Poland is at a critical juncture with regard to its record on women’s rights. It must refrain from rolling back women’s rights, particularly in the areas of family and culture, as well as sexual and reproductive health, and undertake further steps to fully achieve gender equality, said UN human rights experts from the UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice.
Poland was one of the first countries in Europe to grant women voting rights in 1918, and historically has had an active and vibrant women’s movement, but the rise of religious conservatism questions some of the gains women have fought for, notably in the area of reproductive and sexual rights, the experts said after a 10-day visit.
“Poland has established a legal and institutional framework on anti-discrimination and has instituted measures to secure greater participation of women in political, as well as social and economic life. It has also developed a number of measures of social protection and has been undertaking efforts to improve child care services,” said Ivana Radačić and Melissa Upreti, from the UN Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice. Additionally, they said, Poland has been building a legislative framework to effectively address gender-based violence against women.
“However, we have observed some serious challenges to women’s rights. Gender equality does not seem to be a priority for the Government at the moment, and there are no national strategies and plans on gender equality and women’s empowerment,” the independent experts added, noting that the understanding of equality seems to be limited to equal treatment in law.
Addressing women’s structural disadvantage requires adoption of specific measures, including temporary special measures, the experts said. It also requires the State to effectively tackle gender-based violence against women, where certain retrogressions have been observed, such as cutting of funds to women’s rights organisations.
The experts also reported that gender equality cannot be fully achieved without respecting women’s reproductive rights. In Poland, however, access to reproductive healthcare services, has become even more restrictive, and there are serious gaps in sexuality and human rights education.
The increasing attacks on gender equality efforts were another issue of concern. “While the traditional roles of women in the family are being actively promoted through laws and policies, advocates for gender equality are increasingly being characterised as ‘anti-family,” the experts said.
“The concept of ‘gender ideology’ is being used also to undermine and stigmatise women human rights defenders, whose space is increasingly shrinking. However, we are encouraged to see that this has also resulted in increased activism of women at the grassroots level. Women human rights defenders play a critical role in securing gender equality and their work should be fully acknowledged, supported and encouraged.”
(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement:
The Working Group will present its report on the visit to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2019.
The UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice was created by the Human Rights Council in 2011 to identify, promote and exchange views, in consultation with States and other actors, on good practices related to the elimination of laws that discriminate against women. The Group is also tasked with developing a dialogue with States and other actors on laws that have a discriminatory impact where women are concerned. TheWorking Group is comprises five independent experts: the Current Chair: Ivana Radačić (Croatia), Alda Facio (Costa Rica), Elizabeth Broderick (Australia), Meskerem Geset Techane (Ethiopia) and Melissa Upreti (Nepal).