International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women: Time for men to take a stand

Sylwia Spurek and her partner Dr. Marcin Anaszewicz believe men must join the campaign to eliminate gender-based violence. They tell Lorna Hutchinson that with men on board the anti-violence message can truly resonate.
Sylwia Spurek and her partner Dr. Marcin Anaszewicz | Source: Sylwia Spurek's office

By Lorna Hutchinson

Lorna Hutchinson is Deputy Editor of The Parliament Magazine

25 Nov 2020

Polish Greens/EFA Group MEP Sylwia Spurek has been a long-time advocate of women’s rights. Now she has joined forces with her life partner, lawyer and strategic advisor Dr. Marcin Anaszewicz, to raise awareness of the link between violence against women and the violation of human rights.

Spurek and Anaszewicz are taking part in “16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence”, an international campaign that runs every year from 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day.

"When feminist men - the 'good guys' - begin speaking out and saying that they stand up for women, it may act as a deterrent to potential offenders"

Spurek says that these 16 days symbolically highlight the link between violence against women and the violation of human rights, as well as underline the fact that women’s rights are human rights.

“I have been involved in this campaign for years: first as a lawyer in an NGO, then as a legislator, as an academic, and finally as Polish Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights. Now, I am getting involved as an MEP and as a Vice-Chair of Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee.”

“This year, I have written an extensive letter to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, reminding her of her obligations on accelerating the ratification of the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence by the EU, and the recognition of violence against women as an EU crime. I want to encourage as many MEPs as possible to add their signatures to the letter. I am also collecting signatures in Poland because we want to mobilise as many people as possible to exert pressure on the Polish government as well as the Commission.”

Spurek says that this is the first time she has invited her partner to engage in the campaign. “On social media we are publishing dozens of posts where we talk about what violence against women is, what causes it, and what the state’s obligations are. Marcin will feature in posters and videos with me. I want to show that the campaign can feature the face of a man. I believe that too few men engage publicly in campaigns for women’s rights. Violence against women is not only a problem for women, it’s a problem for men, as they are the main perpetrators of such violence.”

Anaszewicz, she says, is a feminist who has been involved in the fight for human rights for many years, adding, “It is my dream that one day men in Poland will speak out about this problem. He can lead by example so that other men can say, ‘I stand up for women, I react to violence against women, I react to oppressive jokes, I do not vote for parties that do not support women.’”

Anaszewicz, for his part, admits that his involvement in the campaign may strike some as a novelty, as men generally do not tend to appear in campaigns about violence against women. He says that men are still avoiding appearing in such campaigns.

“They still refuse to read about the problem, have no interest in it, and are not able to talk about it. In Poland, I can show you several men who deal with this issue and a handful of men who, like me, wear a white ribbon.”

Back in 1991, men in Canada came up with the idea of wearing a white ribbon as a sign of protest against men’s violence against women. “The white ribbon is a sign that the man wearing it will never use, accept or be silent about the problem. Sadly, a lot of men who are non-violent themselves do not take any further action. Ignoring violence, I believe, is equal to accepting it.”

He hopes that his partner’s idea will attract more men. “Her goal is to provide a clear signal that it’s time for men to exit their comfort zones and stop being ashamed to say that they are feminists and are willing to fight for women’s rights. Maybe what we are doing will catch on and create a trend? Or maybe we will encourage other couples to run a campaign together? There are far more people who cause no harm to women than those who hate women. But we are not visible, so that’s what Sylwia wants to change with her campaign.”

"I believe that too few men engage publicly in campaigns for women's rights. Violence against women is not only a problem for women, it's a problem for men, as they are the main perpetrators of such violence"

He adds that the involvement of men in this campaign is also symbolic. “When feminist men - the ‘good guys’ - begin speaking out and saying that they stand up for women, it may act as a deterrent to potential offenders. This way, a lot of perpetrators may come to understand that what they do is not normal, but a pathology.”

“Once male feminists appear in a public debate discussing violence against women, many women may also appreciate that extra support and solidarity and see that relationships do not need to be toxic or filled with violence. But men may also have a decisive influence on political decisions as they continue to make up the majority in national governments, parliaments and management boards.”

Spurek also wants to reach out to the decision-makers who exercise influence economically or politically, as their voices, standing up for women, can exert additional pressure on politicians, explains Anaszewicz. “We must do everything in our power to protect women and we must look for new methods of campaigning, persuading and educating. Maybe the participation of men and feminist couples in such campaigns will help trigger the critical mass for women’s rights.”

"I hope that Sylwia's ideal will attract more men. Her goal is to provide a clear signal that it's time for men to exit their comfort zones and stop being ashamed to say that they are feminists and are willing to fight for women's rights"

With reports of domestic violence soaring across Europe against the backdrop of the Coronavirus lockdowns, Spurek says that in her letter to von der Leyen she calls for the EU to prioritise the drafting of a law that would guarantee equality and full protection for every woman, irrespective of where she lives – in Poland, Germany, France, or Lithuania.

“Combating domestic violence, which in Europe is the commonest form of violence against women, must become part of EU equality policy, as specified in the Treaty on European Union. The Commission must accelerate its work on ratifying the Istanbul Convention and it must amend the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union by including violence against women on the list of EU crimes.”

“It also needs to work on better implementation of the Victims’ Rights Directive. But before all that happens, we need to see greater pressure from the European Union directed towards those countries violating women’s rights. Equality policy must become a policy in the same way as the Common Agricultural Policy is. My impression is that some EU politicians do not understand that if we fail to combat discrimination against women, LGBT+ people and people with disabilities, there will be no more European Union.”

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