Poland to Withdraw From Convention on Violence Against Women

July 25, 2020 Updated: July 25, 2020

Poland will take steps next week to withdraw from a European treaty on protecting women from domestic violence. The right wing government said it is because the treaty violates, among other things, parents’ constitutional right to educate children with “moral or religious education in accordance with their own convictions.”

The Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro told a news conference on Saturday that, to fulfill an election campaign promise, his ministry would submit a request to the labour and families ministry on Monday to begin the process of withdrawing from the “Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence,” otherwise known as the Istanbul Convention.

“It contains elements of an ideological nature, which we consider harmful,”  Ziobro, leader of United Poland, a smaller party in the ruling coalition led by the Law and Justice (PiS) party, added.

On Friday, thousands of people, mostly women, protested in Warsaw and other cities against proposals to reject the treaty.

protest istanbul convention Warsaw, Poland
Protesters hold banners reading “No to legalization of domestic violence” and “Women’s Strike” as they take part in protest against the Polish government plans to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, in Warsaw, Poland, on July 24, 2020. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP via Getty Images)

“The aim is to legalise domestic violence,” Magdalena Lempart, one of the protest organisers said on Friday at a march in Warsaw. Some protesters carried banners saying “PiS is the women’s hell.”

Responding to the protests, Deputy Minister of Justice Marcin Romanowski argued the Istanbul Convention is “is redundant from the point of view of protection of victims and prosecution of perpetrators of domestic violence,” adding that the Polish legal system already meets the standards set out by the document in both respects.

Ziobro also said the government has “done a lot in recent years in the fight against domestic violence and violence against women” through legislation, and is “implementing changes by introducing ideology-free solutions. ”

“Real solutions to protect victims of domestic violence were included in the anti-violence law, which the Sejm [lower house of the Polish parliament] adopted almost unanimously on April 30 this year.” Ziobro said. He called the Polish law a “model” for other countries as it “exceeded the standards required by the Istanbul Convention.”

Controversy Surrounding The Definition of Gender

According to a written statement by the Ministry of Justice, The government sought to terminate the Convention because of “harmful ideological solutions” such as the “concept of the so-called gender in opposition to biological sex.”

This seems to refer to the definition of “gender” in article three of the treaty, which it says “shall mean the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men.”

“According to this concept, biology does not determine whether someone is female or male, it is a matter of a socio-cultural choice that anyone can make. This is related to the assumption that the education of children in schools should be changed.” a statement from the Polish Justice Ministry reads.

According to DW, Deputy Justice Minister Marcin Romanowski described the treaty as “gender gibberish” and called for Poland to withdraw from it “as soon as possible.”

Poland is no the only Central-Eastern European countries reject the definition.

“It is in exactly these terms that Slovakia rejected ratification, and Bulgaria declared the Convention unconstitutional. In Lithuania too the ratification is held back by the refusal to accept article 3c of the Convention. … an essential passage of the Convention …” European Data Journalism Network reported.

Hungary: Threat to Marriage and of Increased Migration

The Hungarian Parliament in May refused to ratify the treaty.

“Had the Convention stuck to the protection of women’s rights, Hungary would have been among the first countries to ratify it and adopt corresponding domestic legislation. In fact, we have already included most of the Convention’s recommendations, those pertaining to the protection of women, into Hungarian law. But the Convention went far beyond this, with its final text including sections that could not be incorporated into our domestic law because they run counter to Hungary’s constitution, the Fundamental Law.” a declaration from their Parliament reads.

The declaration cited two reasons: the definitions of “gender” and “persecution.”

Firstly, the Hungarian parliament contended that “without biological genders, for example, Hungary’s constitutional definition of marriage (the matrimony of a man and a woman) would become void. And if something contradicts the Fundamental Law, it cannot be adopted by Parliament.”

Secondly, Article 60 requires signatories to “ensure that gender-based violence against women may be recognised as a form of persecution,” and refugee status should be granted to those fear such persecution.

Based on this article, the Hungarian parliament was concerned that “Hungary may be forced to grant entry to illegal migrants on grounds that run contrary to Hungary’s well-established policy of discouraging and putting an end to migration.”

The statement went on to call the Convention “yet another attempt by pro-migration groups to find a way to force the issue of migration.”

Council of Europe: Translation Difficulties ‘Used to Fuel Controversies’

In response to the continuous criticisms from countries since the Convention opened for signatures in 2011, the Council of Europe published a Q&A document (pdf) to defend it.

“Difficulties around the translation of the term ‘gender’ and its distinction from the term ‘sex’ in languages which do not have an exact equivalent have sometimes been used to fuel controversies about the convention and its implications. Such difficulties cannot become a pretext for rejecting the convention, or an obstacle to its implementation: the convention does not require an adaptation of the national legal systems to incorporate the use of the term ‘gender,’ but uses it to explain the purpose of the measures that it asks states to adopt and implement. The convention has already been ratified and implemented in countries using languages which do not have an exact equivalent of the term ‘gender’ (belonging to different linguistic groups, such as the Germanic, Roman and Slavic families), without this leading to controversies.”

Another leaflet promoting the Convention stated that the “existing migration and asylum policies are not put in question by the Convention.”

Reuters contributed to the report.