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Global Justice Center Blog

Civil Society Open Letter on New ICC Gender Persecution Policy Paper

Dear Prosecutor Khan:

It is with great enthusiasm that we write to you about the development of the comprehensive policy paper to advance accountability for the crime against humanity of persecution on the grounds of gender.

In the 1990s, MADRE housed the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice, a worldwide coalition of women’s rights activists working to address gender gaps in the draft Rome Statute. In 2018, MADRE and our allies once again led an international coalition that successfully further affirmed the understanding of gender persecution under international law for the draft crimes against humanity treaty.

Today, MADRE is serving as a Secretariat for civil society organizations from across the world to help ensure broad civil society input. To this end, MADRE has compiled and consolidated the priorities and recommendations from organizations across the world for your consideration. As you will see below, 222 feminist organizations and academic institutes from 80 countries and territories have joined this statement of principles and priorities that we now share with you.

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Enabling access to quality abortion care: WHO's Abortion Care guideline

Fundamental to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on health and wellbeing (SDG3) and gender equality (SDG5) is the recognition that access to sexual and reproductive health information and services is central to both individual and community health, as well as the realisation of human rights. Comprehensive abortion care, which includes information provision, abortion management, and post-abortion care, is an integral component of sexual and reproductive health and is a safe, simple health-care intervention that saves women's lives and safeguards their dignity and bodily autonomy.

Globally, abortion remains common, with 30% (three out of ten) of all pregnancies ending in induced abortion. However, estimates suggest that just over half (55%) of all abortions worldwide (and less than a quarter of all abortions in African and Latin America) can be considered as safe. Barriers—such as the scarcity of accurate information or providers and facilities that can safely provide services, restriction of available methods of abortion, abortion-related stigma, high costs, third party consent and other legal restrictions—have made it difficult or impossible for many women to access abortion care, which can lead them to use unsafe methods and negatively affect their sexual and reproductive wellbeing and health.

Fulfilling one of its core functions as a norms-setting agency, WHO has been providing recommendations related to abortion since 2003. With the release of the WHO Abortion Care guideline in March, 2022, WHO has consolidated and updated its recommendations, drawing on the evidence and data on the clinical, service delivery, legal, and human rights aspects of providing abortion care that have arisen over the past 10 years. In line with the WHO guideline process, formulation of recommendations by expert panels was based on available evidence and consideration of other criteria using the WHO-INTEGRATE framework. As a result, 54 evidence-based recommendations and two best practice statements focusing on the above-mentioned aspects of abortion care are presented in this updated guideline.

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Avenues to Accountability for Sexual Violence in Myanmar

The Myanmar military and security forces have used on sexual violence as a tactic to terrorize civilians, especially ethnic minorities and women, girls, and gender-diverse people. Sexual violence was also a hallmark of the Rohingya genocide, as confirmed by the UN Fact-Finding Mission in 2017. Even before the February 2021 military coup, accountability within Myanmar was virtually unattainable; however, a number of avenues for justice exist at the international level. This panel will provide an opportunity to hear from local and international experts on potential avenues to justice and accountability for sexual violence crimes in Myanmar.

  • Akila Radhakrishnan (Moderator)
  • Wai Wai Nu, Founder, Women's Peace Network
  • Esther Ze Naw, Youth Coordinator, Kachin Peace Network
  • Naw Wah Ku Shee, Coordinator, Karen Peace Support Network
  • Ambassador Kelley Currie, Former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues

Watch the Webinar

WHO issues new guidelines on abortion to help countries deliver lifesaving care

The World Health Organization (WHO) is releasing new guidelines on abortion care today, in a bid to protect the health of women and girls and help prevent over 25 million unsafe abortions that currently occur each year.

“Being able to obtain safe abortion is a crucial part of health care,” said Craig Lissner, acting Director for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research at WHO. “Nearly every death and injury that results from unsafe abortion is entirely preventable. That’s why we recommend women and girls can access abortion and family planning services when they need them.”

