting used to online platforms, which gave us other opportunities to hold trainings online and carry on sharing safe information with other youth.   Did anything change for the better during the pandemic in terms of access to SRHR? I believe it had pros and cons. First, we had to learn how to properly use new digital platforms and tools such as Zoom, Google Classroom and Meet, and add more interesting activities such as Murals and Quizzes. This made our online experience much more fun, aside from basic informative meetings, and we continue to use these platforms. Online platforms enable us to create a broader network of young people from different countries who connect more quickly, and for free, to share personal experiences as SRHR activists and empower one another. We are still learning and developing digital communication skills. We hope the moment will come when all young people feel comfortable using online tools, without facing a single barrier.   What was the biggest challenge for SRHR during the pandemic? One of the biggest challenges I personally faced was the inability to express myself freely online and completely share personal experiences. Face-to-face meetings connect young people more with one another. One feels freer to talk with peers in person rather than share with those you may never meet in real life. It’s hard to break the ice in digital meetings that make people feel uncomfortable speaking directly and opening up. Also, it is very important that, as educators, the things we share in theory with other peers come to life in practical ways. For example, online we can’t distribute free condoms, and it’s harder to teach young people how to use them correctly.   What lessons should governments and professionals who work with youth learn from the pandemic about how to look after young people’s health and wellbeing in a crisis?   They need to understand the realities of young people’s access to SRHR, the gaps we face, our needs etc. They need to carry out more surveys to see how young people are coping with all the changes since the pandemic. They need to give us youngsters more opportunities to raise our voices, to engage in activities, to work as volunteers, to give us more hope for our future. It’s extremely hard for a teenager to stay at home distancing him/herself from everyday life and joy. COVID-19 was devastating for young people and had a big impact on their perspectives on life and desire to do more. Mental health was affected. Young people need to be able to maintain a healthy life, to experience happiness, and to invest in their future to become good doctors, lawyers, engineers and so on, to build a better lifestyle. Social connections and communication are key to mental health - that’s why creating safe platforms with adequate and necessary information for young people’s needs is crucial for their well-being.   What is your number 1 recommendation on what is needed to make services more youth-friendly?  For services to be youth-friendly, it is crucial to build trust between young people and health professionals. Youth-friendly services are included in our primary health care package and are provided by other private institutions and NGOs such as ACPD through its own clinics. However, trust and communication need to be built. The role of health mediators is also very important, especially if they are young themselves. This facilitates communication with youth as it is easier to share with someone your age; you feel more understood and can open up when the service is presented in a friendly way. It’s also important to create positive environments where young people can engage with each other, for example reading or studying in groups to make it less hard for them to express their true selves. It makes a big difference when a young person finds a reliable service, and seeks help when they are feeling lost. So social workers and innovative communication methods in my opinion are the key.   Tell us about your experience as an activist for young people's health and rights! My experience has been great. It started in high school taking part in a social experiment and then I got more interested in topics like human rights, comprehensive sexuality education and SRH. I have learned so much from people I met during my activism years, I feel like my public speaking skills have gotten better with time. I have found subjects like SRHR which I feel are close to me because I’m about to become a doctor next year and my contribution started long ago in young people’s health. I’m constantly inspired by different projects to keep doing what I am doing now and create a stronger and empowered future for next generations here in my country Albania and beyond. I am happy that I have found role models in this journey of mine, I have heard speeches that are quotes for me to live by. I am grateful that there have been individuals that have pushed me to do better and engage more. I’m looking forward to the next chapters... * SRHR = sexual and reproductive health and rights Interview conducted by Marjo Rabiaj, a member of the regional youth group of the IPPF EN project Youth Voices, Youth Choices, funded by MSD for Mothers  

YVYC illustration of young people
story

| 25 October 2022

"Governments & health professionals need to give young people more opportunities."

