When feminism brings people together. An inspirational story from Poland
In normal times, without a pandemic and the US elections polarizing people and media’s attention, the feminist protest in Poland would likely have had far greater international coverage.
In normal times, perhaps, Jarosław Kaczyński, president of the ruling party, wouldn’t even have tried to take advantage of the distraction, in Poland and all over the world, to pass a law that greatly limits the right to abortion, and which in 2020 is retrograde, anachronistic and detrimental to women’s right, but also to men’s ones. As a crime against free will, emancipation and fundamental human rights, affects the whole society, regardless of what its main target is.
We are not living in normal times, though, and in a moment like this some stories are worth telling.
What are feminists protesting against?
For the most part Poland is a traditional and Catholic country, where one of the EU’s strictest abortion laws is in force. Every year less than 2,000 legal terminations are carried out, but activists estimate that up to 200,000 abortions are performed illegally, or abroad. Until a few days ago the 1993 law still allowed women to abort in case of rape, when the mother’s health is at risk, or when the fetus is seriously malformed. Now, terminating pregnancy in the last case may become illegal, because it’d be eugenic practice, “incompatible” with the constitution, according to Polish constitutional court.
Since 98% of abortions in Poland occur due to serious malformations of the fetus indeed, making this practice illegal would therefore force women to go abroad or abort clandestinely. That’s why in 150 cities of the country, small or large, obviously including the capital Warsaw, the feminists have been organizing demonstrations, sit-ins, vigils and various other forms of protest, more or less creative, more or less aggressive, but never truly violent.
“A victory for women is a victory for humanity”
Oddly, or maybe not, this quote came from the highest authority of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, although from a totally different context. Anyway the example that Polish feminism is giving to the world is still emblematic.
In a moment characterized by strong social contrasts, by slogans shouted on social networks (in many cases) for rhetorical purposes, and often so divisive and discriminatory they end up harming the cause, be it the feminist one or another, women of Poland brought a whole country to the streets, men and women, conservatives or progressives.
Doctors sided en masse in favor of the protesters, 800 of them signed a letter stating that the ban on abortion in the event of a malformed fetus poses a threat to the physical and mental health of women.
Workers, farmers, mothers with strollers, even most of the policemen, everybody joined the movement, and even where Covid-19 made severe restrictions necessary, people made their voice heard from the balconies.
The protest then moved beyond national borders, with various demonstrations at the Polish embassies in other European countries, with the support of various celebrities or big non-profits such as Amnesty International.
Angela Merkel also spoke out in favor of the Polish demonstrators, while Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, declared that “the EU is not going back on women’s rights.” Indeed, Polish feminists want nothing more than to maintain the status quo and a right granted to almost every other woman in Europe.
It is almost touching how the resounding success of the “Strajk Kobiet”, the general strike, was possible thanks to a feminist wave that unites women and men of every social or cultural background. Traditionally conservative, Catholic, pro-government groups, such as farmers, miners and many others, fought together. Stores and commercial chains closed to allow employees to protest, while business owners gave employees a paid day off to allow them to attend the demonstrations. In the meantime a harsh speech of the Deputy Prime Minister, who called on “the real Poles to defend the churches from criminals trained to destroy Poland” has fallen on deaf ears.
On the other hand, anti-abortion fundamentalists, like Karolina Pawlowska, pressed for the bill to be made official as soon as possible. For now, however, this has not happened, and the deadlines for the publication of the law in the Official Gazette have expired. The Polish government is therefore in an impasse, and has indeed declared that more time for dialogue is needed.
And while dialogue is always a good thing, there is no doubt that this is yet another attempt to underline the subordinate role of women, who should at least serve the state (if not the men), against the decline in birth rates among the populations of many Western countries. At least according to far right parties and extremist Catholic movements.
Anyway, whatever happens feminism in Poland has won an important battle already, advancing the cause of emancipation, unity and equal rights, for women and men both.