Anna Toporowska
Faculty of Law, Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland
Research interests: Constitutional Law, law and morality connection

The Government Plenipotenetiary for Civil Society and Equal Treatment in Poland
received a draft proposal for termination of the Convention on preventing and combating
violence against women and domestic violence, informs Adam Bodnar, the Polish
Ombudsman. As Bodnar claims, “it should be stressed, that entrying into force of the
Convention was a milestone in providing the protection of fundamental rights and
freedoms of women experiencing violence based on gender.” At this point two camps
considering that matter developed. One, stating that the Convention is unnecessary and,
in fact, harmful and the second, believing that it was a big step for our legislation.
The Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and
domestic violence (hereinafter referred to as: the Convention) is a Council of Europe
document, opened for signature on 11 May 2011 in Istanbul, Turkey. It was signed by
Poland in 2012, and (after a big political battle) ratified in 2015. Its aim is to prevent
violence and protect victims of domestic violence, especially women. The Convention
states, amongst others, that the key to minimise this harmful practise is counteracting the
promotion of traditional gender roles. It was one of the main accusations of the Polish
right-wing activists towards the document, however not the only one.
As Ordo Iuris (the Law Culture Institute Foundation, one of the most prominent,
right-wing legal organizations) states, the differentiation between feminine and masculine
gender roles cannot be prohibited, as such a ban opposes to Polish Constitution axiology,
which emphasizes the connection to the previous national traditions. One of the influential
media uses even the expression “natural feminine roles”. The conservative parties in the
country are afraid, that the Convention is going to destroy the Polish culture and its
attachment to the role model of a woman, whose main mission is taking care of the family
home. Moreover, the skeptics believe that “promoting non-stereotypical gender roles” is
closely related to promotion of homo- and transsexuality, which is perceived as one of the
dangers of European modern culture. This argument is not necessarily rational, as from
the document’s text such conclusion should not be interpreted.
One of the most convincing arguments is one that states, that the Convention
focuses mainly on women’s problems (e.g. 22(2)) and, by that, discriminates men who
also suffer domestic violence, and the elderly, whose problems were not even mentioned
in the document. It is worth considering, even though women are vast majority of the
victims of such treatment.
The termination enthusiasts also state that the Convention is unnecessary because
of two reasons: the first one is that, according to the EU survey on domestic violence,
Poland is one of the countries with the lowest rate of such harm and the highest rate of its
reporting. This survey was proceeded in a way that aimed to prevent confusion about the
definition of violence, by asking precise questions, about specific types of offences.
However, it did not exhaust every possibility and, for example, in a subject of sexual
assault never mentioned taking advantage of a drunk or intoxicated victim. Nevertheless,
there might be some track, that the problems with equal treatment do not have to
determine domestic violence. Moreover, some lawyers point that Polish law prevents this
kind of harm in a more general, but rather sufficient way. Beginning from the Constitution,
which introduces gender equality, through particular articles of the Penal Code (sexual,
physical and psychical assault) and the Family and Guardianship Code (economic
Having said that, one must emphasize, that the problem of domestic violence does
exist in Poland. It might be (and probably is) caused by gender inequality in practice, but
the roots of the problem are more diverse. One of the biggest factors is probably the
alcoholism – the research confirmed that there is a strict connection between alcohol or
drug problems and domestic violence, as well as the violence in general. Women are still
often treated in a degrading manner, secondary victimisation is also quite common.
These signs may indicate that the legislation is sufficient only in theory.
As it is widely known, the law is able to give shape to the morality. It is confirmed by
lots of examples, that behaviours specifically forbidden by law (even if not wrong,
according to some bases of the natural law) are, in the longer period of time, perceived as
morally wrong by the society. This is why terminating of the Convention is not a good idea.
There is a huge possibility that the large majority of deeds, specified by this document is
also prohibited by the Polish law. Nevertheless, putting pressure on that area might affect
the consciousness of the people, and make them consider concrete acts as expression of
violence. The fact of planning such termination can also be an alert. If the Convention
does not change any basic concepts of Polish law, the harsh reluctance towards this
document may be perceived as a gesture. The gesture, that informs about the
Government’s views on gender roles and dignity of female part of the population.