Backlash in Poland

Poland, a country in the heart of Europe, has felt icy winds blowing lately. I’m not referring to terrorists or early winter for that matter, but to conservatives ready to erase all what gender equality and freedom for women stand for.

“Stop abortions”

Is a conservative, catholic movement that is behind the decree that wants to forbid abortions altogether. Poland already has one of Europe’s strictest laws regarding family planning. Since 1993, women are only allowed to terminate an early pregnancy in three cases:

  • If the mother’s health is in danger.
  • If the child risks severe handicaps at birth.
  • If the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

Less than two thousand legal abortions are conducted yearly in Poland. How many that are done illegally or abroad is unsure but women’s rights organisations think it’s 100 000 or 150 000 cases. “A myth” insist the opponents. They have full support from the Catholic church even if some bishops find jail for five years a bit harsh a punishment for women who would dare to go against the law (i.e. do an abortion even if the child was conceived through rape of by incest or if the child would be severely handicapped or if the mother risked dying). Meaning zero tolerance. The law was supposed to pass this October but “women in black” surprised everybody with mass-demonstrations and the government finally had to back down.

foto Anne Edelstam, ParisUltra-conservative forces:

Populists as well as extreme-right forces are on the rise in Eastern Europe. Since 2015, the ultra-conservative party PIS detains the majority in the Polish Parliament. Artificial insemination is also in danger to be forbidden. Solidarnosk with Lech Walesa at its head seems very far away in today’s Poland.

The government clearly didn’t count on women’s massive resistance though. They mobilised quickly through a Facebook-page, claiming to “make love not PIS” and started to send in detailed descriptions of their periods and other intimate matters, as “the government is so interested in our vaginas”. Other women protested by leaving Church in the midst of mass. Even the French Ministry of Gender Equality sent in a protest list to the Polish Parliament in an ultimate effort to assist their Polish sisters. 51 % of Poles were according to a reliable survey against the new law proposal as well.

The Pope whom many celebrate as a liberal man, struggles to try to reform an ultra-conservative institution that still tries to rule over half the Catholics – namely women. This out-dated patriarchal structure apparently still is hard-lived. However women have gained in strength and with the help of Internet, they have been able to mobilize enough to scare even one of me most extreme parties that had to withdraw this controversial law. That is real women power!

Anne Edelstam

About Anne

Swedish journalist, photographer, editor and writer. Based in Paris, France.