Poland is on the road of restricting women’s rights once again, only a few months after the anti abortion law enforcement in January 2021.
The country’s decision to leave the Istanbul Convention will have consequences on women’s access to abortion, which is already at stake. The Convention was created in 2011 and is ratified by 45 countries and the European Union. The human right treaty aims at prevention of violence against women and domestic violence.
6 years after Poland ratified the treaty in 2015, a bill was introduced to quit the Istanbul Convention.
‘Yes to Family, No to Gender’ is a bill proposed by the Christian Social Congress and the Ordo Iuris Institute for Legal Culture, a far-right organisation.
To fully understand the implications of Poland terminating the treaty, it is crucial to take a look at the violence inflicted on Polish women.
The 2014 European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights survey shows that from the age 15 in Poland, 19% of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence. 32% of women have experienced sexual harassment. Another study commissioned in 2019 by the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Policy shows that 63% of Polish women have been through domestic violence.
However, it is difficult to quantify domestic, physical and sexual abuse as those remain globally hidden. Kantar conducted a poll gathering 2,000 Polish adults and discovered that sexual violence among marriage was not always seen in the same light.
Indeed, 50% of women’s sexual violence experiences were perpetuated by their husband. 13% of the men interrogated agreed that ‘when it comes to sex, a wife should always agree to what the husband wants’ and 11% agreed that ‘rape in marriage does not exist’.
Polish women’s suffering does not end on physical and sexual violence only. It also involves psychological violence through the restriction of their rights. In October 2020, the Polish Constitutional Court gave its verdict on the right to abortion.
Poland had already one of the strictest European law concerning the access to abortion. The 1993 Act stated that abortion could only be practiced in case of incest, rape, if the life of the mother was endangered or if there was an embryonal deformation. This act was modified in October 2020, forbidding women to terminate their pregnancy in the last case, describing it as unconstitutional. This decision led to protests in Polish streets gathering hundreds of thousands of people.
The justification for such strict laws on abortion as well as leaving the Istanbul Convention is seen as a religious influence by some. The ruling party Law and Justice (PiS) is known to work closely to the Catholic Church. The Government is therefore working to promote traditional family values.
‘Polish Catholic Church has always been lobbying to restrict any form of abortion’ explains Agnieszka Matyaszek, member of the Women’s Strike organisation fighting for Polish women’s human rights.
This statement by Ordo Iuris was used to justify the withdrawal of the Istanbul Convention. To offer an alternative to the treaty, the organisation proposed ‘an ideology-free’ Convention on the Rights of the Family. This ‘would protect the family and its autonomy and introduce viable and effective anti-violence solutions’.
Now that Poland has started the procedure to leave the Convention, this could end women’s access to abortion. The alternative treaty proposed by Ordo Iuris would ban abortion as well as homosexual marriage. The total ban of abortion would be disastrous. Even in case of rape, outside or inside marriage, women would be prevented from choosing to terminate the pregnancy.
What can the European community do to prevent women’s rights from being restricted once again in Poland ? Agnieszka Matyaszek hopes for regional assistance. After the first restrictions implemented on October 2020, she remembers the support of Poland’s European neighbours, such as Germany, who have and continue to receive Polish women to help them have abortions.
Agnieszka and others still hope that the European Union will help, through annual reports to verify the respect of human rights in Poland, especially after the end of the Istanbul Convention.