Press Kit for the #PrekinimoŠutnju Campaign
What is Roda
Roda – Parents in Action, a group of engaged citizens that advocates for dignified pregnancy, parenthood and childhood in Croatia. Roda (the Croatian word for stork and the first syllable of the word for “parent”) was founded in 2001 after the government drastically reduced maternity benefits. Roda works in four program areas (Reproductive Rights, Breastfeeding Support and Promotion, Parenting Support and Promotion and Legal Advocacy).
Roda’s work in the field of respectful maternity care
Roda has been advocating for respectful maternity and newborn care since its very foundation, including advocating to women’s rights to autonomy and informed choice in all aspects of maternity care and beyond. Since 2014, Roda has increased its work with women from vulnerable groups including women in prison and women with disabilities. We were also active supporting women and families during the Refugee and Migrant Crisis that began in 2015. In 2016 we organised a thematic regional caucus at the Women Deliver Conference in Copenhagen.
Break the Silence 2014-5
During the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women in 2014, Roda launched a social media campaign where we invited women to send stories of disrespect and abuse in maternity services. The instructions were to write their story by hand, add the hashtag #PrekinimoŠutnju and to send a photo of the story to us by email. Our volunteers went through all the stories and removed the ones that included personal details that could identify the author or the names of doctors or midwives.
We did not expect much from the campaign, but within just a few days the stories came flooding in - real-life experiences of procedures done without anaesthesia, healthcare providers insulting women and yelling at them, doctors and midwives pushing on their bellies to “speed things along.” The stories had a few themes that kept repeating - a lack of information and informed consent, coercion used regularly and sometimes brutally, and women not knowing what medications they were given during birth and postpartum. We immediately wrote to the Minister of Health asking for a meeting.
In response the Ministry of Health sent inspection teams to all Croatia’s hospitals, but due to changes in government and instability in the government in power in 2016-7 the reports were never made public, even though we asked for them in a number of occasions. A two-page summary was released during the second #PrekinimoŠutnju campaign, three years later.
After #PrekinimoŠutnju 2014
After this campaign, Roda collaborated with organisastions from throughout the Former Yugoslavia, organised protests in major cities and prepared a survey on women’s experiences in maternity care. We also prepared a shadow report for Croatia’s periodic review to CEDAW (2015) and for a visit of the Special Rapporteur for the Right to Health (2016). We also hosted the Human Rights in Childbirth in Eastern Europe Conference (2015).
Break the Silence 2018-9
In October 2018 Ivana Ninčević Lesandrić, a thereto-unknown member of parliament stood up and told her story of a surgical miscarriage procedure without anaesthetic. She was not given any information, tied to a table and the procedure was done without anaesthetic. The Minister of Health accused her of lying.
At Roda we knew stories like this were common, and we re-launched #PrekinimoŠutnju the next day, this time asking women to send stories of reproductive healthcare procedures without anaesthetic. Over the weekend, we collected over 300 hand-written stories that we delivered to the Ministry of Health on Monday, three days after making the call for stories.
The procedures women spoke of ranged from surgical miscarriage to suturing after vaginal childbirth, biopsies of reproductive organs and egg harvesting for IVF procedures. In order to better gauge the number of procedures being done without anaesthetic, we asked IPSOS-Puls an international market research agency to conduct a survey on a representative sample of the Croatian population, asking women whether they had ever had one of the named procedures (described at the beginning of this paragraph), and if they did - was the procedure done with adequate anesthetic. One out of three women who had experienced at least one of these gynaecological procedures stated that it was done without adequate anaesthesia. We can look at it another way - one in three procedures is done without adequate anesthesia.
During both campaigns, social media accounts of media outlets from all over Croatia were flooded with comments where women told their stories. Similar campaigns spilled over into neighrbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Slovenia.
In November 2016, Roda sent a letter to the Prime Minister asking that he take action and create a multi-stakeholder working group with the mandate to prepare an Action Plan for Women’s Health. To date, we have not received an answer to the letter. We also wrote to UN human rights’ bodies informing them of the situation.
A chronology of our work during these two campaigns can be found here (in Croatian).