Solidarity ovement in Poland is well- known for its struggle against communist regime. The achievements of the movement are attributed to men’s heroic activism. Little attention has been paid to women’s contribution to the success of the movement. Women actively participated in workers strikes and kept the organization alive, while its male leaders were imprisoned during martial law. Despite being active members, women were not included in the representation of the movement and they were denied share in political power and establishment of democratic system after the fall of Communism. The aim of this paper is to answer following research question: why women’s contribution to the struggle for free Poland was not reflected in the power share and gender equality in post- 1989 period? Firstly, I will describe women’s role in Solidarity movement during communist era. Secondly, I will provide explanation to post- 1989 men’s dominating role in the establishment of the new system and laws. I will focus on the impact of the Church, among others, on abortion law; restoration of patriarchal order as a continuation of pre-communist era when women’s role was mainly the sacrifice for the common good and admiration of male heroism. Moreover, the transition period and related to it “shock therapy” had more severe impact on women than men. Consequently, the mobilization of women ceased. Finally, women movements experienced difficulties to arise in early 1990s during abortion law debate due to public aversion to communist language of gender equality and women’s emancipation.
Women’s Role in Solidarity
Trade Union Solidarity (NSZZ Solidarność) was founded as a result of workers protests on 31st August 1980 by the Inter- enterprise Strike Committee and the Government Commission (Solidarność, 2017). Solidarity has its beginning in the increase of the prices on July 1, 1980 led to “summer of strikes” across the country (Paczkowski, 2015: 12). The most memorable story of heroic actions of Solidarity is Lech Walesa jumping over the wall of the Gdansk shipyard. Media portrayed Solidarity as anti- communist opposition, which fought for worker’s rights and free Poland. Solidarity has been identified with heroes such as Lech Walesa, Adam Michnik, Jacek Kuron, Zbigniew Bujak, and Father Jerzy Popieluszko. The success of it belongs to both men and women. Heroines also fought for workers’ rights and freedom (Penn, 2005: 2). Already in 1981, around ten million men and women joined the organization. However, the leadership was dominated by men. The organization fought for economic and social benefits for workers and promoted fundamental liberties. Eventually it was severely suppressed by the communist state during martial law (Grudzinska- Gross, 2005: xi-xiii). In 1952, associations and group of civil society were banned. State- controlled organizations were established that “created a negative image of women’s collective activism”. In 1980s, civil activism took form of labour unions and dissident organizations (Galligan, Clavero and Calloni, 2007: 72). Solıdarıty demonstrated developed civil society activism with political clubs, education programs for adults, the press, films etc. (Penn, 2005: 3). Although men’s strikes in the industry were on the bigger scale, women led their strikes in textile sector. In fact, often women were very effective with their demands toward the state (Fidelis, 2010: 245). In February 1971 women went on strike in cotton mill in Lodz. The achievement was the reversal in price increase of basic foodstuffs and household items. Women were aware of their inferior position in the workforce and were ready to challenge “the social hierarchies and privileges” of the communist regime (Fidelis, 2010: 245). Further, at the Zambrow factory actions were taken against low wages of blue collar workers. Reportedly, women stopped machines first and motivated other workers to follow them. The strike resulted in the wage increase (Fidelis, 2010: 246). After martial law was introduced on December 13, 1981 ten thousands activists were arrested, most of them were men. Among those arrested were male leadership of Solidarity. Between 1981 and 1988 Solidarity continued its activities from the underground. Women from Warsaw, Wroclaw and Lublin established underground network of information distribution. Moreover, they cooperated with unions and publications and established connections with Western press. In other words, women got involved in nonviolent resistance (Penn, 1994). Women joined Solidarity in various ways. Thanks to their activist husbands, professional experience or through university or community network. Importantly enough, women managed to work and contribute to the movement and at the same time, avoid sexism. In other words, women chose areas, which would not put them into conflicts with men (Penn, 2005: 66).
Under Helena Luczywo’s leadership, female group of Joanna Szczesna, Anna Dodziuk,Anna Bikont, Zofia Bydlinska, Malgorzata Pawlicka published Tygodnik Mazowsze (Wierzbicki, 2012: 66). Men joined the editorial staff in 1985. Many of mentioned women already had oppositionists experience such as high school opposition, students protests 1968 and already in 1970s involved with underground publishing (Penn, 2005). Tygnodnik Mazowsze achieved weekly circulation of 40.000- 80.000 copies (Penn, 1994). Moreover, the female underground recruited around two hundred female volunteers, who were working as typists, printers, couriers, and distributors. Women were different level of education but most of them were well educated and were at different age. The youngest one was only fourteen years old and distributed the press in school case. The oldest one was eighty years old, who used her age well while interrogated by the police. Others were pretending being pregnant and distributed the press (Wierzbicki, 2012: 67). Additionally, women managed the Solidarity Press Agency after Solidarity was created (Penn, 2005). Furthermore, when in 1989 Poland was becoming a free country, women founded daily Gazeta Wyborcza. (Penn, 2005: 11). Women were “human capital” in Solidarity with their wisdom, leadership and managerial skills (Matynia, 2009).