We spoke to young people from the Western Balkans about how their access to sexual and reproductive health and rights was affected by the COVID pandemic, and asked them about their vision for re-designing a more youth-friendly future in which young people can flourish.  Greis Osmani is a 23-year-old from Tirana, Albania. She is a medical student, peer educator and activist for young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.   Greis, describe your experience of access to SRHR* education, information and care before and during COVID.  Before the pandemic, I used to take part in a lot of workshops, projects and volunteer work in national NGOs. As a volunteer, especially with the Albanian Center for Population and Development (ACPD), I was trained in subjects like abortion stigma, gender equality and rights, contraceptive methods and sexuality education. I was well informed about other topics such as HIV/AIDS. The first year of the pandemic, the focus of the government and NGOs etc shifted more towards COVID and general health issues, not related to SRHR. Step by step, young people and the general public started getting used to online platforms, which gave us other opportunities to hold trainings online and carry on sharing safe information with other youth.   Did anything change for the better during the pandemic in terms of access to SRHR? I believe it had pros and cons. First, we had to learn how to properly use new digital platforms and tools such as Zoom, Google Classroom and Meet, and add more interesting activities such as Murals and Quizzes. This made our online experience much more fun, aside from basic informative meetings, and we continue to use these platforms. Online platforms enable us to create a broader network of young people from different countries who connect more quickly, and for free, to share personal experiences as SRHR activists and empower one another. We are still learning and developing digital communication skills. We hope the moment will come when all young people feel comfortable using online tools, without facing a single barrier.   What was the biggest challenge for SRHR during the pandemic? One of the biggest challenges I personally faced was the inability to express myself freely online and completely share personal experiences. Face-to-face meetings connect young people more with one another. One feels freer to talk with peers in person rather than share with those you may never meet in real life. It’s hard to break the ice in digital meetings that make people feel uncomfortable speaking directly and opening up. Also, it is very important that, as educators, the things we share in theory with other peers come to life in practical ways. For example, online we can’t distribute free condoms, and it’s harder to teach young people how to use them correctly.   What lessons should governments and professionals who work with youth learn from the pandemic about how to look after young people’s health and wellbeing in a crisis?   They need to understand the realities of young people’s access to SRHR, the gaps we face, our needs etc. They need to carry out more surveys to see how young people are coping with all the changes since the pandemic. They need to give us youngsters more opportunities to raise our voices, to engage in activities, to work as volunteers, to give us more hope for our future. It’s extremely hard for a teenager to stay at home distancing him/herself from everyday life and joy. COVID-19 was devastating for young people and had a big impact on their perspectives on life and desire to do more. Mental health was affected. Young people need to be able to maintain a healthy life, to experience happiness, and to invest in their future to become good doctors, lawyers, engineers and so on, to build a better lifestyle. Social connections and communication are key to mental health - that’s why creating safe platforms with adequate and necessary information for young people’s needs is crucial for their well-being.   What is your number 1 recommendation on what is needed to make services more youth-friendly?  For services to be youth-friendly, it is crucial to build trust between young people and health professionals. Youth-friendly services are included in our primary health care package and are provided by other private institutions and NGOs such as ACPD through its own clinics. However, trust and communication need to be built. The role of health mediators is also very important, especially if they are young themselves. This facilitates communication with youth as it is easier to share with someone your age; you feel more understood and can open up when the service is presented in a friendly way. It’s also important to create positive environments where young people can engage with each other, for example reading or studying in groups to make it less hard for them to express their true selves. It makes a big difference when a young person finds a reliable service, and seeks help when they are feeling lost. So social workers and innovative communication methods in my opinion are the key.   Tell us about your experience as an activist for young people's health and rights! My experience has been great. It started in high school taking part in a social experiment and then I got more interested in topics like human rights, comprehensive sexuality education and SRH. I have learned so much from people I met during my activism years, I feel like my public speaking skills have gotten better with time. I have found subjects like SRHR which I feel are close to me because I’m about to become a doctor next year and my contribution started long ago in young people’s health. I’m constantly inspired by different projects to keep doing what I am doing now and create a stronger and empowered future for next generations here in my country Albania and beyond. I am happy that I have found role models in this journey of mine, I have heard speeches that are quotes for me to live by. I am grateful that there have been individuals that have pushed me to do better and engage more. I’m looking forward to the next chapters... * SRHR = sexual and reproductive health and rights Interview conducted by Marjo Rabiaj, a member of the regional youth group of the IPPF EN project Youth Voices, Youth Choices, funded by MSD for Mothers  

abortion care IPPF EN
story

| 22 September 2022

San Marino legalizes abortion care overturning a century-old law: interview with women’s rights advocate

