EU policymakers condemn Poland over withdrawal from Istanbul Convention

Poland’s decision to withdraw from the groundbreaking domestic violence treaty comes against a backdrop of intensified violence against women since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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By Lorna Hutchinson

Lorna Hutchinson is Deputy Editor of The Parliament Magazine

27 Jul 2020

Poland is set to withdraw from the Council of Europe’s (CoE) landmark Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence.

The shock decision was announced by Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro on Saturday.

“Why do we want Poland to be excluded from the application of the Istanbul Convention? There are ideological provisions in the Convention that we do not accept and consider harmful,” Ziobro said.

The CoE made a statement on Sunday, saying, “Following the government’s announcement, we call on Poland not to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention.”

CoE Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić added, “Leaving the Istanbul Convention would be highly regrettable and a major step backwards in the protection of women against violence in Europe.”

European Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli said it was “alarming” that there were declarations about any Member State withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention, adding, “Such decisions would be deeply regrettable. Member States’ efforts should instead go to protect victims of violence against women.”

“It’s disgraceful that an EU Member State wants to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, aimed at protecting women against gender-based violence. I stand with Polish citizens taking to the streets to demand respect for women’s rights” Iratxe García Pérez, S&D Group leader

“Violence against women and domestic violence surged following COVID-19. Now more than ever Member States need to ratify and implement the Istanbul Convention - the global gold standard addressing violence against women and domestic violence - and tackle such violence systemically.”

“The European Commission remains committed to work towards the Convention’s ratification.”

UN Women, the United Nations entity for gender equality and women's empowerment, echoed Dalli’s sentiments, saying, “Emerging data and reports from those on the front lines, have shown that all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, has intensified.”

“This is the shadow pandemic growing amidst the COVID-19 crisis and we need a global collective effort to stop it. As COVID-19 cases continue to strain health services, essential services, such as domestic violence shelters and helplines, have reached capacity.”

European Commission First Vice President Frans Timmerman said, “Let it sink in: one out of every three women is victim of domestic violence. Thousands die, many more are marked for life. If combating that atrocity is an ‘ideology’, sign me up!”

The Polish government’s move was widely criticised by MEPs, with many taking to social media to express their dismay at Poland’s withdrawal from the treaty.

“Let it sink in: one out of every three women is victim of domestic violence. Thousands die, many more are marked for life. If combating that atrocity is an ‘ideology’, sign me up!” Frans Timmermans, European Commission First Vice-President

S&D leader Iratxe García Pérez said, “It’s disgraceful that an EU Member State wants to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, aimed at protecting women against gender-based violence. I stand with Polish citizens taking to the streets to demand respect for women’s rights.”

Irish EPP deputy Frances Fitzgerald said, “The Istanbul Convention’s sole focus is combating violence against women. That’s it. Ratification of the Convention at European level is now essential so that no woman is left unprotected and vulnerable to violence.”

Polish S&D member Sylwia Spurek gave an inside perspective, describing Polish society as being “on the side of women”, with over 60 percent of Polish women against withdrawing from the Convention. She asked, “On whose behalf are the rulers acting to denounce the Convention?”

“In their statements on the Convention, right-wing politicians show that they do not understand the essence of this document or have not read it at all. The Convention talks about counteracting domestic violence and how to best protect the lives and health of victims. It has nothing to do with ideology.”

Renew Europe deputy Guy Verhofstadt described Poland’s decision as “scandalous,” adding, “violence is not a traditional value. The EU and all of its members signed, because Europe stands for human rights, equality and decency.”

German Greens MEP Terry Reintke said, “No woman can ever be sure of her rights. No woman can ever take protection from violence for granted. Even after battles fought and won, regression is possible. It is happening right now: Poland announced to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention. I stand with all who fight back.”

“The Convention talks about counteracting domestic violence and how to best protect the lives and health of victims. It has nothing to do with ideology” Sylwia Spurek MEP

Fellow Greens deputy Tilly Metz also spoke of the “disturbing regressions in Poland,” adding, “Let's defend the rights of women and LGBTIQ + people all over Europe.”

French Renew Europe member Chrysoula Zacharopoulou described Poland’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention as “a regression unworthy of a large European country” and asked, “How far will they go? Europe must act fast - let's mobilise.”

GUE/NGL deputy Eugenia Rodríguez Palop said simply, “Poland does not surprise: Between 400 and 500 women a year are murdered and beaten to death; the attempt to backtrack on abortion legislation; the sex education ban and the ‘LGBTI-free zones’.”

The European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights said that the Istanbul Convention treaty is the world’s first binding instrument to prevent and tackle violence against women - from marital rape to female genital mutilation.

“For Poland to leave the treaty is a major step backwards in the protection of women against violence.”

The IPPF European Network, which advocates for sexual and reproductive health and rights in Europe and Central Asia, said, “We are alarmed by the decision of the Polish government to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention which combats violence against women. Such blatant attacks on women's safety cannot stand.”

Read the most recent articles written by Lorna Hutchinson - Parliamentarians call Polish abortion ban ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’

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