Violence Against Women in Poland
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Population of women: 19,700,100/38,038,100
Life expectancy of women (at birth): 80
School life expectancy: 16
Women's adult literacy: 99%
Unemployment of women: 8%
Women engaged in economic activity: 46%

Source: U.N. Statistics Division, Social Indicators, updated June 2011



Last updated: 10 October 2009

Contributed by Xenia Kastsevich

Poland is a parliamentary republic. The Polish Parliament consists of 2 chambers: Sejm (Lower House) and Senate (Upper House). In 2007, women had 93 (20.5%) out of 460 seats in the Lower House and 8 (8%) out of 100 seats in the Upper House (data from the Inter-parliamentary Union). Out of a total of 61 seats in the European Parliament assigned to Poland, Polish women took 7 seats (13%) as compared to 54 taken by men-parliamentarians (data from the Inter-parliamentary Union).
Poland became a member of the European Union on 1 May 2004. Certain amendments have been made to the Polish legislation in order to bring it into conformity with EU laws and standards. The changes reflect regulations contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the European Social Charter and others.Since becoming a full EU member, Poland has adopted a number of laws aimed at eliminating discrimination against women and promoting gender equality, and at achieving compliance with its obligations under various Conventions. In particular, the amendments to the Labour Code include a new chapter on the equal treatment of women and men and provide definitions for direct and indirect discrimination. (For analysis, please see here).
The structure and organization of the judiciary in Poland is regulated by the Constitution and by the law of 2001 on the Structure of Common Courts. The administration of justice in Poland is implemented by the Supreme Court, common courts, administrative courts, and military courts.
Chapter II of the Constitution of 1997 provides major standards of protection of freedoms and human rights. For instance, Article 32 states that all persons shall be equal before the law; and no one shall be discriminated against in political, social or economic life for any reason whatsoever. Equality between men and women is also stipulated in Article 33, e.g. men and women shall have equal rights in all spheres of life, including political, social and economic spheres. Men and women shall have equal rights regarding education, employment and promotion, equal compensation for work of similar value, social security etc. Article 41(1) of the Constitution provides that every person shall be assured personal inviolability and personal freedom. Deprivation or limitation of freedom may occur only under the principles of the Constitution and in a statutorily-defined manner. In addition, Article 47 guarantees the right to "legal protection of his private and family life, of his honour and good reputation and to make decisions about his personal life" to all persons.
According to the Family and Guardianship Code the spouses, both during marriage and in the event of separation or divorce, have equal rights and obligations. Both male and female employees are equally entitled to childcare leave.
At present women are entitled to a maternity leave of the following duration:
-         20 weeks after the first delivery
-         31 weeks in the case of delivering more than one child during one delivery.
Maternity leave can be followed by parental leave and it can last up to 3 years - (either parent is entitled to take it). From 2010, fathers will also be entitled to one week's paternity leave which can be taken whether or not the mother is on maternity leave at the time.
The statutory retirement age for women is 60 years; for men - 65 years (Law on old age and disability pensions from the Social Security Fund). This age discrepancy is acknowledged to breach the EU equal treatment directives (e.g. 76/207/EEC, 2000/78/EC, 2002/73/EC, 2004/113/EC, 2006/54/EC), and arguably, contributes to a pension benefit of about 60 % lower for women, as compared to men (Report for the WTO General Council ). However, the government’s repeated proposals for adopting the same retirement age for men and women have never been accepted (further on pensions in Poland, here).
The Law on the promotion of employment and labour market institutions of April 2004 prohibits discrimination on grounds of sex, age, disability, race, ethnic background, nationality, sexual orientation, political beliefs, religious creed and membership in a union and applies in particular to the following:
  • Employment agency
  • Information provided by an employer about a vacancy or a venue of professional training, which must not specify conditions discriminating against candidates
  • Choice of candidates for trainings and re-trainings
  • Vocational guidance counselling
  • Criteria of issuing promises and work permits for foreigners
Furthermore, there is a provision for a fine for employment agencies who do not comply with the anti-discrimination legislation.
Though unemployment in Poland decreased in 2005 to the level of 17.6 %, in 2006 - to the level of 14.8 % and in 2007 - to 11.4 %; it remains a serious problem in 2009, remaining at 11.2 % (the Economist). Unemployment among young people is at the rate of 25%; for males it is 20%, for females – 23.8%.
In 2008, the women employment rate was 52.4% (for men – 66.3%). Women’s representation in management in 2007 was 189 women as compared to 427 men-employers; and 194 women as compared to 448 men-employers in 2008 (ILO data). Predominantly women stay in such low-paid occupations as nurses, primary-level teachers, administrators and janitors. (Poland Shadow Report 2006, p.13.)
Rural women, new mothers, and older Polish women are at a particular disadvantage in the labor market, facing discriminatory practices.   There have been campaigns launched and national programs adopted to combat gender stereotypes at home and work, particularly in rural communities, to promote women's entrepreneurship and to protect women workers over age 45. Those include The National Strategy of Employment Growth and the National Employment Action Plan for 2008 – 2010, the Act on employment promotion and labour market institutions, and the Act on social and vocational rehabilitation.
The Department for Women, Family and Prevention of Discrimination (MLSP) of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy is a coordinator of actions related to the social status of women and the family; the MLSP is a successor of the Government Plenipotentiary for Equal Status of Women and Men.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Policy had prepared a draft law on equal treatment which was to have been submitted to parliament in February 2009. In view of the serious problems encountered in the work (precise definition of the scope of application of the law, determination of its relationship with other laws, position of the authority supervising the law’s implementation), the date of conveying the law to parliament has been delayed.
Sexual harassment
Sexual harassment could be prosecuted under Articles 11(2) and 11(3) of the Labour Code, which address equal treatment and discrimination in working relationships, respectively. Sexual harassment is also prohibited under Article 18(3)(a)(4,5,6), which states that, "discrimination in reference to gender shall also comprise all unaccepted behaviour of a sexual character or behaviour referring to the gender of the employee whose objective or effect comprises transgression against the dignity, or insult or humiliation, of an employee; such behaviour may comprise physical, verbal, or non-verbal elements (sexual harassment)." The Labour Code (Art. 94 (3)) also has a definition of bullying and lays the responsibility to counteract bullying at work on the employer (click here for harassment at work).
NGOs (e.g. Centre for Women's Rights) note that sexual harassment is a serious and underreported problem. Many victims do not report abuse, or withdraw harassment claims in the course of police investigations out of shame or fear of losing their job. However, the topic of sexual harassment is openly reported and discussed in the media, which helps to heighten social awareness of the problem. During the first six months of 2008, police reported 63 cases of sexual harassment, as compared with 82 cases during 2007 (U.S. Dept. of State report).