San Marino recently legalised abortion care, one year after the landmark referendum. In 2021, 77% of citizens voted overwhelmingly to overturn the 150-year-old law to make abortion legal in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion care is also available after the 12 weeks mark if serious foetal anomalies put a woman’s life or health -- physically or psychologically -- at risk. The cost of the procedure will be covered by San Marino’s public health system. Previously, women living in San Marino, were forced to travel to Italy or somewhere else to access the care they needed. We sat down with Karen Pruccoli, activist and President of the Union of San Marino Women to discuss the changes in the microstate. Karen is an entrepreneur and advocate for civil rights and women’s rights. How does it feel to have legal abortion in San Marino after 150 years of criminalisation? It feels great – incredible that we have this law. We are celebrating this long journey to get this law, but also we are also feeling sad we have this law only after so many years of trying to convince our politicians that San Marino’s citizens deserve to have this kind of law. Italy had its abortion law from 1978, so we were very behind. I am satisfied and happy, but unfortunately it arrived after too many years. What was the combination of factors that led to a win on abortion rights in San Marino despite having such a strict past on the issue? The main factor why we have this law is Unione Donne Sammarinesi – Union of San Marino Women - which was re-vitalised in 2019, but originally dates from the early 70s and started as a movement for women’s rights. The Union was revived in 2019 and geared its efforts towards trying to convince politicians that a new law on abortion was necessary. Once we realised it was difficult to gain political support, we courageously decided to ask for a referendum. It would have been nearly impossible to get legal abortion in place with the current makeup of the parliament, having a conservative majority, against reproductive freedom. If we were waiting for the parliament to be more progressive and pro-women’s rights, it would have taken another 20 years. So I think the main reason why we have this law is because of the Union which fights for women rights, civil rights, and human rights in the Republic of San Marino. What are your thoughts on the new abortion law in San Marino? We are very happy with the quality of this law, but it was a difficult journey. We met with conservative parties and groups against abortion to discuss how the new law would look like. They initially wanted to propose a law that was much more conservative and stricter. We were very worried at this stage. Those involved in the drafting of the San Marino law on abortion even considered implementing conditions similar to those in Hungary - where women are now forced to listen to the embryonic cardiac activity before being able to access care. It was indeed difficult to push for a modern law, a progressive law that would respect women’s freedom of choice and place it at the centre of the legislation. However, Unione Donne Sammarinesi did not give up and advocated daily on social media, in the press, and by reaching out to communities and the country at large.  The resulting law is in line with the decision of the referendum – where 77% voted YES to ‘women being able to make reproductive choices in their lives’. To a certain extent the current San Marino law is better than the Italian one. In San Marino, we have family planning centres where women, men and young people can receive unbiased sexual and reproductive care. We also tried to mitigate the risk of medical professionals denying care based on personal beliefs, a huge problem in Italy. In San Marino, in the event doctors are not willing to provide abortion care, the state is obliged to find doctors who will, even if they need to bring them from aboard. What are the next steps for your advocacy work? Next, we will be working on combatting violence against women and domestic violence. An expert group on the topic from the Council of Europe visited San Marino and produced a report on how the Istanbul Convention (on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence) was implemented in the country. We had a lot of issues and are currently working on amending these. What is your opinion on deciding rights through popular vote?   We had two referendums on human rights: one asking to include the protection of sexual orientation in our human rights charter and one on abortion. This first referendum was in 2019 and 72% were in favour of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation. And we know the result on the referendum on abortion. But, I think it is dangerous to have a referendum on human rights especially in Italy as it is a Catholic state, with strong conservative parties. We had no statistics that could could help us understand if people in San Marino were ready to legalize abortion. At that point we were asking for legal abortion for the past 20 years and we saw no other solution than to put it in the hands of the people. We followed closely what happened in countries like Gibraltar and Ireland and took inspiration from their successes. So, we decided to take the risk and go for the referendum. But, as far as I am concerned, a referendum on human rights or civil rights is risky.   What is your message to those still fighting for their reproductive freedom? Never give up! I think it is important to have at least one big and strong organisation of women’s rights activists that include women, men and young people. It’s also important to create a conversation, provide information and keep the attention on the topic. For so many years in San Marino, abortion was not discussed. Same as topics like domestic violence and medical assisted suicide (euthanasia). Even today, misleading information on abortion exists out there, so we need to be a strong organised group that is able to share accurate information and create a space for conversation.   Illustration: Ipsita Divedi for IPPF EN x Fine Acts

abortion care IPPF EN
story

| 28 September 2022

San Marino legalizes abortion care overturning a century-old law: interview with women’s rights advocate