Based on the latest scientific evidence, these consolidated guidelines bring together over 50 recommendations spanning clinical practice, health service delivery, and legal and policy interventions to support quality abortion care.

New recommendations to improve access to high quality, person-centred services

When abortion is carried out using a method recommended by WHO, appropriate to the duration of the pregnancy and assisted by someone with the necessary information or skills, it is a simple and extremely safe procedure.

Tragically, however, only around half of all abortions take place under such conditions, with unsafe abortions causing around 39 000 deaths every year and resulting in millions more women hospitalized with complications. Most of these deaths are concentrated in lower-income countries – with over 60% in Africa and 30% in Asia – and among those living in the most vulnerable situations. 

The guideline includes recommendations on many simple primary care level interventions that improve the quality of abortion care provided to women and girls. These include task sharing by a wider range of health workers; ensuring access to medical abortion pills, which mean more women can obtain safe abortion services, and making sure that accurate information on care is available to all those who need it. 

For the first time, the guidelines also include recommendations for use where appropriate of telemedicine, which helped support access to abortion and family planning services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Removing unnecessary policy barriers facilitates safe abortion access

Alongside the clinical and service delivery recommendations, the guidelines recommend removing medically unnecessary policy barriers to safe abortion, such as criminalization, mandatory waiting times, the requirement that approval must be given by other people (e.g., partners or family members) or institutions, and limits on when during pregnancy an abortion can take place. Such barriers can lead to critical delays in accessing treatment and put women and girls at greater risk of unsafe abortion, stigmatization, and health complications, while increasing disruptions to education and their ability to work.

While most countries permit abortion under specified circumstances, about 20 countries provide no legal grounds for abortion. More than 3 in 4 countries have legal penalties for abortion, which can include lengthy prison sentences or heavy fines for people having or assisting with the procedure. 

“It’s vital that an abortion is safe in medical terms,” said Dr Bela Ganatra, Head of WHO’s Prevention of Unsafe Abortion Unit. “But that’s not enough on its own. As with any other health services, abortion care needs to respect the decisions and needs of women and girls, ensuring that they are treated with dignity and without stigma or judgement. No one should be exposed to abuse or harms like being reported to the police or put in jail because they have sought or provided abortion care." 

Evidence shows that restricting access to abortions does not reduce the number of abortions that take place. In fact, restrictions are more likely to drive women and girls towards unsafe procedures. In countries where abortion is most restricted, only 1 in 4 abortions are safe, compared to nearly 9 in 10 in countries where the procedure is broadly legal. 

“The evidence is clear – if you want to prevent unintended pregnancies and unsafe abortions, you need to provide women and girls with a comprehensive package of sexuality education, accurate family planning information and services, and access to quality abortion care,” Dr Ganatra added.

Following the launch of the guidelines, WHO will support interested countries to implement these new guidelines and strengthen national policies and programmes related to contraception, family planning and abortion services, helping them provide the highest standard of care for women and girls.

Tigray: Call for Service for CRSV Survivors

To: Pramila Patten

Office of the Under Secretary General Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict ( USG SRSG/SVC)

Re: Service Provision for Survivors of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence in Tigray

Your Excellency,

We the undersigned are writing to you at this time in accordance with the landmark United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (S/RES/1325) on Women, Security, and Peace, adopted in 2000 that calls on “all parties to the conflict to respect fully international law applicable to the rights and protections of women and girls, in particular the obligations applicable to them under the Geneva Convention of 1949 and the additional protocols” to request for a response to the ongoing siege imposed by the federal government on the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

This siege, characterized by a total blockade of essential services and life-saving humanitarian supplies, has been predictably devastating to the civilian population of Tigray and even more particularly so to the survivors of brutal weaponized rape (Amnesty International, 2021) who have been denied urgent post-rape care as a result (Human Rights Watch, 2021). Even more alarming, domestic ability to provide support for survivors is curtailed completely as a result of the deliberate devastation of the Tigrayan health care system by Ethiopian and allied forces during active conflict and because even the most basic healthcare supplies are no longer available in Tigray (A. Mark Clarfield et al, 2022).

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