Poland’s government is abandoning its commitment to fighting for women’s rights in Poland by pursuing to withdraw from its violence against women treaty. Zbigniew Ziobro, Poland’s justice minister, introduced a petition in July 2020 calling for Poland’s withdrawal from the landmark treaty.
Abandoning the Violence Against Women Treaty
Known as the Istanbul Convention, the treaty aimed at protecting women and girls from violence. Populist and nationalist governments target the Istanbul Convention, arguing it threatens “traditional families” for violence against women embedded within cultural traditions.
The head of the Law and Order party, otherwise known as PiS, Jarosław Kaczyński, is the final judge of government policy and has publically stated that Poland must avoid Western values in order to maintain its traditional, Catholic culture.
Caroline Hickson, the Regional Director at International Planned Parenthood Europe, has mentioned women’s rights in Poland are “at stake as their support systems are taken apart through relentless attacks.” She adds that “women will be completely abandoned by the State with no safety net.”
Human rights activists and high-ranking politicians within Europe are fighting this proposition to abandon the treaty. Polish MEP Sylwia Spurek remarked last year that the new European Commission was “a year wasted both for human rights, for the rule of law and for the climate.”
Spurek has thus transferred to the Greens group in the European Parliament (the EU’s law-making branch), promoting the Greens’ progressive role within parliament. Spurek believes that all women in every European country must be guaranteed their rights regardless of conservative rules, “no matter how politicians […] talk about counteracting violence against women.”
Fighting for Women’s Rights
Poland has a history of fighting for democracy in the past decades. MEP Terry Reintke, speaking on behalf of the Greens group, notes that “now [the group] will have someone from Poland who can represent Polish citizens in the Green group.”
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki is resisting the ultra-conservative efforts that harm women’s rights in Poland. While the PiS government subverts women’s rights in Poland, Morawiecki instead looks to avoid further hurting ties with the European Union (EU), noting Poland must be more pragmatic about its relations within the EU in order to avoid pressure and loss of funds.
Actions to Protect Women’s Rights
The political discourse that attacks women’s rights in Poland leaves women helpless and vulnerable. Currently, constructive talks are being held by experts from Europe’s leading human rights body, a group of Council of Europe, aiming to keep the treaty in place to protect women’s rights in Poland.
The group argues the Istanbul Convention does not seek “to be traditional or modern.” Instead, the group states the treaty looks to protect women’s rights in Poland.
The European Commission is also urging Poland not to leave the Istanbul Convention. The commission is concerned with Poland’s “step backward in time,” as Dutch MEP Samira Rafaela remarks. Helena Dalli, the equality commissioner of the EU, deems the convention “is the gold standard in terms of policy” in relation to women’s rights in Poland and globally. By mid-2021, Dalli petitions to make violence against women a “eurocrime,” in which the EU would instate minimum penalties for member states.
While Poland’s government has not yet made the decision to abandon the accord, the consideration still remains. Poland’s government members, the EU and humanitarian organizations must continue to fight for women’s rights in Poland. By protecting women and girls from violence, the country can take one step closer in gender equality, security and justice.
– Danielle Lindenbaum