During martial law, those who kept organization alive were usually those who were living “like everyone else”. They were involved in secret enterprise and inter- enterprise commissions and illegal publications. For example, important courier role was played by Bogumila Kowalska (Paczkowski, 2015: 158). Besides publishing another crucial work done by women was to reconnect network across Poland in order to protect men who went into hiding. “Weak”” women could not be a suspect for communist state since men “the usual suspects” having political and resistance power (Wierzbicki, 2012: 67). They were not able to investigate that Damska Grupa Operacyja (Ladies’ Operations Unit) including for example, Helena Luczywo, Joanna Szczesna, Anna Dodziuk, Anna Bikont, Zofia Bydlinska, Malgorzata Pawlicka, Ewa Kulik (Penn, 2005: 10). It is important to mention western authors such as Timothy Garton Ash, Lawrence Weschler, Neal Ascherson, and David Ost, who about Solidarity. Those authors’ work did not include a lot of information about women. That is because women had to protect their identities. Even those women were those who contacted western media, they took position of “invisible organizers”( Penn, 1994). Unfortunately, this does not change the fact that in post- communist time still little attention was paid to women either in Poland or in the West. To illustrate, Ash focused on appearance rather than achievement of Helena Luczywo by saying “pale, short, slightly built woman with untidy brown hair and intense grey- green eyes. When Ash wrote about Tygodnik Mazowsze’s editors he said “wan, intense women, dashing in with news of some crisis” (Penn, 2005: 14). Although women obviously played crucial role, there has always been continuous admiration for men members. Women’s role has not been equally recognized. In fact, women became invisible and underestimated not only by outsiders but also by Solidarity male members. The meaningful name of the organization did not reflect in the actual solidarity with women (Grudzinska- Gross, 2005). Barbara Labuda in 1991 said that “Men didn’t have the skills to manage the underground. Women were the brainpower”. Women were those who rebuild network and communication, organized secret meetings, search for contacts in Western Europe, dealt with money transfer etc. (Penn, 2005: 12). Moreover, Labuda claims that even if women themselves told their story nobody would believe that women were able to manage underground operations (Kulawik, 2014). This “invisibility” of women has its roots in Polish culture, which lacks the presence and importance of women. The images of opposition struggle against socialist state depict men and boys fighting and being arrested, while women “passing sandwiches” to those on strikes or being in the court while their husbands were trialled. In other words, women were not identified with opposition (Kenney, 1999: 402). Women were primary perceived as mothers by the leaders of Solidarity. While Solidarity was for men, household was for women (Kenney, 1999: 417). Women themselves did not challenge glory of male representation of Solidarity. And men themselves did not publicly appreciate women’s role. “Together, Polish society and Western press produced the image of male revolution” (Penn, 2005: 2). Women’s role in Solidarity and in resistance movement in general has never been publically recognized after 1989. Moreover, women’s role has been erased from collective memory. However, in many cases women accepted their invisible status. They claimed they did not do anything revolutionary but only what was necessary. When communism collapsed and democratic system was introduced women disappeared completely (Oleksy, 2006:186). Western media played important role in spreading Solidarity’s work but news about women activists did not occur with exception of “fifteen minutes of fame” of Anna Walentynowicz, a crane operator, who was fired from Gdansk shipyard in 1980 and motivated nationwide strikes and in consequence Solidarity came to existence. Despite media’s coverage on Solidarity not much attention was paid to female movement’s members (Penn, 2005: 5). Women contributed to the struggle against communist regime, but those were men that determined “dissident activities, defined civil society and shaped the agenda of anti- state politics”. Women always had only supporting role for men’s activities (Galligan, Clavero, Calloni M, 2007: 73). The sources showed “that all Poland’s opposition leaders were men- handsome men, at that, and groomed to appeal to the Western press: bearded, brawny, big- shouldered hunks with the defiant, charismatic stance of heroes”. In fact, Weschler compared leaders of opposition in Poland to the Founding Fathers of the United States. He listed many names but none of them were women. The author did not interview any woman or did not mention women as their source of information. To the extent, it was to protect women (Penn, 2005: 5). Those women who fought for human rights, were fighting from the position of “second- class citizens”. The important matter was struggle for independence and not for women’s rights. According to Janion “Democracy in Poland is of masculine gender” (Oleksy, 2006: 187). After the transformation women did not become integral part of Solidarity’s achievements. Solidarity women claim that they did not fight to acknowledge and remember them, it would not work because history would not pay attention to them (Kondratowicz, 2001: 27). Solidarity was a male thing, men fight, while women cry, prepare meals and send their sons to fight (Graff,2001). Maria Janion argued that women were excluded from politics after 1989 because men did not need them anymore and divided political functions, honours, and money among themselves (Dabrowska, 2006: 166). Some claim that Polish women with skills abilities and courage to achieve what was mentioned above but decided to remain in the shadow. They openly did not demand appreciations and share in power in new post-communist reality (Penn, 2005: 15).However, Joanna Szczesna, the important member of the opposition movement, disagreed with writers such as Penn or Graff by saying that male conspiracy excluding woman from power in democratic Poland is untrue. Women active in the opposition, did not want to get involved into politics. Women were not influenced by external actors and did not suffer from gander- based discrimination (Dabrowska, 2006: 166). On the other hand, “The Western press overlooked them, the Communist party underestimated them, their male colleagues diminished their importance, and they themselves didn’t demand recognition” (Penn, 2005: 18).
