Poland: UN experts say Government must not roll back women’s rights
WARSAW (13 December 2018) – 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, UN human rights experts said today.
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.”