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Supporting Catalysts of Change | Women’s rights grassroots initiatives in Romania and Bulgaria

25 April 2024

Women’s rights in the European Union

The European Union has championed women’s rights and gender equality since its inception. From passing the Equal Pay Act in 1975, to establishing a Committee on Women’s Right in 1984. And in more recent years; from the 2000 publication of the Charter of Fundamental Rights calling for equality between men and women in all areas, to the 2014 adoption of the Istanbul Convention tackling gender-based violence. The EU has been at the forefront of the fight for gender equality.

Supporting Catalysts of Change

However, women’s rights, like many other fundamental rights we have come to take for granted, have been under increased pressure and threat in recent years. Against this backdrop of concerning shrinking civic space trends in the European Union, the NHC has teamed up with the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law Stichting (ECNL) to support grassroots partners in Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovenia and Portugal, working in areas of women’s rights, environmental justice, and anti-corruption, in creating an enabling environment for civil society. Within the scope of our project “Europe”, we are focusing on enhancing civil society’s response to new trends affecting democratic and civic space and civil society, strengthening effectiveness, accountability and sustainability of grassroots CSOs, and enhancing visibility and understanding of the work of grassroots CSOs supported by the project. Find out more here.

Spotlight partners: reproductive rights, menstrual health, small-community empowerment and fighting the anti-gender narrative in Bulgaria and Romania

Following country-specific information sessions and a call for proposals in September 2023, the NHC and ECNL has/have been working together with four grassroots partners in Romania and Bulgaria on projects relating to the area of women’s rights (and some 16 others working on environmental justice and anti-corruption). Our partners’ projects focus on women’s reproductive and obstetric rights (The Independent Midwives Association (AMI) Romania), menstrual health and inclusion (Iele-Sânziene Association Romania), empowering women in small communities (Edu Playground Bulgaria) and fighting against the ‘anti-gender’ narrative and gender-based violence (Lespectra Association Bulgaria). Find out more about their work and how we are supporting them to be more effective in the promotion of EU values, more resilient to threats, and able to respond quickly to concerning trends affecting space for civil society in their respective countries.

The Independent Midwives Association (AMI) (Romania)

The Independent Midwives Association (AMI) focuses on supporting women’s rights in Romania. AMI’s mission mainly revolves supporting women’s reproductive rights and maternal health issues. They also advocate for legal recognition of obstetric violence (violence in the context of pregnancy care) as a form of gender-based violence. AMI focuses on these issues mainly through reports and online questionnaires. However, like many grassroots civil society organisations (CSOs), AMI faces challenges in obtaining sufficient responses and in engaging authorities to support their mission to secure women’s health and rights advocacy in Romania. The NHC and ECNL will support AMI to improve access to universal antenatal care, evidence based childbirth practices, and baby friendly measurements in hospitals in Romania through their research and data-collection based project “Safe Motherhood for all Women”. Follow them on Instagram.

Iele-Sânziene Association (Romania)

Iele-Sânziene Association strives to achieve free access to menstrual products while combatting the lack of comprehensive sex and menstrual health education in Romania. As a feminist organisation, the Association’s vision is to have a national program for sexual education and to ensure health and reproductive rights by working with schools, local and central authorities. This multi-stakeholder collaboration has helped support the development of educational workshops, online petitions, magazines, feminist clubs as well as two editions of a mentoring program. In their own words “A strategic approach is needed to ensure that all teenagers can manage their menstruation with dignity”. The NHC and ECNL will support Iele-Sânziene Association in their initiative to normalise menstruation in the educational environment, in order to empower the youth, to support students well-being, reduce school absenteeism and create a more inclusive and welcoming school environment for all. Follow them on Instagram , Facebook and LinkedIn.

Edu Playground (Bulgaria)

Edu Playground focuses on creative innovative educational tools using new communication and information technologies. They target not just the youth but also adults from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, hoping to bridge the gap in accessing social rights. They directly address issues of discrimination, violence, xenophobia, and social exclusion, and engage with municipalities, schools and both local and national media outlets to ensure effective dissemination of their message and vision.

The NHC and ECNL will support Edu Playground with their initiative “Voices of the Law: Empowering Women in Small Communities”, which aligns seamlessly with Edu Playground’s core mission of promoting human rights and democratic values. Follow them on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Lespectra Association (Bulgaria)

Lespectra is a feminist grassroots CSO with a mission to create spaces where women and LGBTI+ people can dream, share and work together for a world of solidarity and justice. The organisation’s experience covers active participation in organising protests and demonstrations in defense of values and rights threatened in Bulgaria, as well as organising events, workshops aimed at sustainably growing a politically aware and active community of women and LGBTI+ people. Currently, the organisation is working on the creation of a digital feminist archive, aimed at revealing archival knowledge about Bulgarian women from the last 100 years and their fight for equal rights – unknown stories and facts from the lives of Bulgarian women. Lespectra also continues to develop and grow by recruiting female and LBTI+ authors by organizing contests empowering young women authors. The NHC and ECNL will support Lespectra in their initiative to organise a national conference on “Trajectories for uniting: battling the anti-gender discourse in Bulgaria”, aimed at creating more possibilities for grassroots CSO’s to strengthen relationships among one another, to strategize together, unite and synchronize efforts. Follow them on Instagram and Facebook.