Women’s rights: Are we there yet?

16 Nov 2020 // Interesting Reads, Health Stories

I had never thought when joining WIL that a blog article could be related to something so fundamental, but here we go.

Recently I watched Poland to be swamped by demonstrations against the total ban of abortions. As explained, by Polish ambassador Karolina in a quick chat, these demonstrations are the epicenter of polish politics right now. I also remember the demonstrations for the same issue in 2018 in Poland, when 55.000 people took the streets of Poland protesting against plans to further tighten the abortion laws. So, I thought I should search a bit more.


What is happening in Poland right now?

Claudia Ciobanu, (Journalist reporting Europe - Balkan Investigative Reporting Network) mentions at her interview that Poland had the so-called “abortion compromise” law since 1993, under which abortion on request is banned and allowed only if the pregnancy is a result of a criminal act, a threat for mother’s life or if the fetus is severely sick or malformed. Based on statistics, she says, 98% of legal abortions in Poland were caused by the malformation of fetus. What the constitutional tribunal decided and sparked the demonstrations was the ban of abortions even in fetus malformation, and thus in reality the abortion will be totally banned in Poland. Fortunately, the protest succeeded to delay implementation of the law and now discussions among parties will start in order not to tight the restrictions (what about discussions to ban restrictions totally?)


Is Poland a unique case?

In the first place, someone would think this is a rare case in a country ruled by a particular government, but it seems there is a “trend”.
So no, it is not a unique case.
This trend, tightening women’s right on abortion, is repeated.
United States recently signed the Geneva Consensus Declaration with a group of about 30 largely illiberal or authoritarian governments (ex: Brazil, Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia, Uganda, Belarus, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Sudan, South Sudan, Libya.). The consensus calls on states to promote women’s rights and health but without access to abortion, and asks the signatories to “reaffirming that there is no international right to abortion, nor any international obligation on the part of states to finance or facilitate abortion”. (source)
There are also States banning abortions in some or all circumstances by federal laws like Georgia, Arkansas, Mississippi, Ohio and Alabama. In Louisiana, a recent addition to the list above, “If the latter’s bill takes effect it will mean that those performing abortions would be committing a felony, punishable by up to 99 years in prison.” (source)


So, what happens to the rest of the world in regards to abortions rights?

Records from the Center for Reproductive Rights show that “59% of women of reproductive age live in countries that broadly allow abortion, while 41% live under restrictive laws” (source). However, only 36% have access to abortion on request under gestational limits and this is geographically limited to Europe and North America as it is depicted on Center’s digital map. I assume though, if US Federal Laws had been taken into consideration, both percentages would be even lower.
Countries with restrictive laws, corresponding to the aforementioned 41% of women population, are divided in three groups:
Eighty one countries (14% of women population) allow abortion on health grounds, including mental health issues.
Forty nine countries (22% of women population) explicitly allow abortion, when the woman’s life is at risk and some of them also in cases where the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, or in cases of fetal impairment.
Twenty six countries (5% of women population) do not allow abortion under any circumstances, including when the woman’s life or health is at risk.
A very sad finding for women’s health is that “legal restrictions on abortion do not result in fewer abortions. Instead, they compel women to risk their lives and health by seeking out unsafe abortion services” (source).
Moreover, social stigma, around sex and abortion, but also economic, organizational, ideological and political reasons reduce further access to abortion even in countries which allow it on request. Tunisia is a relevant example: Even though abortion on request has been legal form more than 40 years “many women experience physical and moral suffering when they want to abort, and many are forced to resort to illegal abortion.” (source)


Why does Polish demonstration matter?

It seems what happens in Poland is a resistance to all planned steps backwards in terms of human rights. Polish State, along with many others, goes against the international reproductive, which is not related only to the right to have children and the right not to have them, “but every other aspect of the reproduction of our social communities” (source).


How abortions access is related to human rights?

Access to safe abortion is a fundamental right actually. Because it is related to how a person deals with their own body. It is also related to the access to social care. Access to safe abortion is a clear proof that no one has the right to instrumentalise any human body. Researchers claim that safe and accessible abortion as an indicator for human rights status as “the legal status of abortion worldwide [...] reveals how likely a woman or girl is to die from unsafe abortion, whether girls will complete their education, and the limits on women and girls’ ability to participate in public and political life.” (source)


Who else says abortions access is a fundamental right?

WHO says so, as a conclusion, among others, after the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo 1994): “Every individual has the right to decide freely and responsibly – without discrimination, coercion and violence – the number, spacing and timing of their children, and to have the information and means to do so, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health” (ICPD 1994) (source)


How is this related to WIL?

I guess anything related to women, it is related to Women in Lighting as well. Especially, cause our network is global and many of us experience different realities. If WIL is an initiative, as Sharon mentions at the website, “to highlight the great role women have in shaping the lighting design profession and to encourage more women to choose to work in lighting or other related jobs” then it should be also a platform to inform members and supporters about the context of deprivation of fundamental rights some of us have to live and work in.

I really hope this sequence of my thoughts, which touched upon a quite sensitive matter, could be an awareness. Unfortunately, we are not there yet regarding women rights if every corner of the planet is taken into consideration. There are so many to be done, in this perspective of human-rights especially if the “trend” of moving backwards continues. Let’s make sure we support each other.

Foteini Kyriakidou
Architect MA, Lighting Designer MSc, Lecturer KTH ALD
November 16, 2020

Back to Top