Women’s Rights in Poland
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Women’s Rights in Poland: It Is Not Just the Reproductive Issues

The reproductive rights of women in Poland have become a widely discussed topic in recent months. The protests, which were motivated by the fact that the Constitutional Court of Poland made a decision that effectively bans abortion in the country, have appeared in the news of many leading news outlets.

According to the Polish Ministry of Health, 1,116 abortions were performed in the country last year. In accordance with unofficial estimates, the number of illegal operations and abortions for Polish women outside the country could be ten times higher. During the time of protests, we noticed that a coat hanger is a symbol of it. Women used wire hangers earlier to get rid of unwanted pregnancy on their own. However, reproductive rights are one of the problems associated with women’s rights in Poland.


Protection of Women From  Violence

According to Human Rights Watch, organizations working with women survivors of violence say the fact that Poland reports fewer cases of domestic abuse than other EU countries merely reflects how taboo the issue remains. High-level Law and Justice leaders have downplayed the problem of gender-based violence and disparaged groups working to combat it. “The whole existence of domestic violence has been denied,” the leader of an organization in western Poland told me.

Polish law recognizes domestic violence as a criminal offense, but the legal system does not treat it seriously. Government prosecutors do not charge an isolated incident of abuse as domestic violence unless it results in severe injury. Generally, the only remedy available to victims of violence is to privately prosecute their abusers under criminal assault laws without any state assistance.

Moreover, Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki stated that he would ask the country’s Constitutional Tribunal to look into whether the Istanbul Convention on combating violence against women is aligned with the country’s constitution. “There are very serious doubts (…) that cannot be passed over,” Morawieck said. 

Following this news of Polish intentions to withdraw from the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention, Council of Europe Secretary-General Marija Pejčinović Burić made the following statement: 

“Announcements by government officials that Poland should withdraw from the Istanbul Convention are alarming. […] Leaving the Istanbul Convention would be highly regrettable and a major step backward in the protection of women against violence in Europe.”

 

Women’s Rights Organizations Under Attack

Also, according to Human Rights Watch, women’s rights activists and organizations in Poland are under attack. The PiS (Law and Justice Political Party) government has targeted women’s rights groups through raids and denial of funding, often with little warning and no clear rationale. PiS leaders, politicians, and church-backed groups have publicly smeared women’s rights organizations, mischaracterizing their work as dangerous to families and traditional values. Government agencies have dragged state employees who support women’s rights protests or collaborate with women’s rights groups before disciplinary hearings and threatened their jobs.
 
 

Violation of LGBTQ+ Rights

A particular problem is the state of the LGBTQ + rights in Poland. For instance, President of Poland Duda has compared what he calls “LGBT ideology” to Communism. He does not support the right of same-sex couples in Poland to marry or form civil unions, and believes that schools should not teach classes on gay rights. 

Moreover, in September 2020, ambassadors from around the world have called for the rights of gay and transgender people to be respected in Poland, where many towns have declared themselves free of “LGBT ideology” (these resolutions are essentially symbolic and unenforceable but they have provided fresh ammunition in Poland’s increasingly bitter culture war). It was signed by envoys from 50 countries, including Poland’s EU partners, the US, Israel and India. Conservative politicians, including the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), have frequently taken aim at the LGBT community.

 

It is important to cover the issue of LGBTQ + rights in matters of women’s rights, as in this case, such a phenomenon as intersectional discrimination can manifest itself. Intersectional discrimination happens when two or multiple grounds operate simultaneously and interact in an inseparable manner, producing distinct and specific forms of discrimination.

 

Thus, it is worth recognizing that the Polish government pays attention to those moments that do not fit into the traditional way of life, which is associated with the Catholic Church. However, it is necessary to understand that all this is happening in the 21st century and everything should depend on the wish of the woman herself, and not on the rules of life imposed by state bodies. The persecution of activists and representatives of the LGBT + community is also the same consequence of the rejection of something that does not fit into the pattern of thinking. And it is very sad to admit that this is happening now in one of the most economically developed countries of Europe.


Ekaterina Zemskova

I hold an LL.B. in International Law from Belarusian State University (Belarus, Minsk). I am interested in women’s rights and gender equality, especially reproductive and sexual rights because there is a lot of taboo around this topic in society and this must be eradicated in order to ensure the protection of women's health and lives. I have my own project Human Rights Vocabulary (http://humanrightsvocabulary.com/), the main idea of which is to raise awareness of human rights among Russian-speaking people.

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