How much division should women expose

Analysis: women's rights in times of populism

Małgorzata Druciarek

Małgorzata Druciarek, sociologist, is a research assistant and head of the "Observatory for Gender Equality" at the Institute for Public Affairs, Warsaw (Obserwatorium Równości Płci, Instytut Spraw Publicznych, Warsaw). Her research areas are gender equality and family policy.

The goal of strengthening the classic family is a top priority for Poland's ruling party. Their political decisions are consistently directed against women. What are the consequences of this anti-women policy and what is the connection to burgeoning populism in the western world?

On January 17, 2018 - "Black Wednesday" - women and men across Poland took to the streets to protest against the tightening of abortion law. (& copy picture-alliance, NurPhoto)


The goal of strengthening the family is on the political agenda of the ruling party Law and justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość - PiS) at the top. Decisions in the area of ​​reproductive health and measures in family and pension policy as well as ideological attitudes and legal regulations towards women clearly show that women are primarily viewed as mothers and wives. One of the consequences of this policy is the deactivation of women in the labor market, which at the same time means that state institutions are relieved of the burden of caring for them. The author interprets the nationwide mass protests of women that have occurred since 2016 in connection with the legislative initiatives to further tighten abortion law as a change in awareness among women. Initial successes of the protests could encourage women to continue to stand up for their rights in the future.

"Déjà vu" - under this motto, women and men took to the streets all over Poland on January 17, 2018 to protest against the tightening of abortion law. This "Black Wednesday" was another strike that repeated October 3, 2016, when the Polish women were the first since the change of government in autumn 2015 to successfully defend themselves against the intentions of the Conservative MPs (cf. Poland- Analysis No. 191 from November 15, 2016). In 2016, two drafts for a new abortion law were submitted to the Sejm, "Abortion freeze" (Stop Aborcji) and "Let's save the women" (Ratujmy Kobiety). Despite assurances from the government that no legislative proposal submitted by citizens would be rejected in first reading, only the draft for a complete abortion ban in Poland was forwarded to the parliamentary committee for justice and human rights for discussion. By rejecting the "Let's Save Women" committee's draft bill, the party showed Law and justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość - PiS) that she is ready to accept the so-called abortion compromise of 1993 (it allows abortion if the life and health of the pregnant woman are at risk, in the case of a serious and irreversible disability or incurable disease of the fetus or if the pregnancy is the result of a criminal offense, d.Red.) to terminate. In response to this decision, women across Poland organized the First All-Poland Women's Strike. "Black Monday" was the first mass mobilization of Polish women to defend their rights and a clear success of civil society. The mass protest had exceeded the expectations of both the organizers and government officials. Less than two days after the women's strike, the parliamentary committee on justice and human rights voted to reject the bill outright. The Polish women were aware, however, that winning a battle does not mean winning a war - all the more so when, immediately after the events of October 2016, then Prime Minister Beata Szydło announced work on a broad-based program to protect future life.

It took a year for abortion to return to the political agenda. On January 10, 2018, the first reading of two further civil law initiatives took place in the Sejm - "Let's save women" and "Stop abortion" (Zatrzymaj aborcję). History loves repetition - the project to liberalize access to abortion was rejected at first reading, while the draft that further tightened abortion law was sent to committee for discussion. Poles once again took to the streets angrily. Their anger was now directed primarily at MPs from the opposition parties, whose absence from the Sejm during the vote had led to the "Let's save women" project being rejected. In response to the women's protests, the party submitted The modern (Nowoczesna) their own draft law in the Sejm, which provides for the liberalization of abortion law in Poland. At the same time, she announced that she would submit the rejected draft as a parliamentary project. Everything indicates that MPs will be working on more than one bill. What conclusion will it come to? Will the status quo of legal abortions be preserved again? Or will the PiSwho pursued a consistent anti-women policy from the beginning of her reign, bring about the change of the so-called abortion compromise?

Reproductive health or how and when the Polish women should give birth

The activities of the PiSaimed at regulating the reproductive rights of Polish women are not limited to the issue of access to abortion. One of the first decisions by Beata Szydło's government to affect women was to end the IVF reimbursement program, which has given birth to over 5,000 children. The funds were transferred for the last time on June 30, 2016. [1] The "Program for the Cure of Infertility Using the Artificial Insemination Method" ran since July 2013 and was scheduled to run until the end of June 2016; the then government Citizens Platform (Platforma Obywatelska - PO) and Polish Peasant Party (Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe - PSL) extended it in their last days of office until the end of 2019. However, this did not please the new government. Her then Health Minister Konstanty Radziwiłł decided to withdraw the extension of the program. For many couples this meant the end of their chances of having a child of their own. At the same time, the "Program of Comprehensive Protection of Reproductive Health in Poland" was launched, [2] which promotes NaPro Technology, that is, the method of natural family planning. For these, there is still a lack of credible data to confirm the effectiveness of the method of curing infertility.

