Poland Announces Withdrawal From European Treaty Preventing Violence Against Women
This weekend, Poland’s justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, announced that the country will kickstart the process to withdraw from Europe’s landmark international treaty aimed at preventing violence against women because it is a “feminist creation aimed at justifying gay ideology.”
A previous centrist government in Poland had signed the treaty, called the Istanbul Convention, in 2012, and it was ratified a few years later. Now, the Polish government has said that the treaty is disrespectful towards religion, contains “elements of an ideological nature,” violates the rights of parents, and is “harmful” because it requires schools to teach children about liberal social policies, and gender. This has also led the Council of Europe, which is the continent’s leading human rights organisation responsible for spearheading the treaty, to clarify that the Istanbul Convention’s sole objective is to combat violence against women, including marital rape, female genital mutilation, and especially, domestic violence — but that it doesn’t explicitly mention same-sex marriage at all.
Around 2,000 people marched in Warsaw to protest against the government’s announcement to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, chanting: “Fight against the virus, not against women.” “The aim is to legalize domestic violence,” Marta Lempart, one of the protest organizers, told the media while women dressed as characters from The Handmaid’s Tale marched on in protest. Expressing alarm at the announcement, the Council of Europe said that it would be happy to engage in “constructive dialogue” with Poland around “any misconceptions or misunderstandings” that may have arisen, rather than having the country withdraw completely. Politicians from across Europe criticized the decision too.
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Poland has been undergoing a massive paradigm shift towards the far right under a heavily conservative government. This February, a third of Poland officially declared itself as “LGBT-free” as 100 local municipalities signed pledges adopting resolutions against “LGBT propaganda.” The upswing in anti-LGBTQIA+ sentiment also came through in Poland’s presidential elections earlier this month when incumbent President Andrzej Duda, who had based his entire re-election campaign on homophobic stances and a conservative social agenda, won. Poland had already slipped in rankings of LGBTQIA+ acceptance since Duda first assumed power in 2015. Then, in June, Duda also signed a “Family Charter” to ban teaching about LGBTQIA+ issues in schools.
In fact, just last week, the Polish government sued Ikea for firing a man over his actions during a gay-pride corporate event, where he posted a homophobic comment about gay people deserving death on the company’s internal site, and then, refused to take it down. The prosecutors called the dismissal “the result of arbitrary judgments and prejudices,” and charged Ikea’s HR director with restricting a worker’s rights because of his religious beliefs — which can lead to imprisonment of up to two years under Polish law.
“Violence is not a traditional value,” Guy Verhofstadt, the former Prime Minister of Belgium, tweeted, touting Poland’s decision as “scandalous.” “Leaving the Istanbul Convention would be highly regrettable and a major step backwards in the protection of women against violence in Europe,” Marija Pejčinović Burić, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, said.
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