In Poland, “woman” and “mother” are almost synonymous. The traditional model of Mother Pole has its roots in partition times when women had to temporary replace men with duties and therefore had to be resourceful, respected. Men heroes who fought for the independence; women were supposed to know their place, being anonymous, and bearing sacrifice. (Łobodzińska, 1995: 169). Further, the Polish Mother (Matka Polka), that is personification of patience and altruism, has a patriotic and religious connotation. It is related also to Czarna Madonna (Black Madonna) and resistance movement. Traditionally, mission of Polish woman was to service the nation (Graff, 2001; Oleksy, 2006: 180). Black Madonna who was transformed in 19th century into Matka Polka (Penn, 2005: 16). Women following husbands to Siberia, fighting against the Nazis, then against communists. Woman known for being nameless or anonymous heroine (bezimienna bohaterka). Women are not perceived by the society and women themselves as revolutionary actors. Solidarity’s women were always wives of activists. They were leaders while men were imprisoned. They believed they did what was “necessary” (Graff, 2001: 25). On the other hand, Polish culture is based on strong family values, community and society, in which women are “mothers of the nation” that give birth and take care of others (Nowicka, 2007: 168). Polish collective imagination does not identify women as active individuals. On the other hand, men are knights, soldiers, brothers. Men’s role is to fight and women’s role is to support men. In Gdansk Dock on the wall is was written “Women, do not disturb us. We are fighting for Poland” (Kobiety, nie przeszkadzajcie nam, my walczymy o Polske) (Graff, 2001: 26). Matka Polka appeared in Romantic Poet Adam Mickiewicz and remained very powerful in Polish tradition and culture. Men heroically defending the nation, and Lech Walesa fitted into this identity very well (Penn, 2005: 16). Paradoxically, the word motherland does not exist in Polish language. Ojczyzna means “father- land”. However, suffering mother is personification of enslaved Poland (Oleksy, 2006: 180).
The case of Anna Walentynowicz is an example of Solidarity’s approach to women’s role and their recognition. Anna Walentynowicz became a symbol of strikes in the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk in August 1980, which led to the establishment of Solidarity. Walentynowicz also symbolized all Polish women who suffered from unfulfilled egalitarian principles by the communist state. She stepped against the system and started to confront the management and eventually helped to organize an independent trade union. After she was fired in August 1980, the strikes spread to whole country (Fidelis, 2010: 248). Despite Walentynowicz’s contribution to the August 80 strike, her person is showed as symbolic ”small woman talking to the workers”. The real rebellious, courageous, struggle for ideals, against repressions woman does not exist in collective memory (Cenckiewicz, 2010). The leader of the strike in Gdansk must have been men because nobody would listen to a woman. Women are not accepted as a leaders, they are viewed as supporters- traditional sacrum. Real woman does not make miracles. Among others, that is why Walentynowicz was denied place in the revolution (Graff, 2001: 27). Despite huge role of Walentynowicz, she started to be marginalized by Walesa and others members of Solidarity. Walesa belonged to more moderate and compromising part while Walentynowicz to conservative- radical part of Solidarity (Cenckiewicz, 2010: 199).
Post- 1989 Period
During Round Table negotiations, Grazyna Staniszewska was the only woman of Solidarity participated. Five women seated in separate “sub tables” and 4 of them were Solidarity members. Moreover, women were excluded from informal negotiations in Magdalenka (Matynia, 2009). From the beginning it was clear that women were going to be the biggest victims of the transition. Women were excluded from both symbolic representation of Solidarity and actual share in power. Walentynowicz became only a story (Kulawik, 2014). Post- 1989 instead of bringing freedoms and rights for women, it limited economic, social and reproductive rights. Cuts in public spending, making women inferior soft of employee. Paradoxically, while focus on building democratic structures, women’s rights were not a top priority (Drakulić, 2015). One should not forget that although communist rhetoric promoted equality between genders reality was far from ideal because women were expected to be mothers and home- makers. However, they had to work full- time. When transition to democracy took place, there was a need to protect traditional ways of life. It was because it contradiction to communist approach. There was strong aversion to everything that could be identified with communism, in particular feminism and there was no serious attention to gender injustice in new state (Graff, 2003). The end of communism meant was the liberation from hated ideologies such as emancipation. Importantly, in 1990s no left- wing movement was represented by former Solidarity members. What Church wanted was good for the people too because “the interests and goals were identical (Umińska- Keff, 2009 :19) There was emphasis on rights and freedoms but women were excluded from it (Bystydzienski, 1999: 103). There has been common perception in the post- communist Poland that politics is a men sphere and not a place for women. In fact women’s contribution to the transformation has not received enough coverage in media or academia. The focus has been on “key figures” that were men rather than women (Krzyzanowska, 2010:111). Poland did not experience a movement, which would challenge the common believe that men are those strong and competitive while women weak, emotional and submissive (Graff, 2003). However, invisibility has continued until today when still all credits go to male members. Communist system disordered patriarchal structure and Solidarity was a chance reintroduce it:
“(...) the freedom spurt that was ‘Solidarity’ in the symbolic dimension constituted an act of restoring the patriarchal order, which had been distorted by the totalitarian system. Just as in the collective unconsciousness communism became the period of Seksmisja,1 emerging to the surface constituted the moment of reclaiming manhood, cutting off the detestable umbilical cord”(Graff, 2001: 26).
