A recent report by the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination of the Council of Europehas recognised the progress that the Catalan Government has made in Catalonia in the area of sexual and reproductive rights. The document describes some of the most innovative policies in the deployment of sexual and reproductive rights across Europe, highlighting some of the policies deployed by the Catalan Ministries of Health and of Equality and Feminisms in this area. Specifically, the document made clear reference to the Catalan Government’s feminist transformation strategy, pointing out how it identified gender equality among the core elements of its plans”and as a result created Ministry of Equality and Feminisms in 2021. Among the different measures promoted by the Catalan Government, it highlighted the Catalan Strategy for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, led by the Ministry of Equality and Feminisms with the participation of eight other government ministries.

The report noted that the right to voluntary termination of pregnancy (VTP) is guaranteed in Catalonia and that both the medical and surgical method up to 14 weeks is covered by the Catalan public health system. It also highlighted the increase in the number of public clinics and hospitals that practice abortions and described this as “an extremely positive development, against a backdrop of declining abortion care infrastructure in most European countries”.

The Council of Europe report also praised the Action Plan to support human rights defenders and organisations in Catalonia. The programme includes a free legal aid service for human rights organisations that carry out their work in Catalonia, with the aim of providing initial support to entities that suffer discrimination, aggression and attacks.

The report described how the Ministry of Equality and Feminisms has promoted various actions to confront harassment aimed at limiting women’s right to voluntary termination of pregnancy, and that the Ministry has led“(pro)active action against ‘anti-gender’ groups attempting to unduly limit women’s rights”. In this regard, the document cited the criminal proceedings brought last October against an anti-abortion platform that gathered in front of three clinics in Barcelona and also the launch of administrative sanctions to stop the transphobic bus“HazteOír”.

Finally, the report also referred to the care received by transgender people in Catalonia, and the action plan to combat aesthetic pressure that the Ministry is working on. The paper concluded that the Catalan Government “appears to tackle different forms of discrimination with strong determination and a particularly advanced and inclusive approach”.

Work still to be done in Europe

The report was drafted by the senator and representative of the Netherlands delegation to the Council of Europe, Petra Stienen, and is accompanied by a resolution that was unanimously adopted by the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination on 23 January. The resolution will now be submitted to the plenary of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe next April for final adoption.

The text states that gender equality is far from being achieved in Europe and warns of the regressive context in certain Member States. The text offers some twenty recommendations to European countries, including: prioritising women’s sexual and reproductive rights and promoting scientific research in areas related to sexuality and reproduction, improving sexual health care services, strengthening cooperation with social entities and preventing period poverty, among other things. Finally, it calls on states to make sex education compulsory and part of school curricula at all levels.

Reinforcing existing rights and ensuring new ones

The Catalan Strategy for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (ENDSIR), acknowledged in the report, aims to strengthen the guarantee of already existing sexual and reproductive rights, such as access to voluntary termination of pregnancy for all women and in all health regions or improved access to assisted reproduction services (with or without a partner, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity). It also seeks to promote new rights, such as free access to long-term contraception, menstrual equity, bereavement leave for pregnancy loss and the guarantee of the right to choose the form of birth, which includes respecting women’s decisions, bodies, health and emotional processes.

In the framework of the ENDSIR, a working group has recently been created to address obstetric violence and the violation of sexual and reproductive rights.Made up of 11 professionals related to gender policies and sexual and reproductive health, it is led by the Ministries of Health and of Equality and Feminisms. It is tasked with drawing up an Action Plan that defines specific strategies and proposals to address obstetric violence and the violation of sexual and reproductive rights in Catalonia in the field of health.

The working group will carry out an analysis of the current situation, incorporating both user and professional perceptions. It will then propose tools for addressing obstetric violence and the violation of sexual and reproductive rights, aimed at both the organisation of health care services and individual professional practice, as well as citizens and organisations defending sexual and reproductive rights. The working group will focus its efforts not only on the pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum period, but also on all areas where sexual and reproductive rights are violated during the sexual and reproductive health care of all people, especially women.

New labour rights

Also as a result of the inter-ministerial work of the Generalitat, new sexual and reproductive rights are now guaranteed in the workplace that are the first of their kind in Spain, such as bereavement leave for pregnancy loss and flexible working hours when menstruation or the climacteric have an effect on health.

Bereavement leave for pregnancy loss is an internationally pioneering measure. In the event of a loss between week 6 and day 179 of pregnancy, the public employees of the Generalitat now have 3 working days of leave to help with the recovery and bereavement process. This can be taken by woman or the pregnant person and the other parent or, if applicable, a relative up to the second degree of consanguinity or affinity. The Spanish Government does not provide for any leave until the 180th day of pregnancy.

In the case of flexibility due to the effect that menstruation or the climacteric can have on health, individuals may take leave for a maximum of eight hours per month, to be made up within four months thereafter. The aim of this measure is to facilitate the balance between the right to health and work under equal conditions. At the same time, increased knowledge and awareness regarding menstruation and the climacteric has been promoted.