San Marino recently legalised abortion care, one year after the landmark referendum. In 2021, 77% of citizens voted overwhelmingly to overturn the 150-year-old law to make abortion legal in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion care is also available after the 12 weeks mark if serious foetal anomalies put a woman’s life or health -- physically or psychologically -- at risk. The cost of the procedure will be covered by San Marino’s public health system. Previously, women living in San Marino, were forced to travel to Italy or somewhere else to access the care they needed. We sat down with Karen Pruccoli, activist and President of the Union of San Marino Women to discuss the changes in the microstate. Karen is an entrepreneur and advocate for civil rights and women’s rights. How does it feel to have legal abortion in San Marino after 150 years of criminalisation? It feels great – incredible that we have this law. We are celebrating this long journey to get this law, but also we are also feeling sad we have this law only after so many years of trying to convince our politicians that San Marino’s citizens deserve to have this kind of law. Italy had its abortion law from 1978, so we were very behind. I am satisfied and happy, but unfortunately it arrived after too many years. What was the combination of factors that led to a win on abortion rights in San Marino despite having such a strict past on the issue? The main factor why we have this law is Unione Donne Sammarinesi – Union of San Marino Women - which was re-vitalised in 2019, but originally dates from the early 70s and started as a movement for women’s rights. The Union was revived in 2019 and geared its efforts towards trying to convince politicians that a new law on abortion was necessary. Once we realised it was difficult to gain political support, we courageously decided to ask for a referendum. It would have been nearly impossible to get legal abortion in place with the current makeup of the parliament, having a conservative majority, against reproductive freedom. If we were waiting for the parliament to be more progressive and pro-women’s rights, it would have taken another 20 years. So I think the main reason why we have this law is because of the Union which fights for women rights, civil rights, and human rights in the Republic of San Marino. What are your thoughts on the new abortion law in San Marino? We are very happy with the quality of this law, but it was a difficult journey. We met with conservative parties and groups against abortion to discuss how the new law would look like. They initially wanted to propose a law that was much more conservative and stricter. We were very worried at this stage. Those involved in the drafting of the San Marino law on abortion even considered implementing conditions similar to those in Hungary - where women are now forced to listen to the embryonic cardiac activity before being able to access care. It was indeed difficult to push for a modern law, a progressive law that would respect women’s freedom of choice and place it at the centre of the legislation. However, Unione Donne Sammarinesi did not give up and advocated daily on social media, in the press, and by reaching out to communities and the country at large.  The resulting law is in line with the decision of the referendum – where 77% voted YES to ‘women being able to make reproductive choices in their lives’. To a certain extent the current San Marino law is better than the Italian one. In San Marino, we have family planning centres where women, men and young people can receive unbiased sexual and reproductive care. We also tried to mitigate the risk of medical professionals denying care based on personal beliefs, a huge problem in Italy. In San Marino, in the event doctors are not willing to provide abortion care, the state is obliged to find doctors who will, even if they need to bring them from aboard. What are the next steps for your advocacy work? Next, we will be working on combatting violence against women and domestic violence. An expert group on the topic from the Council of Europe visited San Marino and produced a report on how the Istanbul Convention (on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence) was implemented in the country. We had a lot of issues and are currently working on amending these. What is your opinion on deciding rights through popular vote?   We had two referendums on human rights: one asking to include the protection of sexual orientation in our human rights charter and one on abortion. This first referendum was in 2019 and 72% were in favour of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation. And we know the result on the referendum on abortion. But, I think it is dangerous to have a referendum on human rights especially in Italy as it is a Catholic state, with strong conservative parties. We had no statistics that could could help us understand if people in San Marino were ready to legalize abortion. At that point we were asking for legal abortion for the past 20 years and we saw no other solution than to put it in the hands of the people. We followed closely what happened in countries like Gibraltar and Ireland and took inspiration from their successes. So, we decided to take the risk and go for the referendum. But, as far as I am concerned, a referendum on human rights or civil rights is risky.   What is your message to those still fighting for their reproductive freedom? Never give up! I think it is important to have at least one big and strong organisation of women’s rights activists that include women, men and young people. It’s also important to create a conversation, provide information and keep the attention on the topic. For so many years in San Marino, abortion was not discussed. Same as topics like domestic violence and medical assisted suicide (euthanasia). Even today, misleading information on abortion exists out there, so we need to be a strong organised group that is able to share accurate information and create a space for conversation.   Illustration: Ipsita Divedi for IPPF EN x Fine Acts

defend the defenders
story

| 17 February 2022

Women's human rights defenders fight for sexual and reproductive freedom in Poland

