Making abortion illegal again…

Are Poland’s already restrictive abortion laws about to get stricter? 

Poland is already home to some of the strictest abortion legislation in Europe. 

According to Amnesty International, as it currently stands legal  abortion is conditional on one of three factors: the foetus was conceived through rape or incest, the mother’s life is in danger or there is severe or fatal foetal impairment. 

Even in cases where abortion is legal, there are many societal barriers that women must overcome in order to access treatment. The “conscience clause” for example, permits medical professionals to refuse care based on their own personal or religious beliefs. Furthermore, the sex education provided in Polish schools is far from the international standard, perpetuating damaging gender norms and stereotypes, anti-lgbtq+ and anti-rights narratives. 

Plans under the “Stop Abortion” Bill first surfaced in March 2018 and then again in October 2019, and were both met with mass protests. The bill seeks to eliminate one of the existing provisions, making abortion illegal even in the case of severe or fatal foetal impairment. 

Human Rights Watch have stated that the Bill was “drafted and backed by right-wing groups, including the conservative, anti-abortion, and anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Ordo Iuris Institute for Legal Culture”. 

But the attempts to further restrict abortion rights in Poland didn’t begin with the 2018 Stop Aboriton Bill. In 2016 protests that became known as the Czarny Protests (Black Protests) and Strajk Kobiet (Women’s Strike) successfully led to the rejection of a bill that proposed a complete ban on abortions throughout Poland. 

As a member of the European Union, one would hope that the women of Poland would have their human rights protected, but when it comes to abortion rights there are very few international protections. Poland is one of 6 European countries with highly restrictive abortion laws, alongside Andorra, Malta and San Marino where there is a complete ban on abortion, and Leichtenstien and Monaco, whose laws are similar to that of Poland. 

I’ve said it before and I will say it again, making abortion illegal does not stop abortions from happening, it simply endangers and criminalizes innocent women who wish to exercise freedom over their own bodies.

Violence against Women: Nigeria #JusticeForUwa

On 27th May 2020, a 22 year old student named Vera Uwaila Omozuwa was raped and murdered as she studied in a church in Edo state, Nigeria. A microbiology student at the University of Benin, Miss Uwalia Omozuwa’s story is unfortunately a familiar one. Estimates suggest that as many as 2 million Nigerian girls and women are subject to sexual assault or rape every year. 

There has been nationwide outcry for justice following the death of Miss Uwalia Omozuwa, with the hashtag #JusticeForUwa trending in Nigeria. The church in which the attack took place, have condemned the action and joined the call for urgent investigation by the police. 

In the past 5 year considerable action has been taken to try and improve the state of violence against women in the country, with the Violence Against Persons (Prohibitions) Act 2015 (VAP)  taking the first steps to radically update policy to protect women and girls. The act clearly prohibits ands sets out punitive action to be taken against rape with an offender liable to imprisonment for life. The act further criminalises other violent acts against women such as female genital mutilation (FGM), “harmful widowhood practices” and traditions as well as other “harmful traditional practices”. 

Whilst the VAP Act was a necessary and significant step in the right direction it applied only to Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and 9 of the country’s 36 states which have signed and ratified the Act. Unlike many of the injustices in the world, the Nigerian media frequently reports on the regular occurrence and lack of prosecution for violence against women, and yet nothing seems to be changing. Human Rights Watch suggest that although vast numbers of women are assaulted every day, very few report their experiences due to “the stigma associated with being a rape survivor, fear of reprisals, and distrust of the authorities.” In 2017 the National Bureau for Statistics released figures stating that only 2,279 reports of rape and indecent assault had been recorded by police. This grossly inaccurate account is testament to the culture of silence that is preventing the women of Nigeria from seeking justice. 

Corruption within police authorities furthers the difficulties with reporting and prosecuting these violent crimes. Often when reporting a crime it is expected that the victim will provide the police force with a monetary contribution, rendering those living in poverty with virtually no human rights protected by the legal system. Furthermore, beliefs that see domestic and personal crimes as the private matters of a family result in some police suggesting that reports of domestic abuse and violence should be dealt with by the household, not the authorities. 

What is really needed for substantial change is a shift within societal thought and perceptions. An article published on the Institute of Current World Affairs stated that “in a country where 35 percent of women and 25 percent of men ‘agree that a husband is justified in beating his wife if she burns the food, argues with him, goes out without telling him, neglects the children, or refuses to have sex with him,’…society’s attitudes and behaviour must change”. 

Society doesn’t change overnight, but society does change. It is so important that we do everything in our power to ensure that society changes to the benefit of the oppressed. Sitting here writing as white woman living in a comfortable middle class home, I am not best placed to recommend the way these changes come about. But as a woman riddled with white privilege I have a duty to raise awareness of such injustice, and do my best to start a conversation. After all, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” – Audre Lorde.