Rape is punished under Article 197 of the Criminal Code, which states that whoever forces another person to have sexual intercourse by force, threat or deceit, shall be punished by a sentence of one to ten years' imprisonment; the maximum sentence increases to twelve years if committed with the use of particular cruelty or by a group. In 2007, according to police statistics, 1,827 cases of rape were reported; in the first half of 2008, police reported 768 such cases (2008 Dept. of State report).
Criminal Code Article 199 punishes anyone who, using the relation of dependence or the critical situation of another person, forces that person to have sexual intercourse or any other form of sexual activity or forces a person to perform such an activity, by imprisonment for three years.
Trafficking in human beings
Poland has adopted the UN Convention against Trans-national Organised Crime, the Palermo Protocol and the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, and the Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-country Adoption. Since 2008, Poland has been a party to the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. In September 2006, the Central Committee for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings was created in Polish General Police Headquarters.
Though the Polish Criminal Code does not contain a clear definition of trafficking in human beings, Article 204(4) of the Code punishes the recruitment or abduction of persons for the purposes of prostitution abroad by a prison sentence of one to ten years. Inducing another person to engage in prostitution for profit is also punishable under Article 253(1) by up to three years' imprisonment. Article 253 punishes "trade in humans," even with the victims' consent, by a minimum prison sentence of three years. In addition, Article 189 (deprivation of liberty), Article 190 (threats to commit an offense detrimental to another) and Article 191 (force or threats to compel a person to conduct, resist or submit to certain behavior) may be used to prosecute trafficking offenses.
The U.S. Department of State in its 2008 Trafficking in Person report ranked Poland as a Tier 1 country. Traffickers tend to "target young, unemployed and poorly paid women and men, particularly those with weak family ties and support networks." In 2007, according to the U.S. Department of State, which quoted the Ministry of Justice of Poland, 70 traffickers were convicted for forced prostitution and trafficking.
Currently, the National Action Plan against Trafficking in human beings for 2009-2010 is being put into practice. This program continues the initiatives of the 2006-2008 action plan, and is set to be an integral part of the National Development Strategy for 2007-2015. The primary objectiveof the Plan is to create conditions for effective prevention and combating of trafficking in human beings in Poland and to support and protect victims of this crime. It aims at improving the effectiveness of governmental bodies, enhancing legal tools, disseminating knowledge among potential victims, providing training for border guards, law enforcement officers, shelter staff, medical personnel, and others working with victims, as well as for judges and others responsible for the prosecution of the crime of human trafficking.
According to the Act on aliens, there are provisions for protection of foreign victims of human trafficking:  a foreign victim of human trafficking may be granted a visa or a residence permit for a limited period of time if the victim/witness decides to cooperate with law enforcement; accommodation in a safe facility under the care of a trained social worker; basic medical care; assistance of an interpreter; assistance in contacts with law-enforcement and judiciary officials; and the arrangement of a safe return to the country of origin.
The NGOs “La Strada” Foundation, Caritas” Poland, “Nobody’s Children Foundation”, “ITAKA” Foundation – Centre for Missing Persons , and “Halina Nieć Legal Aid Centre” are working with government agencies in implementing and monitoring the “Programme for support of victims/witnesses of human trafficking.”

