Polish Feminism: ‘Feminism Ends When You Have to Bring a Piece of Furniture to the 6th Floor’

The title of this article is only one of many jokes in Poland about feminism. It suggests that women need men in their life, requiring help to bring a piece of furniture to the 6th floor.

Illustration Credit: Imogen Phillips

Some still find the topic of modern feminism uncomfortable and controversial. Many men use it as an excuse to make inappropriate comments, while women often rather sit quietly. We should always fight this battle, no matter our gender, to explain the true meaning of the social movement. That it is about equality of opportunity, not one gender being superior.

There is an inherent conflict in Poland between those with conservative, traditional values and those holding liberal, progressive beliefs. With 92% of its citizens Catholic, religion often determines this division on the topics of abortion or the LGBTQI+ community.

Polish sexism is surprising when you consider the plethora of successful Polish women. Think Maria Skłodowska-Curie, for example. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, only woman to win it twice, and the only person to receive it in two different scientific areas. She was also the first female Professor at the University of Paris. Most of her life, she lived in France, but she never lost a sense of her identity. After discovering a new chemical, she named it polonium French for Poland). In 1995, she became the first woman to be entombed in the Panthéon in Paris. She is an iconic Polish woman who should be a role model to all Polish girls, particularly those interested in the field of science.

Illustration Credit: Vlad Brusarski

Another woman worth mentioning is Anja Rubik. She is a Polish supermodel, philanthropist, businesswoman and activist who openly criticises the actions of the Polish government. In 2018, she published a book entitled ‘#SEXEDPL: Anja Rubik talks about puberty, love and sex’. She also runs the non-governmental organisation #SEXEDpl. She was awarded the ‘Good Deed’ award for her activity in the field of sexual education of youth and has been involved with Gals for Gals foundation, which fights for gender equality and women’s rights. Many young girls look up to her and support what she stands for.

Unfortunately, societal sexism is often legitimised by those in positions of political power. One of the most controversial people in the Polish politics is far-right politician, Janusz Korwin-Mikke. He was elected to the Sejm (the lower house of the Polish parliament) in 2019 and is one of the leaders of the Confederation Liberty and Independence party. Before, he was a member of the European Parliament. In 2017, his speech during a debate in the European Parliament regarding the gender pay gap went viral. He declared that women should earn less than men because they are “smaller, weaker and less intelligent”. After those declarations, he was suspended for 10 days from the plenary sessions of the European Parliament. 

On other occasions, he has reportedly said, “were you to understand woman’s nature, sir, you would know that there is an element of rape in every sexual intercourse”, and that “the attitudes of men are passed to women they sleep with”. Recently, he stated in a Facebook post that “wise women know well that it’s in their interest, that women didn’t have active voting rights.” With men like him present in mainstream Polish politics, young men will never learn how to treat women with respect and dignity.

Despite Korwin being present in Polish politics for over 50 years, he enjoys considerable support from young people. In the 2019 elections, where his party received 6.81%, they received 20% of the vote among 18-29 year olds. 17.9% of students voted for Korwin’s party, and two-thirds of their voters were male. Confederation’s platform advocates the elimination of the income tax, restoring the death penalty, and reducing government spending. While popular among young people, their vote legitimises the regressive values held by Korwin.

With such a small number of women active in politics, it is concerning that not all those present in Polish politics are allies of the feminist cause. Kaja Godek is a Polish pro-life activist. She is also the mother of a child with down syndrome. After the birth of her son, she decided to engage in pro-life activities, joining the ‘pro-right to life’ foundation. In 2013 and 2015 Godek was the representative of the Stop Abortion Legislative Initiative Committee. As the initiator, she managed to collect 830,000 signatures under Stop Abortion Bill. It was submitted to the parliament in November 2017. However, due to a large number of protests, the bill was frozen.

Today, abortion in Poland is allowed in only three cases: when the woman’s life or any form of health is at risk, in case of rape, or if the foetus is irreparably damaged. The Stop Abortion Bill would make a change in the last case. However, 98% of abortions in Poland are being made as a result of the damaged foetus. This legislation would almost completely end lawful abortions.

In April, the Sejm was supposed to debate legislation that could ban abortion and sex education in Poland. In the past, this type of proposal would always incite mass street protests. But this year, due to the coronavirus lockdown, it seemed impossible. Instead, women’s rights groups have encouraged alternative forms of activism. These included holding up posters and banners while queuing outside shops, as well as putting them in windows of houses and cars. Later in May, the parliament decided to delay this legislation for further work. This means that those protests will occur in Poland every few months until the matter is resolved.

The protests led Kaja Godek to make many controversial comments – “abortion is a pandemic, worse than coronavirus, with more victims, and all are fatal”. Banning abortion would force many women to have one outside of Poland, or do so illegally risking their lives. Kaja Godek’s opinions, for many women in Poland are a huge threat. Her comments and posts strongly suggest that she is not willing to stop until the law in Poland is changed.

The battle between pro-life and pro-choice activists is unbalanced. The Polish government openly criticise people will liberal views and honours those who agree with the majority in the parliament. Recently Poland’s justice Ministry awarded Zuzanna Wiewiórka, a pro-life activist who prevented a teenage girl from having an abortion by informing the girl’s parents and father of the child about the plans. She harassed the girl online and violated her privacy. Wiewiórka belongs to an organization whose members join Facebook groups where women seek help regarding abortion and try to convince them to not have one. Should people like Wiewiórka be awarded for this behaviour?

All women have the right to feel safe and free in their countries, and to feel supported by the state. Unfortunately, lots of women in Poland do not feel this way. The government of Poland and its politicians are mostly supportive of conservative views and behaviours. People with more liberal views are not respected. Sexist behaviour is normalised from a young age. Many men lack respect for women and act without consequence. Additionally, women are being forced to risk their health and lives. They have to protest to maintain their rights, the same rights that, in different countries, are normal conditions.