Human rights defenders in Poland have been working tirelessly for years to fight the dismantling of the rule of law and human rights. They continue to do so in the face of increasing oppression, orchestrated and encouraged by the government – including intimidation, detention, and criminal charges. Many have been subjected to threats and attacks, both from state actors and far-right groups. The Polish Women’s Strike and other organisations have received bomb threats and now need to have security at their buildings. Activists are also being targeted with smear campaigns in state-owned media. The actions of the police have been insufficient to ensure their protection. These are their stories.

defend the defenders
story

| 17 February 2022

Women's human rights defenders fight for sexual and reproductive freedom in Poland

Human rights defenders in Poland have been working tirelessly for years to fight the dismantling of the rule of law and human rights. They continue to do so in the face of increasing oppression, orchestrated and encouraged by the government – including intimidation, detention, and criminal charges. Many have been subjected to threats and attacks, both from state actors and far-right groups. The Polish Women’s Strike and other organisations have received bomb threats and now need to have security at their buildings. Activists are also being targeted with smear campaigns in state-owned media. The actions of the police have been insufficient to ensure their protection. These are their stories.

Iwona Ochocka Gdańsk Pamela Palma Zapata21.jpg
story

| 17 January 2022

Iwona: Teacher With A Mission

Women’s rights defenders in Poland have faced violence from law enforcement and far-right groups, as well as smear campaigns in state-controlled media and excessive criminal charges. This harassment has been orchestrated and encouraged by the government. This is Iwona's story. For Iwona, the last six months have been the toughest of her life – emotionally, physically and financially. Iwona has been actively involved in the Women’s Strike movement – the biggest women and social justice movement revolt since the 80s – in a small town with 60,279 inhabitants – ever since Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, dominated by right-wing judges and backed by Julia Przyłębska who presides over the illegitimate Constitutional Tribunal, banned abortion on the grounds of foetal abnormality on 22 October 2020. Since then, the teacher turned activist has organised six “Walk for Freedom and Women’s Rights” protests in her home city. The first of these was held on Sunday 25 October amassing around two thousand people. Three days later, after President Kaczynski's famous "address", where he urged Neo Nazis to defend the churches from “Bad feminist abortion b**ches from hell”, about 5,000 people came to "walk" with the activist, holding a banner: "Forgive the obstruction, Tczew has a government to overthrow".   Someone Had To Light The First Match As the headmistress of a non-public school, she was previously only known within the teaching community. Iwona had yet to catch on to the growing feminist movement in Poland kickstarted by the first All-Poland Women’s Strike (Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet, OSK) in 2016 against proposed legislation to tighten abortion laws. However, two years later she was protesting to defend courts free from political influence, the rights of teachers, and the rights of LGBTQI+ people. She travelled to Poland’s Tri-City area for Manifa, an annual demonstration organized around International Women’s Day on March 8 and across Poland for Gay Pride marches. There have never been such large-scale demonstrations in Tczew before, especially anti-government ones. Iwona admits that she herself was surprised by the turnout and the response to the slogan: “I took part in the protests anonymously, without party symbols. First in a rainbow mask, then one bearing a lightning bolt. I didn’t want to appear party-affiliated. The demands were more important than the emblems. My data was later leaked by a Tczew paper, the local propaganda mouthpiece of the PiS (Law and Justice) Party.” Tczew has a population of around 53,000. During one of the protests Iwona “brought” almost 10% of the community onto the streets, much to the annoyance of a prominent and unscrupulous Member of Parliament (MP) from PiS, who is also a dangerous Catholic fundamentalist, chauvinist and homophobe. The activist and her entire family were immediately affected by the street actions.   PiS Won’t Forgive And Forget Soon after the first protests, Iwona’s husband lost his job at a state-owned company. “His qualifications relate to big industry, which at the moment either has ties to the authorities or belongs to the authorities,” says Iwona. In response, on 15 November, over 300 people took to the streets of Tczew in solidarity. Although encouraging, it did little to change the situation. He became one of the “unemployables”. In turn, a government-run campaign was unleashed against her and continues. Disciplinary proceedings against her by the Board of Education are underway. In November, she was officially charged with incitement to animal abuse. An absurd move, which was orchestrated by the same fundamentalist PiS MP,  Kazimierz Smolinski. Over several months, the teacher has been summoned to successive “hearings” at the Department of Education. She is now at risk of losing her teaching licence. This is a textbook example of the regime’s repression of rebellious citizens.

