Poland has begun its preparation to withdraw from the European treaty, known as the Istanbul Convention (an initiative by the Council of Europe) which ensures protection of women from domestic abuse or violence. The right-wing cabinet says that the treaty states ‘gender ideology’, violates the rights of parents as it requires the schools to do liberal teaching to children on social policies which is quite ‘harmful’ and against the traditional values of the society.
Zbigniew Ziobro, the Justice Minister of the country, said that he will soon submit a request to the Labour and Families Ministry to withdraw from the treaty. The ruling Law and Justice Party, PiS (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość) and its coalitions closely align themselves with the Catholic Church and propagate a conservative social set-up and policies. PiS has long-been hostile towards the Istanbul Convention which was ratified by a centrist, liberal government earlier in 2015. On winning the elections, the ruling party (PiS) promised to make reforms on social welfare. The party argues that the country’s legislature provided strong reforms on women’s protection and they did not need the convention for the same.
Marija Pejcinovic Buric, the Secretary-General of Council of Europe which is the continent’s leading human rights organization said that the news is ‘alarming’ and offered to clear the misunderstandings regarding the treaty if any. “Leaving the Istanbul Convention would be highly regrettable and a major step backward in the protection of women against violence in Europe,” he tweeted.
Protests have been taking place in Warsaw, Poland mainly by women on the party’s decision to retract from the treaty which provided protection to women against domestic abuse. Banners like ‘Women’s strike’, ‘Believe Victims’, ‘PiS is Women’s hell’ were seen in the rallies. The protests were also conducted in Wroclaw, Czestochowa and some other cities. There was a widespread outrage on the social media platforms and government critics opined that the Law and Justice Party could put the women’s safety at stake to promote their conservative beliefs of Roman Catholics. Liberal mayor of Warsaw, Rafal Trzaskowski, runner-up in the recent Presidential election, called attempts to leave the convention a “scandal,” saying that all political forces should pull up their socks to end violence against women.
The Council of Europe stated that home violence was being inflicted on women just because they were women and so, the countries should take steps and do their part in combating this practice. One of the points in the Istanbul Convention was questioned by the PiS that neither culture, custom, religion, tradition or so-called “honour” can justify violence. The government interprets it as making links between religion and violence.
The PiS government has been trying it’s best to censor the concepts of ‘gender’ and ‘gender equality’, it has made efforts to promote the stereotypical gender roles in society, condemned the LGBTQ community, undermined the independence of judiciary and media freedom, degraded feminism and publicly curbed the efforts of combating violence against women. “There is no third sex, there is only a man and a woman,” said the Deputy Justice Minister, Michal Wojcik. Women’s rights activists and the related organizations have remained under attack in Poland.
Since the PiS government has come into power in 2015, it has targeted women’s rights groups and denied them the required funds, warned them without giving any proper reason. Government agencies have targeted the state employees who take part in women-related protests or collaborate with women’s rights groups and threatened their jobs. Also, in 2016, PiS tried to implement a complete abortion ban to disrupt women’s reproduction freedom. Education and information related to sexual and reproductive health and services for the treatment of victims of domestic violence are of very low standards in Poland.
The ruling government has made drastic changes in the country’s funding of a civil society as it has extensively reduced funding to the women’s rights organizations. This had lead to reduction of staff in the organization, shortening of the geographical coverage and a restrain on providing services like shelter, legal and psychological support to the survivors of domestic abuse. Even activists at organizations not subject to raids said they feel a high level of risk for themselves, the staff, and their clients.
Iverna McGowan, a human rights expert in Brussels, said, “If the European Union really wants to live up to its commitment to human rights and democracy, I feel that it’s very important that we do make recipients’ receipt of EU funds conditional on compliance with the rule of law and human rights.”
The ruling government should encourage ‘women empowerment’ rather than taking such vigorous steps to curb their freedom of every kind. The current practice being followed is not just a threat to the country but to the entire world. PiS should open the minds of the citizens to the doors of ‘gender equality’ rather than applying a conservative approach in running the country. After all,
‘No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens.’ – Michelle Obama