Strong patriarchal structure led to women’s deprivation of economic and political power while male domination continued. This is in accordance with Catholic Church vision of the family. Imposing on women traditional roles was also resembling the church concept of women’s role (Bystydzienski, 1999: 101). On the other hand, post- communist reality inherited approach that solutions and changed come from above and not from citizens. Emancipation from above makes women passive (Drakulić, 2015). Another issue was that women movement could not arise that moment because there was a lack of the language that could articulate the problem of gender injustice. Gender was perceived as communist thing, “forced emancipation”” or “oppressive egalitarianism” (Kulawik, 2014). Check her bibliography. Feminist and activists, Malgorzata Tarasiewicz, who in 1989 became Solidarity women section coordinator explains that women expected that with the end of communism, automatically women would enjoy more freedom. However, instead of more freedom, women’s rights were restricted (Feffer, 2015). Women fought for democracy side by side with men, however instead of increasing female participation it decreased. Political forces deprived women of welfare provisions and reproductive rights, which socialist Constitutions guaranteed. There were attempts to restore traditional roles of women, those of the mothers and housekeepers. Consequently, the aim was to limit women’s participation in public sphere (Bystydzienski, 1999: 96). The same approach making women a victims and men those who decide and protect, made women politically passive, without being an agents, not even having means to defend their own rights. They do not have power to decide about their own lives because decision- making was in men’s hands. Women do not have certain rights and are incapable of fighting for them (Nowicka, 2007: 176). One may argue that the late 1980s political climate fostered female remaining in private life while men took charge. Women were responsible for guaranteeing a daily existence for the family. Therefore, women’s activities outside home were compromised and politics were seen by women themselves as “dirty business”. Women would have thought that politics was not worth engaging in because of conflicts between elites, accusations of communist past, financial frauds etc. As mentioned before, Solidarity leadership belonged to men and one might argue that this demonstrated the real power structure (Ingham, Ingham and Domański, 2001: 227). In independent Poland, “woman was to be a “family creature”, a creature who- instead of engaging in politics- should take care of the home” (Chowaniec and Philips, 2012: 5). Paradoxically, democracy which was supposed to give women equal right with men, was the opportunity to send women home. Men took the power from there. The government with the Church demonstrated male- dominated democracy” and “gendered ownership of the rule of law” (Matynia, 2009). After 1989 the representation of women in political bodies such as parliament decreased in numbers. In addition, women representation decreased also in ministerial positions. Those who were there, were rather political weapons to attract female votes. Some of them were holding their positions for short period of time. Hanna Suchocka, a Prime Minister (?) after years admitted that her failure was inability to unite post- Solidarity fractions to work together (Bystydzienski, 1999: 95). The higher the position the more difficult it was for women to acquire it. For example, In Ministry of Foreign Affairs 42 women and 265 men in senior positions. Moreover, in the ministries that traditionally were “women’s” women representation was also low. In the Ministry of National Education only 11 senior posts were held by women and 29 by men (Ingham, Ingham and Domański, 2001: 224-5). According to Fuszara, the participation of women has differed depending on political climate. That means when the parliament was gaining considerable power, the percentage of female members decreased. In 1989, from 20 to 13 per cent and in 1991 to 10 percent. Paradoxically, in 1940s during Nazi occupation and during martial law in 1980 women were actually closer to gain equal rights with men (Matynia, 2009). Anna Popowicz was dismissed from the office for women, youth, and family issues because of “her disagreement with the government over family planning policy”. Her feminist views were not received well by pro- nationalist and anti- feminist views by other members of the Council of Ministers (Bystydzienski, 1999: 95). Most of the women accepted their inferior position to men in Solidarity. Barbara Labuda was one of the exceptions. With feminist education in Paris she was more conscious on women’s situation in Poland. She participated in 1989 elections and in early 1990s was occupied with women’s legislations. She was successful in challenging men authority in politics. Already as student she was activist but in 1970s she joined other students who had to flee Poland due to state interrogations. After returning to Poland, besides teaching she was organizing strikes in Wloclaw. Later on she started teaching workers on history of labour movements. This was the way she won the trust of workers who attended her classes in hundreds (Penn, 2005: 67-70). Women were well represented in Solidarity, however, they did not hold leadership positions. Even before the communism, in inter- was period women were active activists. Nevertheless, in the post- communist period women movements that would campaign for gender equality did not exist (Millard, 2003: 121). Feminism did not have positive connotation in Poland, religious and conservative circles emphasized symbol of woman as a child bearer, sacrificing herself for the family. Any approaches promoting feminism were strongly opposed (Millard, 2003: 121). Feminism and promotion of women’s rights in general