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Press Release - Poland: OMCT expresses its concern about violence against women in Poland at the 29th Session of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights


The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) expresses its concern regarding violence against women in Poland at the Twenty-Ninth Session of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Geneva, 13 November 2002

The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights will today begin its examination of the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Poland. In its alternative country report entitled "Violence against Women in Poland", which has been submitted to the Committee, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) expresses its grave concern at the widespread violence against women in the private and community spheres.

Although Poland’s Constitution guarantees equality between men and women and Poland has signed several major international instruments calling for equality between the sexes, in practice, women suffer from discrimination in Poland in both the private and public spheres. This discrimination is exacerbated by cultural stereotypes concerning the role of women, ineffective legislation for the prevention and punishment of violence against women, and inadequate services for women who are victims of violence.

OMCT is deeply concerned by the prevalence of domestic violence in Poland. In spite of the fact that there is little statistical information concerning the scope of the problem, data collected by local NGOs suggests that as many as one in six women in Poland is a victim of domestic violence and that this violence affects women of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds. Cultural and societal perceptions of the role of women lead to a trivialization of domestic violence, for example, requirements that women provide evidence that they have been battered on numerous occasions in order to press charges, refusal of police officers to acknowledge domestic violence as a crime, emphasis on reconciliation between spouses rather than prosecution and claims that marital rape does not occur in Poland because it is a wife’s duty to submit to her husband.

As well as constituting a violation of articles 3, 10 and 11 of the ICESCR (guaranteeing equality, protection of the family, and the right to an adequate standard of living), the high rates of domestic violence in Poland are directly linked to failures to adequately guarantee the rights contained in articles 6 and 7 of the Covenant (providing for the right to work and just and equal conditions of work). Women suffer from higher levels of unemployment than men in Poland and when they are employed, they frequently work in precarious and less well remunerated jobs that means that women are often economically dependent on their male partners and are therefore unable to leave violent relationships. In addition, the shortage of adequate housing including emergency shelters for victims of domestic violence has created a situation whereby women who are victims of domestic violence often have little choice than to continue co-habiting with the perpetrators of this violence.

OMCT is equally concerned about the high incidence of trafficking in women in Poland. Sources indicate that up to 60 per cent of women working as prostitutes in Poland are victims of trafficking and that as many as 10,000 women and girls are trafficked out of Poland each year. Violations of economic, social and cultural rights and entrenched gender discrimination are two of the underlying factors that have helped to create such a fertile climate for trafficking into, through and out of Poland. Many women become victims of trafficking because they are trying to escape unemployment and abusive family situations.

Many women in Poland become pregnant at an early age and get married while they are still minors as a result. There is a lack of sex education and access to contraception and abortion and sterilization are illegal. The absence of information available to women concerning reproduction contributes to women’s status as unemployed dependents of their husbands.

Overall, OMCT’s report concludes that while Poland has a duty under international law to act with due diligence to prevent, investigate, prosecute and punish all forms of violence against women, irrespective of whether this violence is committed by public or private individuals, this obligation has not been adequately implemented at the national level.

For copies of the alternative report on violence against women in Poland or for further information on OMCT’s programme on Violence against Women please contact Lucinda O’Hanlon on + 41 22 809 4939 or
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