Poland is currently facing criticism after announcing its intentions to pull out of a pan-European convention combating violence against women. On Saturday, Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro announced that Poland would begin to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, according to the state-run Polish Press Agency, primarily due to the convention violating the rights of parents and containing “elements of an ideological nature,” as the convention requires that schools teach children about “the so-called socio-cultural gender in opposition to biological sex.” He included the fact that reforms introduced within the country recently would sufficiently protect women — in short, the convention is no longer needed.
The Istanbul Convention primarily aims to protect women against violence and to bring about the end of discrimination against them by serving as the most comprehensive legal framework in existence, covering domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, female genital mutilation, “honor-based violence,” and forced marriage.
Guy Verhofstadt, the former Prime Minister of Belgium, stated that “violence is not a traditional value. The EU and all of its members signed, because Europe stands for human rights, equality and decency.” The Council of Europe Secretary General, Marija Pejčinović Burić, has also expressed disapproval in the decision, saying that “leaving the Istanbul Convention would be highly regrettable and a major step backwards in the protection of women against violence in Europe.”
However, the bulk of criticism has come from citizens of Poland, and protests have been cropping up in cities across Poland. Magdalena Lempart, who helped to organize the Warsaw protest, stated that a decision had effectively been made “to legalize domestic violence.” Demonstrators shouted to “fight against the virus, not against women” in Warsaw on Friday afternoon, and carried banners which said: “PiS [the Law and Justice Party] is the women’s hell.”
To leave this treaty at this critical juncture is a mistake. In February, China saw a threefold increase in cases of domestic abuse reported to police stations as compared to the year before. A similar rise has been seen in the United Kingdom. The social isolation measures being put into place due to the coronavirus pandemic are causing domestic abuse cases to skyrocket, and rather than face these dangerous facts and protect women who desperately need it, Poland has instead chosen to place itself on the side of the abusers, enabling them for the sake of destroying a supposed ideology, as an exercise in exerting its power and endangering its citizens. It is incredibly clear that neither Poland nor the PiS party cares about the people living within the country’s borders, but instead about maintaining the power that they currently hold.
It is crucial that those within the Polish government who can see the danger of this decision do everything in their power to block it. Meanwhile, the women of Poland should continue to protest for their right to not face violence and abuse at every turn, and the other countries of the EU and the Istanbul Convention should continue to shame Poland for this decision. Their protections are almost certainly not enough, and although it is unlikely, maybe words will make the government realize that Lempart’s words are true: that the decision was made “to legalize domestic violence.”
The Istanbul Convention was ratified before PiS came into power. The party is socially conservative, and has strong links to the Catholic Church, claiming that the convention contravenes Poland’s Roman Catholic values. President Andrzej Duda, who is backed by the PiS party, has “argued that LGBT+ rights is an ‘ideology’ more destructive than communism” according to an article by Independent, and has promised to outlaw same-sex marriage and LGBT+ adoption rights during his most recent election campaign.
This decision is a tragedy, and one that should never even be considered. Unfortunately it is, so it is up to the citizens of Poland and the other countries of the Istanbul Convention to do their best to convince Poland to remain a part of the convention.