Domestic Violence
In 2007, CEDAW expressed its concerns about the persistence of deep-rooted prejudice and stereotypical attitudes against women in the Polish society.  Such stereotypes are also deeply rooted in the areas of media, education, and employment. As the authors of the report ‘Intimate Partner Violence by Men Abusing and Non-abusing Alcohol in Poland’ point out, according to statistics of the Ministry of Justice, men constitute 98% of the number of perpetrators of domestic violence.
As an instrument for improving domestic violence situations, a 'Blue Card' procedure was introduced in 1998. Under this procedure, a police officer dealing with an incident of domestic violence is obligated to provide the victim with basic legal information relevant to the problem and to explain the possible ways to seek legal protection and assistance. This procedure also serves as a tool for gathering statistical information about this type of offense.
The 2005 Polish Law on Domestic Violence outlines government responsibilities to counteract domestic violence. According to the law, it is possible to impose pre-trial police supervision of perpetrators of domestic violence, but only when the perpetrators leave the place where they stayed with the victim. It states that in the case of a perpetrator’s suspended sentence, it is for the court to decide about the form of future contact between the perpetrator and the victim. In certain defined circumstances, the court may require that the perpetrator stay away from the victim. The court may also require the perpetrator to undergo a therapy or educational program. However, certain housing issues have prevented the successful implementation of these provisions (see also the ‘Shadow report Poland 2006 on the implementation of the CEDAW’, p. 8).

In 2005-2007 the following amendments were made to the Law on preventing domestic violence:

  • Introduction of a prohibition of child abuse;
  • Introduction of an injunction to vacate the premises by a person suspected of the use of violence;
  • Indication of places where the perpetrators can be directed;
  • Provision of free-of-charge forensic examination;
  • Extension of the definition of domestic violence to include economic violence;
  • Introduction of the “Blue Card” procedure into the Law;
  • Support for the prevention system at the level of commune governments and introduction of a statutory obligation of preparing and implementing local programs of combating domestic violence; and
  • Adoption of a protective program related to the prevention of domestic violence.
The implementation of the National Programme Against Domestic Violence, adopted in 2006, aims to change public attitudes towards violence, increase the number of workers professionally helping the victims and perpetrators of domestic violence, and increase the number of support centres for family victims. The eight-year program, "Safer Together," includes educating victims about legal procedures, tightening cooperation between organizations to assist victims, and developing a consistent system of procedures to exchange information among all entities involved in counteracting domestic violence.
The Ministry of Interior and Administration is responsible for the national implementation of the EU DAPHNE III programme to “Prevent and combat violence against children, young people and women and to protect victims and groups at risk.” In this regard, the Ministry also conducts direct cooperation with NGOs.
Not only is domestic violence costly for society; it can also increase the risk of being trafficked (p. 61 of the La Strada report). Some studies show that 60% of trafficked women report having experienced at least one form of violence (physical or sexual) prior to having been trafficked. Half of these women reported that they had been physically assaulted. In 2007, there were 130,682 victims of domestic violence, compared to 157,854 in 2006 (for UN data on violence convictions in 2005-2008 click here).
It is reported that there are 143 crisis intervention centers in Poland run by municipalities. They provide social, medical, psychological, and legal assistance to victims and "corrective-educational" programs for abusers.

Compiled from
Amnesty International, Annual Report: Poland 2009, available at
Angela Coyle, Has Transition Left Women Behind? Polish Women’s Labour Markets at ‘Home’ and ‘Abroad’, LSE and UNDP issue ‘Development and Transition’, 2007, available at
Council of Ministers, Poland, Resolution No.162/2006, 25 September 2006, National Programme for counteracting domestic violence 2006-2016, (Journal of Laws No.180, item 1493), available at
Eleonora Zielinska, Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, Monitoring law and practice in Poland, 2005 (OSKA, National Women’s Information Centre), available at
European Parliament and the Council Decision 779/2007/ec, 20 June 2007, Establishing for the period 2007-2013 a specific programme to prevent and combat violence against children, young people and women and to protect victims and groups at risk (Daphne III programme), available at
Freedom House, Country Report 2008, available at
Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Poland: Resources available to victims of domestic violence (January 2005 - December 2005), POL100813.E, 30 December 2005, available at:,COI,,,POL,45f1480311,0.html
International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Annual Report, Poland 2007, available at
International Organization for Migration, Country report, Poland, available at
La Strada International, Report: Violation of Women’s Rights, A cause and Consequence of Trafficking in Women, Amsterdam, 8 March 2008, available at
Magdalena Pocheć, Wanda Nowicka et al., Shadow report: On the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women,
Poland, 2006, available at
Marta Makara-Studzinska, Katarzyna Gustaw, Intimate Partner Violence by Men Abusing and Non-abusing Alcohol in Poland, Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2007, 4(1), 76-80, available at
The UN Secretary General’s database on violence against women, Poland, available at
UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW),
Consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, NY, January 2007, available at
UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), Progress of the World’s Women 2008/2009: Who answers to women? available at
UN Development Programme, Report: Working out Employment Poland 2004, available at
UN Human Rights Committee, International Covenant On Civil and Political rights, Sixth Periodic Reports of States parties, Poland, ccpr/C/POL/6, 2 April 2009, available at
US Dep’t of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Human Rights Report: Poland, 2009, available at
Women Watch, Statistics and Indicators, available at