Polish Feminism & Women’s Strike: The Unexpected Feminist Revolution that Shook the World.
As far as Polish feminism goes, I think most of the world only learned of its existence last year. When Polish women marched through the streets of Poland, and beyond, on the 3rd of October 2016, the whole world watched in astonishment. I have to admit, I did too, despite the fact that I am a Polish woman and a feminist myself. Prior to that day, I believed I was living in a world where the words ‘Polish’ and ‘feminism’ did not really mix, and even when they did come together, it was not a comfortable coupling. Obviously, there had been feminists in Poland for a long time, but the country hadn’t seen anything like last year’s show of feminist solidarity before.
In fact, even though I did join in organising the Strike day, locally in London, I never could have predicted it was going to be such a massive success, until the very minute it was happening. And as far as the rest of the feminist world was concerned, Polish women have become their instant heroines. Women from Argentina to Korea were sending us messages of support and solidarity. For me, personally, the thank you ones were the most amazing ones. Women were thanking us for the inspiration and strength we gave them. Just a short few weeks later, there were already similar strikes happening in South America and Italy.
However, it is hard to reconcile what the whole world saw as a massive success of the Women’s Strike in Poland last October with what is currently happening with our rights in the country. In October, it took the Polish government just a day or two after the Strike, to come out with a statement saying that they were withdrawing their backing for the proposed anti-abortion bill. For a moment we thought we won, and that’s what it looked like to the rest of the world watching. But I know that many of us, Polish women, did not really believe that the struggle was truly finished. Most of us knew that we barely just won the first battle.
It is important to say that, although fleeting, the win did give us a feeling of enormous achievement. It was the first time in the history of Poland that so many women joined a feminist action. The show of solidarity and strength was incredibly important. It was a starting point of something huge – a women’s movement in Poland of unstoppable proportions, and that made us feel truly powerful. With our sisters by our side, we felt as if we were invincible, as if we could achieve anything.
And yet… The impression that the Polish government listened to women that the rest of the world might have gotten from the Strike turned out to be illusory within just a short few days. Our unified front against the anti-choice front did not mean much to the people governing our country. In fact, I believe that their response was evidence that they were more worried about the response of the international media than what the women of their own country though. They just re-grouped and decided to attack us in more subtle ways instead. They started by targeting the educational system (think ‘family-friendly’ sexual education, in the very traditional, patriarchal sense), continued by bribing pregnant women, with a new piece of legislation that would incentivise them to carry seriously damaged pregnancies to term, and finally introduced a bill that made access to the morning after pill prescription-only.
If you thought that was bad enough, you are in for a nasty surprise. Right now, just nine months on from when Polish women forced the government to scrap the last anti-abortion bill proposal, there is already a new one on the table! Much like the last one, it aims to severely limit access to abortion, including in cases where the foetus is seriously malformed. If that wasn’t enough, the proposal also tries to further limit access to contraception. In fact, there are potentially two bills like that currently on the table.
At the moment, the law in Poland only, theoretically, allows abortions in cases of foetal abnormality, pregnancy as a result of rape or incest, and when the woman’s life or health is at risk. However, in practice, many Polish women cannot obtain abortions even in those cases, because of what’s commonly known as the ‘conscience clause’, which allows doctors to refuse to perform abortions on the grounds of their religious convictions.
Thankfully, the pro-choice lobby does not leave those initiatives unanswered. Not only have Polish feminists prepared a new bill proposal, much like last year, that puts forward the idea of liberalising the current abortion legislation in Poland instead, but they have also launched an EU initiative that proposes that such laws should be enforced at a European level.
And so the battle goes on. Polish women, empowered by last year’s show of solidarity and strength, are no longer prepared to sit silently while their rights are being eroded. While Poland is still a deeply religious country, I have met numerous Polish women who are practicing Catholics, but refuse to be duped by the fanatical representatives of their Church who are lawlessly meddling in the political affairs of our country, and who are willing to disregard women’s human right to make fundamental decisions about our own bodies.
Last 16 months since the birth of this incredible movement, have been an unbelievable rollercoaster of activism for Polish women and some of the most unforgettable moments of my life. Despite the sad, frustrating and infuriating reality that women’s rights are yet again under attack, the incredible show of strength and solidarity by Polish feminists has inspired women all over the world. In October 2016, Polish, and then Italian and Argentinian, women went on strike in their millions. Then six months later, women around the world joined in an international strike day. 54 countries joined, if I recall correctly.
So the struggle, unfortunately, continues. But we no longer feel powerless, afraid or alone. We have feminist solidarity. And that is possibly the most powerful force in the world.
Women of the world unite!
Inspired by the incredible show of feminist solidarity in Poland last year, FiLiA has invited one of the most brilliant Polish women to speak at the 2017 conference. Krystyna Kacpura has been an amazing inspiration to women in Poland for many years. She heads up two of the most important women’s organisations in the country, Federation for Women and Family Planning and ASTRA Network, and will be speaking about Polish women’s struggle for reproductive rights and about international activism. Do not miss this opportunity to get inspired!
After the conference, we will also be meeting with Krystyna to talk about the next steps for Polish feminism, how you can support the EU initiative for abortion rights, and more. If you’re interested in joining the reproductive rights movement or the discussion, please keep an eye out for more details coming soon on the organiser’s social media.