Poland’s right-wing government went into damage control on Monday after it drew criticism at home and abroad for saying it planned to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, an international treaty fighting violence against women.
“There is no official, unequivocal decision regarding the Istanbul Convention,” Michal Dworczyk, a member of the conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS) and head of the Prime Minister’s Chancellery, told Polsat News.
The convention, which Poland ratified in 2015, has been signed by most European countries as well as the European Union.
But on Saturday, ultra-conservative Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro announced his intention to withdraw Poland from the landmark agreement.
“It contains elements of an ideological nature, which we consider harmful,” he stated at a news conference.
Thousands of Poles took to the streets in protest, and other officials from across Europe voiced similar outrage.
“Leaving the Istanbul Convention would be highly regrettable and a major step backwards in the protection of women against violence in Europe,” said Secretary-General of the Council of Europe Marija Pejcinović Burić in a statement.
Now, the government is insisting it has not committed to withdrawal. PiS spokesman Radoslaw Fogiel said that people outraged by the prospect are acting prematurely.
The Istanbul Convention covers a lot of ground in the fight against women’s violence. The preamble to the treaty recognizes the urgency of ending “domestic violence, sexual harassment, rape, forced marriage,” and genital mutilation.
But to the treaty’s opponents, these provisions are less concerning than a perceived effort to impose gender ideology. Polish Deputy Justice Minister Michał Wójcik said in a TV interview that “[t]here is no consent to smuggle ideology under the protection of the rights of people.”
Socially conservative rhetoric like this helped carry Polish President Andrzej Duda to re-election earlier this month. Duda had campaigned against “LGBT ideology,” and much of his support came from southeast jurisdictions that had symbolically declared themselves “LGBT-free zones.”
But Duda’s victory was extremely narrow, and those who opposed it have mobilized in support of LGBT and feminist causes. Younger Poles in particular voted overwhelmingly against Duda’s platform of “traditional values.”
Such division helps explain why a government so recently validated by popular election could announce its plans to quit the Istanbul Convention and, in the span of one weekend, be forced to walk them back.