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Poland: Upholding full spectrum of rights key to ending violence against women and girls, says UN expert

09 March 2023

WARSAW/GENEVA (9 March 2023) – Unless women and girls enjoy the full spectrum of their human rights, no meaningful progress towards equality and prosperity can be realized in Poland, a UN expert said today.
“While Poland has made important advances towards a more equal treatment between men and women in the private and public sphere, women continue to face severe restrictions in their right to equality,” said Reem Alsalem, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls in a statement at the end of a 10-day visit to the country.

Alsalem noted that Poland has made important advances in equality for women particularly in the areas of economic empowerment, political participation and social policies and programs for pregnant and parenting women.

“More recently, Poland has improved its legal framework regarding domestic violence by revising the scope of related laws, expanding the definition of domestic violence, acknowledging sexual harassment and stalking and improving protection orders issued for victims of violence,” the Special Rapporteur said.
But Alsalem noted that despite progress, women and girls continue to face serious limitations in their right to equality in law and in practice, and in their right to freedom of belief, expression, association, family, privacy, and sexual and reproductive health. Legislation and policies were in general insufficiently gender and diversity sensitive, and adequate sex education in schools was lacking.

Alsalem said it was clear that most laws, policies and practices restricting women’s rights were at odds with the desires of the majority of Polish citizens.

“Recent public polls demonstrated that the public opinion is in favor of women and girls enjoying more expansive rights to access abortion than currently permitted,” the expert said. “There are also clear indications that Polish society is becoming more tolerant and accepting of sexually and gender diverse persons, but this is not being reflected in the Government’s stands and policies.”

“No government can go wrong if it listens to the aspirations and desires of its people, and I urge the Polish government to listen more closely,” she said.

Alsalem also expressed particular concern about the serious restrictions imposed on the access of women to safe abortion, as well as the clampdown on women organizations, human rights and LGBTQI+ organisations and environmental defenders.

“It is troubling that in some cases orchestrated attacks have been either initiated, supported or tolerated by a number of public officials, political and religious actors and accompanied by inflammatory rhetoric, disinformation and misinformation campaigns that affect their equal enjoyment of human rights, including their right to equal participation in society,” she said.

Alsalem said she recognised that the context in Poland has become more challenging recently, particularly with the arrival of Ukrainian refugees – the overwhelming majority of whom are women and children.

“Poland demonstrated exceptional solidarity and generosity towards Ukrainians fleeing the war – a support that was shouldered primary by ordinary people and local communities,” the expert said. “There is no doubt that receiving persons fleeing the horrors of the war in Ukraine and granting them a regular status constitute in themselves powerful forms of protecting survivors of violence against further violence and supporting them,” she said.

But the Special Rapporteur said that now that lives had been saved and the most immediate needs of refugees met, it is important to put in place more nuanced mechanisms for reception, assistance, and protection of the most vulnerable groups, including women and girls.

She added that she was very concerned by the discriminatory treatment and violence that a majority of non-Ukrainian asylum seeker and refugee women, girls and their families were subjected to.

“You cannot continue to have these outright contradictions in the asylum and protection system to women and girls fleeing essentially for the same reasons: escaping persecution, violence, including sexual violence, and conflict,” Alsalem said. She recalled that Poland was bound by the same obligations under international law, including the protection against pushbacks and the right to safe and humane reception and access to effective asylum procedures.

The Special Rapporteur will present a full report on her visit to the Human Rights Council in June 2024.


Ms. Reem Alsalem (Jordan) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences by the UN Human Rights Council in July 2021, to recommend measures, ways and means, at the national, regional and international levels, to eliminate violence against women and its causes, and to remedy its consequences. She is an independent consultant on gender issues, the rights of refugees and migrants, transitional justice and humanitarian response. She holds a Master’s in International Relations from the American University in Cairo, Egypt (2001) and a Master’s in Human Rights Law from the University of Oxford, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (2003). 

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact

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Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter: @UN_SPExperts.

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