Iwona Ochocka Gdańsk Pamela Palma Zapata21.jpg
story

| 08 July 2021

Iwona: Teacher With A Mission

Women’s rights defenders in Poland have faced violence from law enforcement and far-right groups, as well as smear campaigns in state-controlled media and excessive criminal charges. This harassment has been orchestrated and encouraged by the government. This is Iwona's story. For Iwona, the last six months have been the toughest of her life – emotionally, physically and financially. Iwona has been actively involved in the Women’s Strike movement – the biggest women and social justice movement revolt since the 80s – in a small town with 60,279 inhabitants – ever since Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, dominated by right-wing judges and backed by Julia Przyłębska who presides over the illegitimate Constitutional Tribunal, banned abortion on the grounds of foetal abnormality on 22 October 2020. Since then, the teacher turned activist has organised six “Walk for Freedom and Women’s Rights” protests in her home city. The first of these was held on Sunday 25 October amassing around two thousand people. Three days later, after President Kaczynski's famous "address", where he urged Neo Nazis to defend the churches from “Bad feminist abortion b**ches from hell”, about 5,000 people came to "walk" with the activist, holding a banner: "Forgive the obstruction, Tczew has a government to overthrow".   Someone Had To Light The First Match As the headmistress of a non-public school, she was previously only known within the teaching community. Iwona had yet to catch on to the growing feminist movement in Poland kickstarted by the first All-Poland Women’s Strike (Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet, OSK) in 2016 against proposed legislation to tighten abortion laws. However, two years later she was protesting to defend courts free from political influence, the rights of teachers, and the rights of LGBTQI+ people. She travelled to Poland’s Tri-City area for Manifa, an annual demonstration organized around International Women’s Day on March 8 and across Poland for Gay Pride marches. There have never been such large-scale demonstrations in Tczew before, especially anti-government ones. Iwona admits that she herself was surprised by the turnout and the response to the slogan: “I took part in the protests anonymously, without party symbols. First in a rainbow mask, then one bearing a lightning bolt. I didn’t want to appear party-affiliated. The demands were more important than the emblems. My data was later leaked by a Tczew paper, the local propaganda mouthpiece of the PiS (Law and Justice) Party.” Tczew has a population of around 53,000. During one of the protests Iwona “brought” almost 10% of the community onto the streets, much to the annoyance of a prominent and unscrupulous Member of Parliament (MP) from PiS, who is also a dangerous Catholic fundamentalist, chauvinist and homophobe. The activist and her entire family were immediately affected by the street actions.   PiS Won’t Forgive And Forget Soon after the first protests, Iwona’s husband lost his job at a state-owned company. “His qualifications relate to big industry, which at the moment either has ties to the authorities or belongs to the authorities,” says Iwona. In response, on 15 November, over 300 people took to the streets of Tczew in solidarity. Although encouraging, it did little to change the situation. He became one of the “unemployables”. In turn, a government-run campaign was unleashed against her and continues. Disciplinary proceedings against her by the Board of Education are underway. In November, she was officially charged with incitement to animal abuse. An absurd move, which was orchestrated by the same fundamentalist PiS MP,  Kazimierz Smolinski. Over several months, the teacher has been summoned to successive “hearings” at the Department of Education. She is now at risk of losing her teaching licence. This is a textbook example of the regime’s repression of rebellious citizens.