It is difficult to clearly articulate all aspects of the above government program for the protection of developing life. However, it can be inferred that the decision of February 2017 to allow the sale of hormone preparations for contraception exclusively on prescription, similar to the decision to discontinue the sale of the so-called morning-after pill without a prescription. Since 2015, anyone over the age of 15 has been able to buy this without a prior visit to the doctor. Since July 23, 2017, the morning-after pill has been subject to prescription in Poland, in contrast to the other countries of the European Union where "emergency contraception" is standard, with the exception of Hungary and Poland. [3]

Reproductive health certainly also includes the standards of childbirth care, the binding force of which will be lifted by the end of 2018, according to government announcements. [4] The aim of these standards, which were created over the course of almost three years, is to protect the labor force by protecting their rights as patients and meeting their needs. The health department is currently working on new care standards that will apply from 2019. [5] There is still no reliable information about what changes the Ministry of Health is planning here. Media coverage emphasizes greater control over the pregnant woman. In addition, experts point out that the new standards should relate solely to the organization of health care. The specific medical applications remain in the competence of the respective medical institutions and their doctors.

"Family mainstreaming" - the re-familiarization of care

Gender mainstreaming, that is, the "strategy to integrate the gender perspective into the mainstream of politics and decision-making, to take into account the needs and possibilities of both sexes in all activities, projects and policies", [6] has been made mandatory by the European Commission since 1996 recognized for the policies and activities of the European Union. In Poland, however, this strategy was not actually implemented; rather, will gender Considered a harmful ideology by the majority of politicians and decision-makers. The PiS-Government consistently follows the principle of familiy mainstreaming in many of their political decisions. This term was introduced into the public debate in 2016 by Wojciech Kaczmarczyk, the then government commissioner for equality and civil society. During his appearance in the general debate of the 60th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, Minister Kaczmarczyk underlined the need to promote family values ​​under the motto "Family in fashion". [7] According to representatives of the PiS-Government priority. Family is understood here very specifically as a married couple with children. All other family forms - non-formalized relationships, so-called incomplete families, or non-heteronormative relationships, are practically not taken into account, or only to a very limited extent, by the government's family policy. At the same time, women are seen under this policy primarily as mothers and wives who replace state institutions in carrying out caring duties.

The reform of the pension system is an excellent illustration of this strategy. Women in Poland receive a significantly lower pension than men and are at risk of old-age poverty and social exclusion. [8] The lowering of the retirement age by the PiS exacerbates this problem. After the introduction of the reform, the pension is sometimes less than 20 percent of last earnings and a significant proportion of pensioners do not even acquire the right to the minimum pension. [9] Women are most affected by this problem. The pension gap is currently 700 zlotys (around 170 euros, ed.); [10] it will increase in the future. According to experts, the main cause of this situation is the lack of any institutionalized support in caring for the elderly, as well as the fact that women in Poland take on all caring tasks. [11] Here there is a close link between family and pension policy, with the former imposing the role that people should play in society. The PiS-Government regards women as care capital and lowering the retirement age as a measure to activate this capital. [12] In the earlier retirement, women look after their grandchildren who did not get a place in the day nursery, and older people for whom Poland has no care institutions at all apart from social welfare institutions. [13] In addition, there are "care breaks", because of which women are temporarily absent from the labor market, and the wage gap, which has a negative effect on the level of pension payments.

If the importance of family policy for the situation of women has already been pointed out, the standard program of the PiS be considered, so the family support program "500 plus". It undoubtedly increases the quality of life of poor families, especially those with many children. However, it was not designed with women in mind. From the beginning of the program, experts point out its deactivating potential. The latest calculations show [14] that 40,000 to 55,000 women withdrew from the labor market in the second half of 2016. In addition, the design of the program means that many single mothers with only one child are excluded from the group of recipients; it is often the same who do not have the right to use the alimony fund. [15] The spokeswoman for the PiS, Beata Mazurek, put together like this: When asked by a journalist what a single mother should do with a child because she does not receive any money from the program, she replied: "I will encourage you to stabilize your family situation and have more children have to get hold of the maintenance. "[16]

The consistent policy against women

A number of other decisions or omissions illustrate the relationship of the ruling party to the protection of women's rights, health and safety. These are decisions that can be described as consistent policies against women. The fight against domestic violence is an excellent illustration of this. Despite the ratification of the "Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence", the measures have not been introduced since the change of government. Although the Commissioner for Civil Society and Equality stated that the government does not intend to initiate a termination of the Convention, [17] in fact it is doing nothing to implement the measures. In addition, many organizations that had been providing direct aid to victims of violence for years have had their state funding cut. President Andrzej Duda explained the government's passivity towards the Convention by stating that the previous government had wrongly pursued the ratification and that Poland does not need any additional legal remedies to effectively combat domestic violence. "At the time I pointed out that the rules on violence are very good in our country, that it works, that the adoption of further rules in this area is unnecessary because it works in Poland. Therefore, we don't have to commit ourselves to anything. "[18] Regardless of whether Poland as a country will terminate the agreement or not, Duda has" good "advice for all Poles with regard to its regulations:" I say: above all do not apply. "[19] Despite the assurances of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki that the fight against violence is an absolute priority, [20] the implementation of the Convention's measures seems to remain outside his political agenda. He announced the tightening of the lower sentence for rape and brutal acts of violence, while at the same time underlining that "no violence occurs where there is concern for family ties, for a normal home, where there is love." In his view, "violence occurs more often in informal relationships and not in those that are legally confirmed." [21] In other words, Prime Minister Morawiecki does not believe the statistical data that show that victims of violence predominate within the marriage. [22] ] He believes that the traditional family model is the best way to prevent domestic violence and violence against women in Poland.

