UN experts warn of women's rights rollback in Poland

Warsaw (AFP) –


United Nations human rights experts on Thursday expressed concern over recent rollbacks of women's rights in Poland, especially those regarding reproductive health and societal roles.

The delegation from the UN Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and in Practice presented their observations at the end of a 10-day visit to the EU member country.

"Rollbacks are our biggest concern. The difficulty in accessing emergency contraception is one very concrete example. And then the attempt to ban abortion altogether," UN expert Melissa Upreti told reporters.

Since coming to power in 2015, the governing conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party has ended public funding for in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) and made the morning-after pill prescription-only.

There have also been attempts to tighten the devoutly Catholic country's abortion laws, which are already among Europe's most restrictive.

One such initiative was scrapped after tens of thousands of women dressed in black protested across the country in 2016.

The UN delegation said in a statement that it is encouraged by the "increased activism of women at the grassroots level".

The group noted that this year marks 100 years since Poland granted women the right to vote -- one of the first European countries to do so.

Poland "historically has had an active and vibrant women's movement, but the rise of religious conservatism questions some of the gains women have fought for," the group said in the statement.

In addition to rollbacks of reproductive rights, the group said it was also troubled by increasing attacks on gender equality efforts.

"While the traditional roles of women in the family are being actively promoted through laws and policies, advocates for gender equality are increasingly being characterised as 'anti-family'," the group said.

"We are also concerned with the rise of homophobic speech and other forms of hate speech" and "regret that same-sex partnerships are not legally recognised."

The experts said there have been positive steps in certain areas, including efforts to improve child care services and social protection measures.

The PiS government notably introduced the "500+" programme granting families with more than one offspring a monthly 500 zloty (116 euros, $132) per child.