A recent report published by Human Rights Watch, has denounced attacks by the ruling political party in Poland on women’s rights groups and activists. The first mass protests against efforts to further restrict abortion access took place over two years ago, yet the Law and Justice party (Prawo I Sprawiedliwość or PiS) is submitting women’s rights activists to smear campaigns, threats, and raids, also taking activist groups before the court and had them denied funding in an attempt to stop protest activity. According to HRW’s report “The Breath of the Government on My Back’: Attacks on Women’s Rights in Poland”, the PiS party considers women’s rights activity as dangerous to traditional values.

The role of the government appears quite blurry, as no major action as been taken to counter the PiS party’s threats or to protect the activists and their organizations. These threats, and the inaction of the Polish government, are contributing to the negative appraisal of women’s rights in Poland. The HRW report follows retrogressive bills on emergency contraception and the most restrictive law in Europe concerning abortion. With the aim of further reducing women’s reproductive freedom, comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education have also ceased to be provided.

The cuts in funding have led organizations to drastically reduce their staffs and specialized services, as has impacted their reach throughout the region. Moreover, the constant public discourse of mistrust of the government furthers generalized suspicion and fear across the country.

Women’s reproductive freedom is not the only impacted area. Women’s rights organizations are also heavily supportive of women who flee domestic abuses and have nowhere else to go, as well as support to women facing depression associated with workplace harassment, which often leads to resignation.

The United Nations warned in December 2018 about the rollback of women’s rights in Poland. UN experts belonging to the Working Group on Discrimination Against Women presented their observations at the end of a 10-day visit in the country. Various legal rollbacks have led tens of thousands of women to demonstrate in the streets of Warsaw since 2016. The UN Group emphasized the attempts to limit reforms on gender equality, considered “anti-family traditional values”, where the government actively tries to stigmatize gender ideology as a took for political attacks on women human rights defenders. The Working Group associated these acts with religious Catholic conservatism, and its powerful seat within the country.

According to said Hillary Margolis, a women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch: “Using scare tactics to cripple these groups is just another attempt by the Polish government to roll back women’s rights… Activists have targets on their backs simply for helping survivors of abuse or for supporting basic rights to reproductive health and peaceful protest.”

Despite the PiS party’s attempts to quiet women’s rights organisations and activists in the country, the UN Working Group noted, “we are incredibly encouraged to see that this has also resulted in increased activism of women at the grassroot level demanding their rights to equality”, and will release a full report to the Human Rights Council (OCHR) in June 2019.


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Image courtesy of Grzegorz Zukowski via Flickr

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