Here’s an uncontroversial statement: domestic violence is bad. It’s bad for women, children and men. It’s an all-around nasty thing, right? And it’s worth doing all we reasonably can to stop it, right? Well, if you answered yes to both of the previous questions you are in opposition to the Polish Minister of Justice Jarosław Gowin who spent the major part of last week opposing the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Counterintuitive? Yes! Bigoted and incredibly stupid? Yes! In opposition to the minister’s very conservative views of women and marriage? Sadly – no.
The (and I cringe when I write his job title) Minister of Justice thinks that this convention will force Poland to legally acknowledge partnerships (including – oh, the horror! – homosexual partnerships!). What’s worse – the convention claims that gender is a social construct and men and women shouldn’t be limited in their life choices based on their sex. A former Catholic Church altar boy and current Opus Dei affiliate as well as self-proclaimed defender of ‘common sense’ could not stomach any of this “vicious feminist propaganda” (a charming phrase he uses to describe the Convention in question).
Who would have suspected – Gowin is proving to be a backward, bigoted chauvinist (pardon the legal jargon). Although he has surprisingly progressive views on transsexuals and thinks the state should help them live in accordance with their identified gender rather than that assigned at birth (including supporting gender re-assignment surgery). I say surprisingly because a lot of Catholics claim transsexuals are just confused, or something, because “God doesn’t make mistakes”. He can obviously cut himself off from some of his religiously and conservatively oriented worldview in a few cases but gender equality is not one of them.
This same man is willing to sacrifice protecting women from domestic violence on the altar of preserving traditional gender roles. And the real kicker? He claims traditional gender roles don’t exist! (Seriously – there is no way I could make this up!). To quote (in translation) from one of the numerous interviews he gave last week:
“I’m not a proponent of the ‘traditional role of women’ because no such thing exists. In every marriage the man and woman individually assign roles to themselves”.
And this is from a guy who has a PhD in philosophy. The absurdity of this statement is astounding! Here’s a member of the government of a large EU country (the Minister of Justice, no less), claiming that gender roles don’t exist and moreover, they’re only relevant in personal (heterosexual, monogamous) relationships! Further on in the interview there’s this wonderful passage:
“Interviewer: Can you, as a conservative politician, agree to promoting homosexuality and feminism in Poland?
Jarosław Gowin: As the Minister of Justice I stand on guard of the Polish Constitution. However, as a human being I am motivated by common sense and won’t be convinced that just because a man fulfils certain social roles he becomes a woman. […] Signing the convention puts a foot in the door for homosexual partnerships and feminists.”
What a wonderful question and a nuanced understanding of “gender” in the reply. According to Gowin the Convention turns sexual identification on its head by suggesting that social roles equal biologic destiny. Here is the offending statements:
“Parties shall undertake to include a gender perspective in the implementation and evaluation of the impact of the provisions of this Convention and to promote and effectively implement policies of equality between women and men and the empowerment of women.”
And the definition of gender is also included just in case the reader didn’t know the difference between biological sex and it’s social construct which is gender:
“Gender shall mean the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men.”
I’d like to think that none of this is controversial in the 21st century. However, Gowin can’t stand “empowerment of women” (which in his opinion will lead to the dissolution of the traditional family unit – whatever that means) and it appears that intellectually comprehending the difference between gender and sex requires more than he can muster.
And the last sentence is also pretty symptomatic – the minister thinks Polish feminists don’t even have a foot in the public life door yet! So yeah – it’s pretty bad back home. Feminists are active and have achieved quite a bit, but a lot more needs to be done.
It’s unacceptable that the Prime Minister tolerates a Minister who openly rejects gender equality (yes – that IS what feminism is about!) in light of the Polish constitution (which does guarantee it!) and the numerous international documents Poland has signed. If you’d like to tell the Minister what you think of him, I’d encourage you to visit his facebook page and write on his wall. He should know that supporting women – just over half of Poland’s citizens – is an important part of his mandate and gender equality and protection from gendered acts of violence is tantamount to preserving justice and an international cause if there ever was one!
A recovering scientist, healthcare analyst and junkie of all things gender and women's health