Sunday

21st Jan 2018

Women shake Poland's pillars of power

  • Women protesting outside Poland's parliament. (Photo: Grzegorz Żukowski)

Polish women will once again dress in black and protest for their rights on Sunday and Monday (23 and 24 October).

A national walkout on 3 October scared Poland’s governing Law and Justice (PiS) party into scuppering a bill which would put women in jail for interrupting pregnancies.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Elzbieta Korolczuk (left) at the strike in Warsaw on 3 October. (Photo: Piotr Stasiak)

”PiS panicked and backed away. But they don’t get why we are protesting,” Marta Lempart, the rallies' coordinator, told this website. ”They keep speaking of women in mocking terms and threaten us with new, barbaric bills."

For instance: PiS party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said last week he would like women to carry through pregnancies of 'unviable fetuses', unable to survive birth, so they "could be baptised, get a name".

Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski called the protesters a joke, while right-wing opposition leader Pawel Kukiz said they were loose women.

The public broadcaster TVP, meanwhile, said women were provocators and their protests could incite political murder.

And the archbishop of Warsaw, Henryk Hoser, declared that raped women rarely get pregnant, because stress reduces their fertility.

Solidarity, the trade union that spearheaded Poland's fight for democracy in the 80s, filed a copyright complaint against demonstrators who made female versions of its symbols. 


Protestors have also been harassed by employers, with at least one demonstrator losing her job.

All this only added fuel to fires of outrage.

”On Monday (24 October) we will protest once more, against scorn and misogyny, the church’s involvement in politics and political interference in the education system,” Lempart said.

She explained the objectives were based on proposals put forward by the grassroots.

"We haven't yet decided whether we should advocate for a liberalisation of the current abortion law," she said. "That's something we must discuss further."

A feminist revolution?

During the first strike, one of the most popular chants was: "women will overthrow this government". The message also came in a shorter version: "PiS off".

Social-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) has during its one year in power paralysed the judicial system and debased public broadcasters into a government megaphone.

The opposition has watched from the sidelines, while the European Commission has threatened with sanctions.

KOD, the Committee for the Defence of Democracy, has organised the largest protests in support of democracy since the 80s.

But the government paid no heed to criticism - until women walked out.

”90 percent of the protests took place in small cities,” Lempart explained. ”Nothing could scare the ruling party more than the rise of a civic spirit in what has traditionally been the bastions of traditional, Catholic thinking.”

”This is the dawn of Poland’s feminist revolution,” said Elzbieta Korolczuk, a sociologist and researcher in gender studies at Soedertoern University in Sweden.

The protests have escalated far beyond the binned ban on legal abortion. They could even redraw Poland’s political map, Korolczuk told this website.

”On 3 October, Polish women began to see themselves as citizens with opinions and rights that the state is obliged to respect. But the problem is that none of the parties in Poland’s parliament can seriously say it’s representing women's rights and interests.”

A political revolution?

Research from Warsaw University shows that Polish women are far more left-minded, tolerant and egalitarian than their countrymen.

But all the five parties represented in Poland’s parliament are conservative.

”For years, the parties built their political power on misogynous ground,” Korolczuk said.

Poland’s transition to democracy was in some ways a step back for women's rights. Politicians used them as bargaining chips in negotiations with the Catholic Church.

In 1993, the parliament ”thanked” priests for supporting the resistance movement by restricting legal abortion to a few cases: rape, danger to the woman's life and severely damaged fetuses.

A decade later, the church blessed Poland's EU membership in exchange for assurances that neither the Polish government nor the EU would meddle with the restrictive abortion laws.

A special line was added to Poland's accession treaty, saying "Poland's government understands that nothing in the EU treaties prevent the Polish state from regulating issues of moral importance, as well as issues relevant to protection of human life".

Women's rights organisations complained, but nobody listened. Successive Polish governments and the EU tried to bury the topic.

”We had almost stopped hoping that the situation could change after so many years. Then came a generation of furious young women who simply won’t accept that their rights are bartered with,” Korolczuk said.

Women realised they were many, and that their private problems were often political.

”I find it hard to believe that women who walk out today will put their vote on someone who does not take them seriously in the next election,” Korolczuk said.

”Either the existing parties take these issues on-board, or new parties will take their female voters.”

Trusting politicians

But for the moment, women seek to distance themselves from politicians.