Women's rights in times of populism

Gender inequality is a common phenomenon around the world. Even the countries that can boast the highest indicator of equality [23] still face many challenges and have a long way to go to achieve real equality of opportunity for women and men. In recent years, however, there has been an extremely worrying trend in many countries, namely anti-women policies, which often deprive women of their rights and expose them to new threats. The latest report by the international humanitarian organization Oxfam makes it clear [24] that a new era has dawned for women. This fact is confirmed by the fact that direct payments from donors to women's rights organizations have decreased by more than half over the past five years. In the United States, cutting public funding for conscious family planning organizations was one of President Donald Trump's first political decisions. It affected all international non-governmental organizations that provide assistance with access to abortion as part of their reproductive health and family planning activities.The United States spent approximately $ 600 million annually on international assistance to family planning and reproductive health programs. In terms of access to contraception, an average of 27 million women around the world used the help of these organizations. [25] "This is a critical moment for women's rights in the world, because the progress for which we have fought so hard for decades is threatened," emphasized the organization's representative, Nikki van der Gaag. [26] So the consistent policy against women is not just a Polish phenomenon. But what caused women's rights, which were never a priority political agendas in the countries, to now face new dangers?

In recent years there has been an increase in populist forces in many Western countries. [27] In Europe, social support for such groups at both national and European level is more than twice as great as it was in the 1960s. [28] Even in countries where populist groups do not play a significant role in parliament, their narratives are clearly audible and have an enormous impact on public opinion, as the example of Brexit shows. What is the connection here to women's rights? The susceptibility of European societies to populist nationalism is not a simple consequence of the economic and financial crisis of 2008, but has differentiated socio-cultural causes. [29] According to Pippa Norris' thesis, current authoritarian populism is a specific cultural counter-revolution, [30] an attempt to reverse the direction of development of Western societies on the level of values. In this paradigm, populism is a reaction to changes such as the emancipation of women, ethnic, religious and even sexual minorities. The election victory of the PiS in the 2015 parliamentary elections and the beginning of the so-called good change can be analyzed under different aspects, such as social inequality or election promises, for example in the form of the "500 plus" program. The renaissance of strong religious-conservative tendencies in society certainly played a key role. [31] Values ​​are one of the main axes of division in Polish society. The split is sustained by the active interference of the Catholic Church in the political life of Poland. [32] Her prominent position in public life developed in the 1980s, when the system transformation was advancing in Poland. The fact that the Catholic Church was then the only institution that was treated as a real political force by the communist rulers made politicians consider it a permanent part of the political arena. After the PiS In autumn 2015 it became clear that the influence of the official church on political decisions would become stronger and more visible and ideological issues would return to the political agenda. [33] And that's what happened.

The political decisions presented here clearly show that the policy of the current government is consistently directed against women. However, it must be emphasized that none of the previous governments included equality between women and men among the priorities of their political agenda. Women in Poland are not treated equally in public or private life. They are often discriminated against in the labor market, they do not have equal access to the health system or to political positions. [34] In addition, there is one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. There had to be a real threat to their health and life in the shape of the Stop Abortion Bill for them to take to the streets. They had to wait for the government to actively take away their rights in order to understand that women's rights are human rights to be fought for. [35]

The First All-Poland Women's Strike was certainly an event in the history of the Polish women's movement that is perceived and rated as one of the greatest successes in the struggle for women's rights in 2016. [36] For the first time since 1989, Polish women took to the streets in such large numbers, which undoubtedly marks a turning point in terms of the extent of mobilization and joint action. Increasing numbers of women's protests around the world indicate positive changes in the consciousness of women and the women's movement. In Poland, a key question seems to be whether the storm over the abortion right is enough for women to maintain their solidarity struggle for their rights. It is certainly one of the greatest challenges facing the feminist movement at the moment to inform and educate women about the consequences of specific political government decisions for their lives. It seems that the cultural backlash above all with the help of those social groups that populist politics harms most. [37]

Translation from Polish: Silke Plate
The Poland analyzes are published jointly by the Research Center for Eastern Europe at the University of Bremen, the German Society for Eastern European Studies, the German Poland Institute, the Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Development in Transition Economies, the Leibniz Institute for East and Southeast European Research and the Center for Eastern European and International Studies (ZOiS) gGmbH. The bpb publishes them as a licensed edition.