[Brussels, 28 July 2020] The European Women’s Lobby is deeply concerned and appalled by the recent initiatives in Poland considering withdrawal  from the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention.
“This Convention is an essential stepping stone in establishing legally binding standards for the elimination of violence against women and girls. It is the most comprehensive instrument we have in Europe preventing violence against women and protecting them from this widespread breach of their fundamental rights”, says Gwendoline Lefebvre, President of the European Women’s Lobby. “We cannot accept that an EU Member State decides to withdraw from its obligations to protect women’s rights and to reach the highest standards possible to ensure women can live a life free from violence and from the fear of it”.
The European Women’s Lobby stands in solidarity with the Polish Women’s Lobby (Network of East-West Women Poland) and all women’s organisations in Poland who are working unstintingly to support victims and to promote legislative changes to prevent violence against women and girls, in many occasions with very little or no public funding. We also rise up in solidarity with women in Poland, who are raising their voices loudly against this decision; joining demonstrations all across the country, to sound the alarm that this decision will put women and girls in Poland in a more vulnerable position to male violence.
The Convention on preventing and combating violence against women was ratified by Poland in 2015 and since then it has triggered several positive changes in legislation. As recently as April 2020, after intense advocacy work from women’s organisations, a new law on eviction orders was adopted as a way to align with the standards of the Convention on the protection of victims.
“It is disgraceful that the Government is now considering withdrawing from the Convention when we have so much to do to meet its standards”, says Małgorzata Tarasiewicz, President of Network of East-West Women Poland and EWL Board member. “Male violence against women and girls is very prevalent in Poland and we cannot turn a blind eye to it. 400-500 women are murdered by their partners each year. We need to honour their memory and step up our efforts to protect other women whose lives and security are also at risk. Even more so, when 62% of citizens in Poland support the Istanbul Convention  .
After years of intense awareness raising work by women’s organisations, all EU member States and the EU have signed the Convention, indicating a clear political commitment to end violence against women in Europe. The vast majority of EU member States (21) and Council of Europe member states have also ratified the Istanbul Convention. In all these countries, there have been positive developments in policies, protection and prevention of violence against women and domestic violence. There is no evidence that in any of these countries, that the Convention is being used for anything other than protecting women, their children and other family members from violence.
Despite this, it is outrageous to see how regressive forces in many countries in Europe continue to spread intentionally misleading messages and false interpretations of the Convention. These arguments go against our shared European values and cannot be accepted. Let us be clear: the sole aim of these groups is to undermine any political and legislative attempt to improve the rights of women’s and girls. They operate in a wide range of European countries from Poland to Turkey, from Czech Republic to Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary or Latvia and have very close connections with the different dominant religious institutions in each country. This shows how attacks on the Istanbul Convention are part of the wider movement to restrict women’s rights and revert on commitments to equality between women and men.
When some Governments agree to follow the arguments of these regressive forces and take proactive steps to backtrack on women’s safety and integrity, it means that they deliberately want to build societies where women’s rights are not respected, where women and girls are considered inferior and their bodily integrity is not protected.
“All across Europe, violence against women has spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic, making even more evident the scale of the epidemic of male violence in all walks and sectors of life, including at home”, says Joanna Maycock, EWL Secretary General. “There can be no peace and security in the EU while women fear for their safety in their homes, in workplaces and in public places in Europe. It is outrageous to see that women are unequally protected across the EU: depending on where a woman lives in the EU, she might not get access to justice or be even listened to”.
The European Women’s Lobby calls to step up efforts at EU level to ensure that all women and girls can live a life free from violence in Europe and for the adoption of comprehensive legislative framework at EU level to address all forms of violence against women and girls. Concretely, the European Women’s Lobby calls on:
- The Polish Government to respect its legal commitments towards the EU and other international mechanisms. This includes not withdrawing from the Convention, but on the contrary, reaffirming its commitment and working towards ensuring that they meet the highest standards in the protection of women and girls from male violence. Furthermore, the Polish Government must listen to and support women’s specialist organisations, provide them with adequate resources to continue their work to protect victims, and prevent violence against women and girls.
- The six EU Member States that have not yet ratified the Convention, to do so without further delay; and on all the EU Member States to prioritise efforts to ensure its full and effective implementation.
- The EU to accede to the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, the Istanbul Convention.
- The EU to adopt a Directive on preventing and combating all forms of violence against women and girls to align existing relevant EU legislation and strengthen measures to disrupt the full continuum of violence. The Directive should be coherent and complementary to the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, the Istanbul Convention.
- The EU and EU Member States must provide adequate funding to support women’s rights organisations in a sustainable manner allowing them to address the emergency situation with regards to violence against women that threatens the security of women’s lives that has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. The new MFF should increase resources to combat violence against women and funding for the relevant organisations under the Daphne strand of the Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values Programme, as follows:
- Increased funds to the total financial envelope to €1.83 billion in current prices, with 50% earmarked to support civil society organisations, and:
- Allocate at least €72.6 million to the sub-strand on Gender equality, within the Equality, Rights and Gender Equality strand (15% of €484 million in current prices);
- Allocate at least €193.6 million to the sub-strand on Gender-based violence, within the Daphne strand (40% of 484 million in current prices), specifically to preventing and combating, at all levels, all forms of gender-based violence against women and girls and domestic violence, and promoting the standards laid down in the Istanbul Convention.
(c) Image: Women protest against intentions to get Poland to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention in Gansk on July 24, 2020 | Picture taken by Małgorzata Tarasiewicz.
Note to editors:
European Women’s Lobby (EWL), founded in 1990, is the largest European umbrella network of women’s associations representing a total of more than 2,000 organisations in the EU coming together to campaign for their common vision of a Feminist Europe. The EWL has members in 26 EU Member States, three Candidate Countries (North Macedonia, Serbia, Turkey), the United Kingdom and Iceland, as well as 17 European-wide organisations representing the diversity of women and girls in Europe. Together with our members, we aim to influence the general public and European Institutions in support of women’s human rights and equality between women and men.
Polish Women’s Lobby-Network of East-West Women Poland. NEWW-Polska was founded in 1999 as an independent organization. In 2004 it became the International Secretariat of The Network of East-West Women. NEWW has the status of an organization working for the public benefit. NEWW-Polska coordinates international and regional projects, organizes meetings and conferences supporting women’s participation in social and political life; organizes training sessions for women; provides free legal and psychological counseling; publishes information on women’s health, women in business, and violence towards women;
For further information, interviews and comment, please contact:
• Irene Rosales, EWL Policy and Campaigns officer, rosales [at] womenlobby.org;
• Małgorzata Tarasiewicz, President of Network of East-West Women Poland and EWL Board member anderstarasiewicz [at] gmail.com.
Statement by EWL Members
- A statement by the German section of WILPF
- A statement by the Icelandic Women’s Rights Association, in Icelandic, English and Polish.
 2 Prevalence data on intimate partner femicide in Poland: https://wyborcza.pl/duzyformat/7,127290,24419058,panstwo-chroni-swieta-rodzine-w-polsce-ginie-400-500-kobiet.html
Opinion Poll on the Istanbul Convention in Poland: https://www.rp.pl/Polityka/200729715-Sondaz-Wypowiedzenia-konwencji-stambulskiej-chce-tylko-15-proc-ankietowanych.html