They booed MPs from the previous ruling party Civic Platform (PO) who turned up at the protests.

”How can we trust PO when some PO politicians voted for the abortion ban,” Korolczuk said.

The liberal Nowoczesna party wasn’t much better, she said.

Some of the party's female MPs wanted to table a proposal that would enhance the access to legal abortion and sexual education, but their party leader Ryszard Petru forbade them.

Korolczuk said that the new, left-leaning Razem (Together) party could "maybe" attract women’s votes.

The party organised the first protest against the abortion ban, in April. It was a Razem activist that had the idea that protesters would dress in black.

Razem board member Katarzyna Paprota told EUobserver the party didn't want to compete with women's groups.

"But we encourage women to go into politics and have seen a surge in membership applications from women," Paprota said.

Lempart, however, said protests were above all organised by grassroots.

”This is the strike of Polish women. We won’t let let any political party take credit for our work,” Lempart said.

Poland defies EU on rule of law

Prime minister Szydlo said the European Commission concerns over rule of law in Poland were political grudges.

Interview

Polish government in bid to defund NGOs

Ruling Law and Justice has promised to overhaul the NGO sector. The move could strain relations with Norway, a major donor to Polish civic life.

Poland faces 'nuclear option' of EU sanctions

The EU Commission could ask member states to impose sanctions against Poland for its breach of the rule of law in a crucial meeting, though experts say the country is unlikely to be punished.

Opinion

Poland: A country without a constitution

Poland is entering a period of rule by PiS decree, with street protests, foreign pressure, and regime infighting left as the only hopes for rule of law writes Maciej Kisilowski.

Bulgaria's corruption problem mars EU presidency start

A dispute between the government and the president over an anti-corruption law has put the spotlight on one of the Bulgaria's main problems - just as it is trying to showcase its economic and social progress.

News in Brief

  1. Germany confirms attendance at air quality summit
  2. Nearly half of 'fixed' Dieselgate cars show problems
  3. YouTube, Twitter, Facebook up hate speech deletion
  4. UK mulls bridge to France
  5. German far-right float anti-asylum bill
  6. EU Parliament to investigate glyphosate-decision process
  7. 'Mutagenesis' falls outside EU's GMO rules, says EU top lawyer
  8. Decision on Polish MEP's Nazi-era slur postponed

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Solutions for Sustainable Cities: New Grants Awarded for Branding Projects
  2. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersOresund Inspires Other EU Border Regions to Work Together to Generate Growth
  4. Mission of China to the EUTrade Between China, Belt and Road Countries up 15%
  5. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Calls on EU to Sanction Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Expel Ambassadors
  6. Dialogue PlatformRoundtable on "Political Islam, Civil Islam and The West" 31 January
  7. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement and Same-Sex Couples in Romania – Case Update!
  8. EU2017EEEstonia Completes First EU Presidency, Introduced New Topics to the Agenda
  9. Bio-Based IndustriesLeading the Transition Towards a Post-Petroleum Society
  10. ACCAWelcomes the Start of the New Bulgarian Presidency
  11. Mission of China to the EUPremier Li and President Tusk Stress Importance of Ties at ASEM Summit
  12. EU2017EEVAT on Electronic Commerce: New Rules Adopted

Latest News

  1. Middle East, Messi and missing MEPs on the agenda This WEEK
  2. Instagram and Google Plus join EU anti-hate speech drive
  3. EU wants 'entrepreneurship' in education systems
  4. UK loses EU satellite centre to Spain
  5. Pay into EU budget for market access, Macron tells May
  6. Ethiopian regime to get EU migrants' names
  7. EU to lend Greece up to €7bn more next week
  8. Nato prepares to take in Macedonia

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressChair of EU Parliament Working Group on Antisemitism Condemns Wave of Attacks
  2. Counter BalanceA New Study Challenges the Infrastructure Mega Corridors Agenda
  3. Dialogue PlatformThe Gülen Community: Who to Believe - Politicians or Actions?" by Thomas Michel
  4. Plastics Recyclers Europe65% Plastics Recycling Rate Attainable by 2025 New Study Shows
  5. European Heart NetworkCommissioner Andriukaitis' Address to EHN on the Occasion of Its 25th Anniversary
  6. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  7. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  8. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  9. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  10. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  11. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  12. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  2. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties
  3. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  4. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  5. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  7. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  8. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  9. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  10. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  11. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  12. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives