The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) called on the Croatian government to improve the quality of care provided to pregnant women during childbirth. It also emphasized the importance of accessible reproductive health services. CEDAW placed a special emphasis on the regulation of conscientious objections, which must not be an obstacle in achieving women’s rights, it stated.

The 61st session of CEDAW met in Geneva from July 6 to 24. On July 15, the topic of discussion was the combined fourth and fifth report on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women in Croatia, submitted to the Committee by the Croatian government. Alongside the government delegation led by the Office for Gender Equality President Helena Radin Štimac, the session was attended by the representatives of the Croatian Women’s Network.

In its concluding observation, the Committee urged Croatia to guarantee that women’s rights, autonomy, and informed consent requirements are upheld during childbirth. CEDAW also recommended that Croatia ensure that the conscientious objection of health professionals who provide gynecological services not be allowed to impede their patients’ access to those services, especially abortion.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, CESI, and RODA submitted a shadow report to CEDAW regarding the failure of the Croatian government to ensure women have access to quality healthcare, including abortion and modern contraceptives. The report addressed the serious concerns about the treatment of pregnant women during childbirth in Croatian hospitals, including deficits in ensuring full and informed consent to medical interventions during childbirth as well as frequent abusive treatment of women by medical professionals.

“Croatian women have a right to receive quality reproductive health services, but instead they face abuse, disrespectful care, and a range of obstacles to critical services,” said Leah Hoctor, regional director for Europe at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “The government of Croatia must take effective steps to ensure pregnant women giving birth receive medical care that respects their needs and wishes.”

Abortion is legal within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy and thereafter under limited circumstances, including when the pregnancy is a result of a crime, if the pregnancy put a woman’s health or life at risk, and in cases of severe fetal impairments. However, women are facing increasing difficulties in accessing legal abortion services in practice. According to 2014 research by the Gender Equality Ombudswoman, more than half of gynecologists in Croatia do not provide legal abortion services due to their personal objections.

The joint submission to the CEDAW Committee also included findings from RODA’s 2015 Survey on Experiences in Maternity Services that reported a large number of pregnant women being subjected to procedures that can be harmful to their physical and mental health, including 54 percent of women alleging that health professionals applied heavy pressure to their abdomens to speed up the delivery, a procedure not supported by medical evidence.

The Women’s Room—Center for Sexual Rights organized the first in a three-part series of modules titled “Specialized training for NGOs and social welfare centers on direct work with victims of domestic violence with a focus on sexual violence: First module—Domestic violence and sexual violence”. The specialized training was held on July 3 and 4, 2015, in Donja Stubica.

The facilitators of the training, which was attended by the representatives of NGOs and social welfare centers, were Antonija Hojt Ilić and Paula Zore.

After the initial introduction of the project of which the training is a part by the Women’s Room member Antonija Hojt Ilić, Women’s Room Coordinator Maja Mamula, PhD introduced the forms, characteristics, and prevalence of domestic violence, the problematics of reporting it, and consequences of domestic violence in a lecture and workshop titled “Domestic violence”. Participants were able to exchange experience in work and practice and arrive at a common solution through case studies.

In the second part of day one, Dr. Mamula gave a lecture and workshop on “Sexual violence: Definitions, forms, characteristics, reporting, consequences”. Participants again worked on concrete cases to get acquainted with the problem of sexual violence.

In the final part of day one, participants discussed the positive developments and future steps in the area of domestic and sexual violence.

High Misdemeanor Court of the Republic of Croatia Judge Branka Žigante Živković opened day two of training with a lecture on “Legal aspects of the protection against domestic and sexual violence, the role of the Istanbul Convention”. By presenting the Istanbul Convention (the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence) and comparing it to Croatian legislation, Judge Žigante Živković explained the positive possibilities and opportunities that would follow Croatia’s ratification of the Convention. Judge Žigante Živković also presented the Directive 2012/29/EU establishing minimum standards on the rights, support, and protection of victims of crime as well as the victims’ rights under the Criminal Procedure Act. Attendees proceeded to discuss and seek solutions to some specific cases.

Croatian Association of Social Workers President Štefica Karačić gave a lecture titled “The role and significance of the Rules of Procedure in Cases of Domestic Violence and Rules of Procedure in Cases of Sexual Violence in providing help and support to victims of violence”. Through a presentation of specific cases from practice, Ms. Karačić explained the roles and responsibilities of each actor (state bodies and institutions, NGOs) dealing with the problem of domestic violence and providing victim help and support.

In the final part of day two, participants worked with  Branka Žigante Živković on specific cases of domestic and sexual violence.

Specialized training is an integral part of the project “Together we can do more!” implemented by the Women’s Room—Center for Sexual Rights in partnership with the Adela Women’s Center (Sisak), Brod Association (Slavonski Brod), Croatian Association of Social Workers (Zagreb), and Association of Youth and Family Judges and Specialists (Zagreb). The project is co-financed by the European Union from the European Social Fund and the Croatian Government Office for Cooperation with NGOs (