was not welcomed in post- communist Poland because it was identified with communism and its claim to equal rights for men and women. While women were contributing to the labor force, in practice neither men not women were enjoying civil rights (Chowaniec, 2012: 50). While available theories base on universal assumptions and categories that democratic transition leads to women empowerment, however, they miss many aspects such as ethnicity, nationality, age, class that impact women’s positions various spheres of social life (Spehar, 2005: 101). In 1991, The Women’s Parliamentary Group was established. Its main agenda included for example right to abortion, legalized sterilization, affordable day- care incentives for women’s involvement in politics. Nevertheless, the group was rather unsuccessful. One of the reason was that it consisted of only 9 per cent of Parliament’s Members (Bystydzienski, 1999: 96). From the initiative of female parliament members, KPK Kolo Parlamentarne Kobiet was established, all parliament females signed in to it. It turned into Parlamentrna Grupa Kobiet (PGK) (Kicińska, 2009). The initiatives were to work on brining equality, and to improve women’s situation. On the beginning the work of the groups were going smooth and ideological differences did not disturb its work. The serious differences between Catholics and non-Catholics mothers and non-mothers. Further parliamentary terms brought divisions. (Kicińska, 2009: 212).
After 1989, women’s organizations started to appear. For example, Parliamentary Women’s Group established in 1991. However, it seemed to left wing to attract more conservative women deputies. Further, The Freedom Union (UW), which had women’s section, the League of Polish Women that was linked to SLD. In the next few years, women’s organization grew in number and by 1995 there were about 40 groups, such as professional bodies like the Association of University Women, Federation for Women and Family Planning (Millard, 2003: 121).
Women became “the losers” of transformation (Spehar, 2005: 101). During communist regime, women were actively involved in contribution to the state economy. To illustrate, by 1980s, 86 per cent of all Polish women were full time employees (Bystydzienski, 1999: 91). Under socialism, the state encouraged women to join the labor market with right to “equal pay for equal work”. Maternity benefits and daycare centers were attractive for women. Low wages forced women to work in order to contribute to the household. Consequently, women employment was very high. However, women were bearing additional burden of taking care of the house and family (Brainerd, 2000: 140). During communism equality between men and women was a myth. Women were granted some rights because of their needs and needs of the society. Social structure was still patriarchal with traditional man women roles. Women’s struggle for rights that took place in 1960s and 1970s in Western Europe did not occur in Poland because totalitarian state did not allow any spontaneous civil movements. Therefore, the rights women got were “granted rather than fought for (Nowicka, 2007: 174). After 1989, the inability to afford decent housing, serious financial difficulties, and increasing cost of living became source of stress and in many cases source of domestic violence. The important fact is that violence against women for long time was not officially acknowledged as a serious problem (Bystydzienski, 1999: 102). One of the main features of transition period was that women along with children and the elderly were the most vulnerable and disadvantaged group in the society. They suffered from deterioration of social services. Women were losing their jobs and becoming unemployed, while welfare benefits were nothing but poverty- level income. To illustrate, unemployment benefit constituted only 36 per cent of the average monthly salary. On the other hand, women’s income was lower than men’s income (Bystydzienski, 1999: 96). ). In terms of wage, in 1989 women were earning 79 per cent of men’s salaries. In 1995, 76 per cent (Lisowska and Sawicka, 2009: 15). In Poland as well as the Czech Republic female unemployment exceeded male unemployment rates (Brainerd, 2000: 157). They lost economic, welfare and reproductive rights, gender discrimination in the labour market, Women’s political representation decline, women’s unemployment increased, and widened gender gap (Spehar, 2005: 101). In first place, those factories that were responsible for soft industry like textile were shut down first. Most of the unemployed were women. The rate of employed women dropped drastically. Only in further phase of transformation, more men than women started to lose jobs because of closing heavy industry units (Lisowska and Sawicka, 2009). Training programs and job schemes were organized but those programs targeted men rather than women. Unemployment was particularly severe for women and the youth. To illustrate, at the beginning of 1990 women constituted 45.4 per cent of the unemployed and by the end of the year the number raised to 51 per cent (Millard, 2003: 149). Transition to market economy was a process to which neither men not women were prepared. That is loss of jobs, and lay- offs. However, at the moment of transition the inferior situation of women resembled pre- 1989 period. Women hired in less important sectors or positions (Spehar, 2005: 102). In the first phase of transition, the labour market policies were more favourable to men as “breadwinners” than women. Interestingly, on the beginning 1990s most women did not admit they were discriminated because the word had inappropriate connotation. Later on, in 1999 polls showed that around 40 per cent of women experienced discrimination usually in work place, then family and home. However, the higher the level of education, the more often women admitted being discriminated (Lisowska and Sawicka, 2009: 14).