Poland Marta Lempart
story

| 17 January 2022

Marta: The Freedom Fighter – “The Only Thing I Have Left is to Keep Running”

It is said that no one is irreplaceable. If this is true, Marta Lempart is the exception that proves the rule. For most female activists who have been in the Women’s Strike since the beginning, this is obvious. Although she herself usually says otherwise: “I am not indispensable”. But she is. Without her, this speeding train would not go on. Yes, a whole group of people contribute to the success of the Strike’s work, but Marta is the engine. She is the one who sets the tone and gives a ‘face’ to the social movement. It is thanks to her instinct and strategic sense that this crazy train has not yet derailed and landed in a ditch somewhere. Those who work most closely with her on a daily basis look after her health and well-being, because they know that the movement leader’s charisma drives activists across the country. This locomotive has to deliver, it has to keep giving. And yet it is pulling more and more carriages behind it. Because the Strike is growing, spreading endlessly to new places. There are more and more duties, tasks to be fulfilled, new challenges that appear, problems to be solved. Marta is crucial to the Strike because for a long time she carried it almost on her own shoulders. “There were times when we were carrying out these daily duties and running the [Polish Women’s Strike] Foundation practically alone with my partner and co-founder.” She has the contacts, the Strike’s history and the narrative at her fingertips. And she has kind of gotten people used to the idea that she takes care of everything herself. She has a tendency to take on too much, but she is working on this, learning to delegate tasks, to involve other people in her work and to distribute responsibilities. She knows she has to, because this social movement is expanding and developing at great pace and needs more and more people to support it. The central helpdesk team needs to grow with it.   An Influential Woman Of The Year Marta was awarded this title by Forbes Magazine in 2020. She was also voted Superheroine of 2020 by High Heels, a weekly magazine connected with Gazeta Wyborcza. When she’s on top form, Marta is fearless, relentless, focused, deadly logical and unflappable. She writes brilliantly and performs even better live. She gets to the point, speaks simply, clearly and lucidly, and knows how to reach out to anyone. At the same time, she is able to appeal to people’s emotions and get the crowd behind her. She is known for not throwing words to the wind and for being able to condense the message into a single word, as with the famous “F*©µ off!” She describes herself as “selectively high functioning”. She gives her best when she needs to give her best. She rises to the occasion. But after she gets to the peak of what she can do, a dip in form and a slump inevitably follow. Or, as in the last few months, a real crisis and depression.

Poland Marta Lempart
story

| 16 July 2021

Marta: The Freedom Fighter – “The Only Thing I Have Left is to Keep Running”

It is said that no one is irreplaceable. If this is true, Marta Lempart is the exception that proves the rule. For most female activists who have been in the Women’s Strike since the beginning, this is obvious. Although she herself usually says otherwise: “I am not indispensable”. But she is. Without her, this speeding train would not go on. Yes, a whole group of people contribute to the success of the Strike’s work, but Marta is the engine. She is the one who sets the tone and gives a ‘face’ to the social movement. It is thanks to her instinct and strategic sense that this crazy train has not yet derailed and landed in a ditch somewhere. Those who work most closely with her on a daily basis look after her health and well-being, because they know that the movement leader’s charisma drives activists across the country. This locomotive has to deliver, it has to keep giving. And yet it is pulling more and more carriages behind it. Because the Strike is growing, spreading endlessly to new places. There are more and more duties, tasks to be fulfilled, new challenges that appear, problems to be solved. Marta is crucial to the Strike because for a long time she carried it almost on her own shoulders. “There were times when we were carrying out these daily duties and running the [Polish Women’s Strike] Foundation practically alone with my partner and co-founder.” She has the contacts, the Strike’s history and the narrative at her fingertips. And she has kind of gotten people used to the idea that she takes care of everything herself. She has a tendency to take on too much, but she is working on this, learning to delegate tasks, to involve other people in her work and to distribute responsibilities. She knows she has to, because this social movement is expanding and developing at great pace and needs more and more people to support it. The central helpdesk team needs to grow with it.   An Influential Woman Of The Year Marta was awarded this title by Forbes Magazine in 2020. She was also voted Superheroine of 2020 by High Heels, a weekly magazine connected with Gazeta Wyborcza. When she’s on top form, Marta is fearless, relentless, focused, deadly logical and unflappable. She writes brilliantly and performs even better live. She gets to the point, speaks simply, clearly and lucidly, and knows how to reach out to anyone. At the same time, she is able to appeal to people’s emotions and get the crowd behind her. She is known for not throwing words to the wind and for being able to condense the message into a single word, as with the famous “F*©µ off!” She describes herself as “selectively high functioning”. She gives her best when she needs to give her best. She rises to the occasion. But after she gets to the peak of what she can do, a dip in form and a slump inevitably follow. Or, as in the last few months, a real crisis and depression.