A message from IPPF European Network

By Eef Wuyts – Director of International and European Affairs, Covid-19 Taskforce Member

Dear Friends,

As Europe has become the second epicentre of the pandemic, COVID-19 is increasingly endangering the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of women and girls as well as vulnerable people in the region. 

The IPPF European Network Regional Office (ENRO), in partnership with our members, has been monitoring the impact of the crisis. We combined regional data from the global survey of the IPPF COVID-19 Task Force, additional information from members and findings of another survey conducted by one of our key partners in Brussels – the European Parliamentary Forum.

We then produced a joint regional report which gives an overview of how COVID-19 is affecting SRHR – both those of people in Europe and in Europe’s international cooperation. The report allows SRHR actors in one country to learn from what is happening in another and proposes 10 recommendations that MAs and SRHR advocates can use with decision-makers. Findings from the report were launched externally via a webinar (password: SRHR2020) attended by more than 100 participants from the European SRHR community as well as supportive Parliamentarians, civil servants and journalists. 

Interesting to note that many European countries have enacted new, specific provisions in light of the COVID-19 restrictions to guarantee access to SRHR services during the crisis – with telemedicine being at the centre of the response to COVID-19. Overall, 50% of the IPPF European Members reported that they are providing SRH programmes through innovative approaches like telemedicine, mHealth services or in partnership with other sectors (online commercial platforms or commercial service deliveries). 

These approaches are particularly useful for delivering information and counselling on sexual and reproductive care. New technologies are also key for the provision of relationship and sexuality education (RSE), which cannot be provided in countries where schools have closed. Members, including in Estonia, North Macedonia and the Netherlands, are strengthening the accessibility of CSE online: both by providing SRH information and education directly on their website and through social media (Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram), and by providing teachers with RSE packages that they can use for tele-schooling.

Since the start of the crisis, we have seen a strong willingness to connect, learn and share best practice across the European SRHR community. We have been translating these updates into a well-received weekly regional email digest for the MAs, where we include links to the Microsite and slack channel to encourage MAs to benefit from these resources. We continue to be inspired by the efforts of Member Associations and partners (not limited to the content in this blog) in the region to defend and advance sexual health and the rights of women and girls in these challenging times. 

Following is one remarkable illustration of these efforts. Ultra-conservative coercive movements are trying to use the pandemic as a way to take away reproductive freedoms, notably in Poland where not long ago the ruling party tried to pass bills that would ban abortion care in practice and criminalise sexuality education. We have seen an amazing outpour of solidarity coming from IPPF members and partners in support of Polish activists who managed to quash this latest attempt to limit freedoms.

As IPPF ENRO, as part of our Movement Accelerator Programme, we kept constant contact with the Polish Women’s Strike to see how IPPF could best support. We contacted supportive Members of the European Parliament who wrote open letters to call on the Polish Parliament to reject the two bills (see one here). The Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe also published a statement Both the Secretariat offices and MAs mobilized media, the public and parliamentarians to support the struggle in Poland. The immediate battle was won in that the bill were not approved and sent to Committee instead where we hope they will languish.  But we will need to remain vigilant and agile to see what the Polish government does next, along with many other regressive governments in Europe who seek to use COVID-19 to restrict rights.

IPPF EN has also been using the IPPF key advocacy asks developed in the context of the COVID-19 Taskforce overall response to feed into our own external outreach towards EU decision-makers and media. By adapting these calls to our context, we’ve contributed to the European Parliament’s Resolution on how to fight COVID-19 which affirms the necessity for timely and safe access to SRHR . We’ve also worked with our partners of the Countdown 2030 Europe Consortium on specific asks towards European donor governments to include SRHR in their COVID-19 international response. 

Last but not least, we have been working on strengthening partnerships with the SRHR community and beyond by joining forces and creating powerful narratives. Here are some examples focusing on access, vulnerable groups and on the wider environment: 

o   A joint civil society statement on the impact of COVID-19 on access to abortion in Europe, together with human rights organisations, signed by 100 civil society organisations.

o   A statement on sex workers and COVID-19 drafted by the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe. Protecting vulnerable groups in this crisis should be prioritised

o            A civil society statement, including trade unions and major NGOs, calling on EU leaders to “ensure that restrictive emergency measures serve the purpose of combating the pandemic only, are time-limited, and are compatible with the rule of law and the EU’s fundamental values.”  

Working in inclusive partnerships and bringing the European community together around messages of solidarity, democracy, justice and sustainability is challenging in crisis times but is proving to be the only and the best way forward – in Europe as well as internationally. 

In support and solidarity,

Eef Wuyts, IPPF EN Director of International and European Affairs – Covid-19 Taskforce

–  With thanks to Cosmina Marian and Rachel Litster for their contributions.

Posted in Abortion, Advocacy, All Updates, C19-Responsive SRH Services, Taskforce Updates

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