Abortion law from 1932 which stipulated that abortion was legal if pregnancy was a result of crime or a danger to woman’s health, remained in force until 1956. 1956 abortion law provided for abortion-on-request at government expense in state hospitals (Flood, 2002: 183). Therefore, in 1959 abortion on request was introduced and remained in force until the beginning of 1990s. Moreover, during communist era debates on abortion did not take place and for many years abortion law was not questioned. Communist propaganda on egalitarian approach to men and women was (Nowicka, 2007). Despite legal right to abortion, abortion still remained a taboo. Moreover, abortion was difficult to access especially in small towns and villages. Abortion was based on “an instrumentalist and needs- based materialist approach related to health or situation of poor women. There was not issue of women’s autonomy and right to self- determination (Heinen and Portet, 2009: 17). The reproduction rights during Communist regime were not the achievement of feminist movements and their fight for women’s rights and freedoms. It was rather motivated by the communist need for women to become part of labor force. Family- planning services and contraception were not available and abortion became “alternative method of birth control” for limiting family size and allowing women to enter labor force (Githens, 1996:55). “A right that is granted rather than won can be easily taken away especially if the women’s movement is weak and unable to organize resistance, as was the case in Poland at the end of the 1980s. The absence of a movement implied a lack of pro-choice discourses” (Nowicka, 2007: 174). Transformation to democracy resulting in parliamentary elections (June 4 1989) is a symbol on the attack on women’s reproductive rights. Women, who were key factors in the struggle gains communist regime, have not be able to enjoy the right to abortion (Nowicka, 2007: 168). In 1990 the “Second Congress of Solidarity, representing over ten million Polish workers in free trade unions, approved a resolution calling for the protection of human life from the moment of conception” (Flood, 2002: 184).
It were Solidarity politicians that delegalized reproductive rights (Mishtal, 2009: 142). Solidarity’s politicians, the Church along with some doctors groups were initiators of anti- abortion law (Desperak, 2003: 194). Women section in Solidarity opposed this move. However, the leader was threatened and eventually section was shut down (Kulawik, 2014). To understand the issue of abortion law in Poland, the position of the Church must be explained. Solidarity was strongly bonded to the Church. Solidarity had an enormous debt owed to the Church and post- 1989 was a time to pay that debt (Mishtal, 2009: 143). The Church was a part of the nation, the “us” against communist state. The importance of family as a refugee from communist reality was strongly related to the position of the Church. Many women accepted their underprivileged because of the position of the Church. Solidarity was a way to firm the Church’s power (Heinen and Portet, 2009: 5). During communism, Catholic Church provided a space for people to enjoy their personal freedom and dignity. However, after the collapse of the communist regime, the Church put its efforts to redefine women’s role (Matynia, 2009). The power of the Church to to participate in discussions on private matters was determined by historical context (Heinen and Portet, 2009: 5). The Church is hierarchically structured and it is based on obedience. There is no space for discussion. Church claimed that what it wanted was good for the people because “the interests and goals were identical” (Umińska- Keff, 2009: 19). The collapse of the Communist regime posed the situation when the Church could impact the new established laws. The institutions such as Catholic Church called to the memories of pre- Communist times and family values in order to impose their own agenda and increase their powers. Importantly, the economic and political instability made a fertile ground for nostalgia for traditional values and women’s reproductive rights became easy target (Githens, 1996:55). However, many did not believe that anti- abortion circles with collaboration with the Church would be so determined to ban abortion (Graff, 2003). Catholic- nationalistic Solidarity’s male leadership devalued the role of women to merely supportive position. In fact, many women did not see the danger coming from affiliation of the movement with the Church. There was common trust in the Church because it its support in fight for freedom (Mishtal, 2009: 142). Moreover, in post- communist period, the Church started to control the public sphere. When majority of Poles were in favor of abortion, the Church started to intimidate the political parties, politicians and the media. In fact, the abortion became the symbol of the role of the church in post- 1989 Poland (Walsh, 2011: 107). Already in May 1989, Archbishop Glemp called Walesa for a meeting to discuss the abortion issue. Episcopate prepared a draft before the meeting. On September 1990, Senate passed a restrictive bill on abortion. However, the bill had to go before Sejm. Pro-choice groups wanted referendum. Despite majority society supporting abortion to be legal, the Church pressured the government not to allow referendum to be hold (Ramet, 2016: 26). Consequently, Sejm passed abortion bill into law on 7 January 1993. Walesa signed it on 15 February 1993. Abortion was allowed when woman’s life or health were endangered, pregnancy result of rape or incest, fetus irreparably damaged, during emergency to save woman’’ life (Ramet, 2016: 26). Following attempts to liberalize the law, failed when on 4 July 1994 Walesa vetoed the measure (Ramet, 2016: 28). In 1981, there were 230, 070 legal abortions, in 1991 it dropped to 11, 640, in 1993 only 1249. In 2012, 752 reported abortions. It does not show actual situation because to human rights groups unto 150, 000 terminate pregency