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Poland plans to leave European treaty on violence against women, sparks backlash

Protests have been organized across the country in response to the European country's decision to withdraw from the Istanbul convention.

Poland plans to leave European treaty on violence against women, sparks backlash
Image Source: Women's Day 2020. MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 08. (Photo by Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images)

Content warning: This report contains details of misogyny and homophobia that readers may find disturbing

Poland's Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro announced on Saturday that the country plans to formally leave the Istanbul convention, and would begin the formal process to withdraw from the treaty on Monday, The Guardian reports. The announcement sparked a backlash from both women's rights advocates within the country as well as stakeholders outside of Poland, including the Council of Europe. The Istanbul Convention, which came into force in 2014, is a human rights treaty against violence against women and domestic violence established by the Council of Europe. It has been signed by 45 countries as well as the European Union. Poland will be the first nation to withdraw from the treaty.


The issue, Ziobro argued, was not the enforcement of laws to protect women against domestic violence—which the country already has, he said—but the "real risk" that the convention may force Poland to decriminalize homosexual marriages. He stated at a news conference, "There is a real risk that we may find ourselves in a situation where the EC (European Commission) will effectively force us to introduce the so-called homosexual marriages with the right to adopt children. We cannot agree to this under any circumstances." The European nation just re-elected last week its right-wing Law and Justice Party and President Andrzej Duda, both infamous for their conservative stance on LGBTQIAP+ rights.


For LGBTQIAP+ rights activist Alicja Sienkiewicz, exiting from the treaty is a "bizarre" decision. "If you want to get these (EU) funds, you should automatically accept how the EU expects them to be spent," she said. "Because adhering to the rule of law means adhering to basic human rights, and it is about respecting them." She was referring to the fact that Poland would lose billions of dollars in aid, particularly coronavirus recovery funds, if the country fails to adhere to these standards. Protesters have thus for the last few days taken to the streets. Marta Lempart, a women's rights advocate and an organizer of a march in the city of Warsaw, added, "The aim is to legalize domestic violence."


The Council of Europe shares Lempart's sentiments on the subject. The human rights organization's Secretary-General Marija Pejčinović Burić condemned Poland's decision and affirmed, "Leaving the Istanbul convention would be highly regrettable and a major step backward in the protection of women against violence in Europe." She explained that the council could clarify "any misconceptions or misunderstandings" about the Istanbul convention through "constructive dialog." The Council has since stressed that the treaty focuses solely on combating violence against women and domestic violence—it does not explicitly make mentions of the LGBTQIAP+ community or same-sex marriage.



Despite this, Justice Minister Ziobro has targetted the "ideological nature" of parts of the treaty. He also accused it of "constructing the so-called socio-cultural gender in opposition to biological sex." There is still some time to persuade the Polish government to act against his recent statements, and thus protesters continue to take to the streets. While the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe (which is separate to the EU) has no real power to enforce regulations, it brings together 47 member states in order to make recommendations on rights and democracy.


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