Protests against the adoption of the abortion law outside the parliament building in Skopje in the beginning of June. The sign reads "My body, my decision". Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Emilija Dimoska.
Despite strong protests from civil society organisations and the political opposition, June 17th Macedonian President Gjorgje Ivanov signed a decree for restrictions of abortions. Still, activists have not given up hope of overturning the decision.
The draft law was pushed through in a rushed procedure and many NGOs claim that the whole process has been a clear evidence of the lack of democratic capacities among Macedonian institutions. We talked to Bojan Jovanovski, Executive Director of H.E.R.A, Health Education and Research Association, which has been one of the most active NGOs organising actions against the abortion law.
What were the reactions on the draft law from the women’s movement and civil society organisations?
”Many women’s and human rights organisations were active in trying to stop the adoption of this law. In just one day, 72 organisations signed a request to the Minister of Health and members of parliament not to vote for the law and to ensure a transparent and consultative process in writing a new one, involving interested parties like gynecologists and civil society organisations (CSOs). At the parliamentary public hearing, organised by the Health Commission, CSOs were also very active, putting forward the same request.”
Are you planning any new actions to protest against the law?
”H.E.R.A sent a letter to the President asking him not to sign the law, using many arguments. We have also had a meeting with collaborators of the President, to thoroughly explain why the law is harmful from a human rights perspective. Now, CSOs are looking into the possibilities to send a submission to the Constitutional Court to dispute the law. Most probably there will be a working group established to coordinate this work.
We are also planning on doing more international advocacy. All parliamentary groups on sexual and reproductive health and rights in the European Parliament sent a letter to the President not to sign the law and we will look into how these groups perhaps can influence our decision makers further on. The Center for Reproductive Rights will also provide support in terms of human rights analysis of the new legislation and especially in relation to all international obligations that our country has ratified.”
What do you think will be the consequences of the law? Do critics see this as a first step to criminalize abortion?
“The law will definitely obstruct women’s access to legal abortion services as they will have to go through a lot of bureaucratic procedures, which are non-scientific and not in line with international human rights treaties. There is off course also the possibility that the number of non-safe abortions will increase and that could be lethal for women. We have seen this conservative government trying to introduce many pro-natal politics that stigmatizes and delegitimize women’s rights and it will not stop here.”
More on the contents of the Macedonian abortion law.
Emilija Dimoska/Malin Ekerstedt
Last Tuesday, Lithuania took its first step towards forbiding abortion. At the same time the government of Macedonia put forward a draft law to the parliament with the purpose of restricting the abortion right. Women’s rights organisations are now mobilizing to stop the proposal.
The draft law was put forward without any heads-up and is being pushed through in a speedy procedure, making it difficult to have a public debate about it. If the law is adopted, women will have to write to a committée appointed by the Minister of Health, to get approval to have an abortion. The father will have to be informed ahead of the procedure and the woman will not be allowed to have another abortion within the same year.
Campaigning for more children
At the same time, the Macedonian government is campaining for families to have more children, trying to persuade them by using financial benifits as incentive. The Orthodox church recently made a public statement accusing women who want to work to cause divorce. In the eyes of the church, women should stay at home and take care of reproduction and family.
“The draft law is very worrying. It limits women’s right to decide over their own bodies. If the law is adopted there will be an increase in the number of illegal abortions, which means great risks for women’s health” says Emilija Dimoska, working for the Swedish women’s rights and peace organisation The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation in Skopje, Macedonia.
Demonstration outside parliament
Last Wednesday, around 100 people demonstrated outside the parliament against the law. Among them were women’s rights activists that The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation supports and cooperates with. Due to the swift and forceful mobilization of civil society, NGOs have managed to get a meeting with the ministry next Wednesday, to discuss the draft law.
The right to legal abortions is constantly being questioned. This past year there have been states who have put ”traditional values” high on their agenda. After an initiative from Russia, the UN Human Rights Council last autumn adopted a resolution putting traditional values in the center of the work for human rights. Among other things, the resolution highlights the role of the family and traditional values’ importance for humanity. Human rights organisations fear that this will have negative consequences on the work for women’s and LBGT persons’ human rights.
Annika Flensburg/Malin Ekerstedt
Yesterday was election day in Macedonia. The picture shows Macedonian activists in the global manifestation One Billion Rising 2013. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna |Johanna Arkåsen
In the run-up to yesterday’s local elections in Macedonia, violence and political tension have increased. And women who involves politically meet tough resistance. “It’s a male dominated political culture” says Emilija Dimoska, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s program officer.
Macedonia is characterized by political tensions between the two largest groups in the country, ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians. The two groups are largely segregated – they live in different neighborhoods, go to different schools and have different curricula. Since 2011 tensions have increased, with several outbreaks of violence, to an extent that the country has not seen since 2001 when armed ethnic conflict rose between the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (NLA) and security forces in Macedonia.
Since 1999, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation has an office in Macedonia, in the capital Skopje. Program officer Emilija Dimoska gives an explanation to the current turmoil.
“The situation erupted over the controversial appointment of former ethnic Albanian rebel commander Talat Xhaferi as Macedonia’s new defense minister. The demonstrations, which begun on March 1, were started by ethnic Macedonians furious at the appointment of the new defense minister,” Emilija Dimoska says.
Several women’s organisations in Macedonia are informing women about the importance of voting and getting involved politically. They have also built a partnership with politically active women, to support them. Furthermore, they assist policy makers with information about how the situation for women in the country.
Before the election, the organisation Women’s Center Kumanovo – run by twelve women’s organisations of various ethnic affiliations – has worked with lobbying to get more women interested in politics. Representatives of Women’s Center Kumanovo say that parts of the Macedonian population will abstain from taking part in the elections due to the bad economic situation, the high unemployment rate, low pensions and increased living expenses. They describes the social situation in Macedonia as disastrous.
“There is a democratic political crisis in the country, which is of course negative, and the issue is that voters can decide only between two political parties. Moreover, political issues need to be addressed within the Parliament, and not out of it.”
What are the main obstacles for women who want to engage politically?
“Women are slowly winning the requested percentage on the candidates’ lists; however it is necessary to work on improvement of their representation in the executive bodies of the party where there are fewer women, both at local and national level.”
To get more women to vote and engage in politics, Women’s Center Kumanovo try to strengthen women and increase their presence in public. They also try to increase their debating and argumentation skills.
What do you think about the election? What are your hopes and fears?
“In our view, the 2013 Elections are essential for the public and the international community’s perspective about Macedonia’s EU accession. We hope the campaign will be fair and democratic and that the will of the people will win. Our fear is related to the different irregularities that might occur in certain areas of Macedonia,” representatives of Women’s Center Kumanovo say.
Emilija Dimoska explains that there are several obstacles for women’s participation in the elections, such as the existing gender stereotypes both in the society and among political parties’ structures.
“It’s a male dominated political culture including the lack of support of the political parties for women candidates, which is also evident during the pre-election campaign in which a very little space is given to the female candidates; and the lack of support to women by the public in general,” she says.
How engaged are women in general in the election?
“From the most recent list presented, the number of candidates running for mayors throughout Macedonia is 286 candidates total, out of which 28, or 10 percent, are women. At the moment, there are no female mayors in Macedonia. In addition, with very few exceptions, women in general have not been much visible during the pre-election campaign in Macedonia,” Emilija Dimoska says.
How are the women’s organisations working to make women more active in politics and vote?
“Women’s NGOs around the country implement activities promoting gender equality, including the importance of participation of women in politics that is crucial for building a democratic society.”