outside Poland annually. (Ramet, 2016: 28). After 1989 women did not want to be identified with feminism because it had negative connotations. People turned to conservative values, which were familiar and safe, in the turmoil of fast changing circumstances. Having impact on women, who did not realize how much new laws would impact them. Most of women did not dare to challenge the position of Church on abortion law. Similar situation happened in Croatia. (Drakulić, 2015). During state socialism, abortion was a normal thing, a part of daily life. After 1989, abortion became a sin, a moral deed and many women felt they lost their language to defend reproductive rights (Mishtal, 2009: 143). Conservative politicians made abortion ban a priority because it was suppose to be “a gift” to Pope, who planned to visit Poland in 1992 (Nowicka,2007). The important role was played by Pope John Paul II who strongly supported new restrictive law. He even threatened that he would postpone his visit, if parliament did not pass the law. Sunday masses were used by priests to motivate perishers to state their support for the anti- abortion. Signed petitions were sent to the parliament. The Church fabricated the support (Walsh, 2011: 107). Because of communist regime, the abortion issue had highly political meaning. After 1989, Support for liberalization of abortion policy was equal with the support for communism (Githens, 1996:58). Adoption of more liberal abortion law was met with protests from the Catholic circles. Nationalism has always find its way better than liberalism in Poland. It has been always about collective rights and community needs where there is no space for individual rights and self-determination (Matynia, 2009). It is crucial to understand that under communist regime, abortion was based on “instrumentalist and needs- based approaches. The abortion law was not based on the concept of women’s rights and was not the result of struggle of women movement for right to abortion (Nowicka, 2007: 168).
“Female human beings, as a community, in Poland lose a part of their human and civil rights, such as the right to decide about one’s own life and its course, the right to protection of life and health, physical and psychological – should they encounter a situation, which only happens to female humans” (Umińska- Keff, 2009 :22). The discussions on abortion in 1990s as it was during communism were about socio- economic needs rather than right to self- determination. The arguments were that restrictive legislation lead women to underground abortions and poses serious risk to their lives. In other words, women were portrayed as a victims “poor and helpless women” making women “passive recipients of the law”. The autonomous decision or woman was not used in those discussions (Nowicka, 2007: 175-6).
“In December 1990, in a free election voters chose Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, an outspoken
defender of the right to life of unborn children, as President of Poland. In the spring of 1991, the Sejm considered competing draft laws on abortion, but put off further action until after the
October elections, approving only a bill to ban private abortions. In October 1991 Poles elected their first fully-democratic parliament in nearly five decades. Two months later, Polish doctors took an initiative to further the cause of unborn human life. Meeting in December, the Second National Congress of Polish Physicians adopted a new Code of Medical Ethics, according to
which medical procedures that posed a risk of death to the fetus were admissible only to save the mother’s life and health or whenIn the new parliament, both houses soon turned to abortion
reform as a priority, debating several draft statutes throughout 1992 and debating the issue of a possible referendum pregnancy had resulted from a criminal act (i.e., rape or incest). In January 1993 the Sejm and the Senate adopted the Law on Family Planning, Protection of the Human Fetus and Conditions of Permissibility of Interruption of Pregnancy. Poland’s first woman Prime Minister, Hanna Suchocka, a member of the Democratic Union party, supported adoption of the new law. She also opposed the idea of a national referendum on the law as unnecessarily divisive and destabilizing, and the Sejm agreed. President Walesa signed it
into law in February” (Flood, 2002: 184-5). “Family Planning, Protection of Human Embryo and Conditions of Termination of Pregnancy Act”, often named the “Anti-abortion law”. This project had been pushed forward by the catholic hierarchy as early as 1988 (Heinen and Portet, 2009: 18). Despite majority of Poles supported right to abortion, the law was passed without serious obstacles. This demonstrates what moral and political power the Church had and still has (Heinen and Portet, 2009: 18).
“Since 1993, the termination of pregnancy is allowed in only three situations: if the pregnancy constitutes a threat to the life and health of the mother; if the pre-natal examination or other medical diagnostics point to the high probability of severe and irreversible damage to the embryo; and if the pregnancy is the result of a criminal act (such as rape or incest) (Heinen and Portet, 2009: 18).
When in 1991, the parliament passed restrictive abortion law, the Movement of Referendum Committees was established to campaign for referendum on abortion issue. However, parliament refused to endorse on the ground “counting heads was not a suitable method of resolving moral issues”. It is important to mention that according to survey, 86 per cent of respondents were supporting the referendum, 78 per cent did not agree to penalize the abortion (Millard, 2003: 122). In 1992 even more restrictive draft was created limiting right to abortion to the cases of women’s life at risk. Committee for a Referendum on the Criminalization of Abortion was established. Over 1.3 million signatures were gathered but the parliament ignored the petition and a bill proposing a national referendum on abortion was rejected (Nowicka, 2007: 170).
