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The Politics of Women's Health

In Translation: Barriers to Contraception and Abortion

The "In Translation" sidebars in the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves highlight the work of our global partners who develop health resources based on Our Bodies, Ourselves for their own communities.
 polish cover Group: Network of East-West Women

Country: Poland

Resource: Nasze Ciała, Nasze Žycie (Our
Bodies, Our Life
), a Polish adaptation of
Our Bodies, Ourselves

Website: neww.org.pl

Poland’s postcommunist transformation to a market economy has resulted in a massive overhaul of its health sector. Network of East-West Women, OBOS’s partner in Poland, reports that traditional gender attitudes, along with laws that enable doctors to deny care they consider morally objectionable, and exorbitant health care fees levied by powerful pharmaceutical companies and private clinics, are serious barriers for girls and women seeking contraceptives and accurate information on sexual and reproductive health.

The entrenched influence of the Catholic Church, conservative media, and political groups has made the situation particularly difficult for women, who feel constant pressure to carry pregnancies to term and are continually denied access to information about their health and their rights.

Polish law is extremely restrictive of abortion, and a growing number of policy makers assume an anti–abortion rights stance that disregards the needs of pregnant women. There is widespread use of abortion pills bought online, and thousands of women have turned to illegal and expensive private clinics or have traveled abroad for abortion procedures. Given these social, political, and economic constraints, Network of East-West Women is committed to ensuring women become decision makers in their own care.

To this end, the Polish adaptation of Our Bodies, Ourselves is invaluable. In its preface, the authors state that "it is of vital importance for Polish women to know where and how to get help in case they are sick, what questions they should ask when talking to a physician, what rights they have as patients."

The book, which has been distributed throughout the country, is empowering women as health consumers by explicitly explaining that they have the right to demand information. In a country grappling with economic and social transformation, the adaptation is filling a critical need by providing women with a tool they can use to counter institutional conservatism and advocate for change.

Excerpted from the 2011 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. © 2011, Boston Women's Health Book Collective. You can read other "In Translation" sidebars about women's groups who are adapting Our Bodies, Ourselves and creating resources to advance the health and human rights of women and girls in their countries.  Click here to read more about Network of East-West Women.


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