Democracy & Justice

Giving Birth Pushed Adéla Holeček to Fight For Maternal Justice | Meet Our Members

Meet Adéla Holeček, PR and Fundraising Manager at the League of Human Rights, Liberties' Czech member. She tells Liberties how the lack of freedom she experienced giving birth in the Czech Republic sparked her career fighting for maternal justice.

by Eleanor Brooks

Meet Our Members is a series where Liberties introduces you to our network of human rights defenders. We hear the stories of the people behind the organisations and why they do the work they do. Liberties is an umbrella network which coordinates campaigns with its expanding network of national civil liberties NGOs in 18 EU Member States

Adéla Holeček’s official role at League of Human Rights (LHR) is PR and Fundraising Manager. Still, like most people working at a small non-governmental organisation, she does a little of everything, from event management and organising the summer school, to coordination.

Adéla describes herself as a “non-lawyer” of LHR, an NGO whose five-person team (three of whom are lawyers) focuses on protecting human rights in the Czech Republic, emphasising dignity within the healthcare system. Adéla views her non-legal background as an advantage because her perspective allows her to talk about LHR’s legal work in a way that is relatable to the public.

"I literally hit the wall:” a moment’s decision to change the system

Before switching careers, Adéla studied humanities and worked in the theatre. “And then, and then”, she says, taking a big breath, before diving into her pathway to the human rights sector.

It all started when Adéla was in London and expecting her first child. She immersed herself in learning about maternal healthcare and opted for a home birth, an experience which in her own words was “transforming”. But when she returned to the Czech Republic during her second pregnancy, the available childbirth options shrunk.

"I literally hit the wall with the system”, Adéla Holeček

Having a home birth within the Czech healthcare system proved much more difficult, and the support she received paled in comparison to her experience in the UK. Despite the challenges, Adéla was determined to make her own choices about her body and the birth of her child.

Through sheer determination, Adéla managed to pull off an ‘express delivery’ home birth. Afterwards, she wanted everyone to have the freedom to make their own choices about childbirth. "When you take this responsibility, it comes freedom with it", she tells me, thinking especially about her three daughters, "I have to do this for them."

A mission to protect pregnant women from avoidable harm

This vision was the impetus for Adéla’s career in the NGO sector. She began working for the Union of Midwives before eventually transitioning to LHR, whose healthcare-focused advocacy work includes tackling obstetric violence (harm in the context of pregnancy care). As well as pushing the government to improve the laws regulating maternal healthcare, which according to Adéla, is far behind international standards, LHR also works directly with medical staff to find more immediate solutions. Adéla informs me that over 80% of women who experience obstetric violence blame poor communication, rather than the level of care they received. Through its training for medical staff on informed consent, LHR hopes to eliminate this avoidable harm.

In its 22 years, LHR already has many achievements to its name. To name but a few, in 2020 its advocacy work led to the passing of a law to compensate victims of sterilisation, which affected rougly 1500 women, most of whom are Roma. They’ve also brought cases challenging involuntary hospitalisation and police violence to the European Court of Human Rights, helped secure the right of fathers to present for the birth of their child during the Covid-19 pandemic, and fought for the abolition of cage beds.

LHR's Summer School for law and medicine students on the topic of reproductive rights

Winning the disinformation battle through community

Adéla’s favourite part about working for LHR is the “wonderful people” and being part of a community where "we believe in a better world". But changing the world is hard, particularly when we can’t agree on the facts. Looking towards the European elections, Adéla says she is worried that vocal populist groups will muddy the waters: “We are overwhelmed by disinformation.” Accepting that not everyone will be on your side and that resistance is part of the process of change is a lesson Adéla has learnt along the way. As an antidote to the “haters”, she wants to foster a stronger sense of community around LHR’s mission.

The importance of collective support and collaboration is a topic Adéla returns to throughout our conversation. “Isolation brings no benefits”, she tells me, which is why LHR achieves more by being part of Liberties’ network of human rights organisations. The learning materials, especially the communication guides, are great she adds, and the lawyers praise the educational opportunities.

In her bubble, Adéla has noticed a rising discontentment among women. "And I am so happy about it”, she tells me, because finally, women acknowledge their mistreatment. She hopes these conversations, especially on the subject of sexual violence and obstetric violence, will lead to change.

“The first step is that you have to speak about it”, she concludes.

More articles in the Meet Our Members series:

From Activist Journalist to Co-Creating an Organisation Supporting Grassroots Movements

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