Moreover, the situation of family planning project depended on the relationship between state and Church. When relations were improving, the family planning was receiving less money, when deteriorating more money (Githens, 1996:58).
Interestingly, women’s right to abortion was not recognized but abortion law was about social reasons because underground abortions were resulting in high mortality rates. The right to abortion was still limited because women had to obtained permission from two doctors (Nowicka, 2007: 169).
The total ban on abortion triggered reaction from homogenous anti- communist circles. In fact, Women’s Section of Solidairty claimed their commitment to reproductive rights (Graff, 2003). Later on, it also opposed the draft on punishment both men and doctors. Afterwards, in 1991 spring Women’’ Section was dissolved (Graff, 2003:109). Democratizing people was not becoming liberal but strongly conservative. This triggered feminist movement that gathered women from different circles. In April 1991, the Parliamentary Women’s Circle was established and in May 1991 it was blocking the abortion ban bill. Moreover, the situation forced many people to go on the streets with slogans “my uterus belongs to me” or “God save us from the Church” (Graff, 2003: 109). Although the campaign was organized it did not mean that general mobilization of women occurred. The Church was a vividly opposing the referendum and the parliament was accepting its claims. The Church was also against provisions granting contraception and sex education in schools. It was for complete abortion ban but at the end it supported what could be achieved (Millard, 2003: 133). Taking into consideration that majority of Poles were against restrictive abortion law, a million people signed the petition for referendum. There was widespread disappointment among women. At that moment the mass mobilization ceased. Women had to focus on the hardship of transition period including privatization, closure of many industrial plants because the shock therapy was much more severe for women than for men (Kulawik, 2014). In 1991, the Christian Nationalists ZChN presented the draft “Law on the protection of the child from conception” that actually would ban abortion in all circumstances (Millard, 2003: 133). In December 1991, Catholic physicians made changes to happen to the profession’s Code of Medical Ethnics, which practically forbid doctors from making abortion. “Advertisements for private abortions disappeared rapidly from the newspapers. Terminations were disguised as different medical procedures, and some women sought abortion abroad; fear of a rapid increase in back- street abortions were widespread” (Millard, 2003: 133). While the old 1956 law permitted abortion on demand during first trimester of pregnancy, the new law that was signed by President Lech Walesa in February 1993, stipulated that abortion was limited to cases “where the mother’s life or health was seriously threatened or where there was evidence of serious and irreversible malformation of the fetus”. On the other hand, there was not any provision regarding jailing women terminating their pregnancies. However, the doctors that break the law were liable to a prison sentence (Githens, 1996:56). ). “A new bill, called the Act on Family Planning, Human Embryo Protection and Conditions of Permissibility of Abortion, was finally passed by parliament in January 1993. It made abortion on social grounds illegal”. Basically, this meant that women in difficult socio- economic situation became deprived of the right to abortion. “Therapeutic abortion and abortion on criminal charges, which had been legal in practice, became almost completely inaccessible. Soon after the law came into force, it became apparent that, in fact, it had not stopped abortions but had pushed them into expensive, and not always safe, “underground” facilities” (Nowicka, 2007: 171). Moreover, the abortion was further restricted by the Medical Ethics Code adopted in 1992. The document stipulated that abortion for fetal deformities could not be allowed due to diagnosis method that could harm the unborn child. Further, three doctors had to agreed that women’s life or health was in danger or when pregnancy is as a result from rape or in In practice, legal abortions became inaccessible for women. The number of 200 abortions annually demonstrate how difficult it was to obtain permission. It was not only conservative circles and The Catholic Church hierarchy that actively campaigned against abortion. “Anti- choice” doctors also contributed to creation of the Code of Medical Ethics in 1991 by General Assembly of Physicians. The restrictions of 1993 were partially result of doctors’ actions. There were cases when even entitled women were denied abortion by the anti- choice doctors. On the other hand, many of them offered illegal abortion at their private clinics (Nowicka, 2007: 171). Those doctors who would not abide the law, could lose their licenses (Githens, 1996:56). This harsh and unjust law is even more controversial taking into consideration extensive women’s participation in labor force, being active members of Solidarity and members of the government and used to have access to abortion (Githens, 1996:56). The restrictive anti-abortion law passed in 1993, was the source of women’s mobilization in Poland. For example, in 1999 Agnieszka Graff stated her critical opinion about post-communist gender inequality was met with strong criticism from conservative’ circles. This polish feminist was accused her of spreading communist ideas. However, she was able to raise the debate on the issue. (Fidelis, 2010: 253). Shana Penn claims the debate signalled that gender issue existed in Poland despite if one call herself feminist of not and that “women’s rights are human rights”. Moreover, the debates showed also that gender inequality was not communist creation (Fidelis, 2010: 253). In 1993, the Democratic Left Alliance won the elections, the highest proportion of women’s votes was received by the party. That was because the party promised to slow down economic reforms and change the anti- abortion law (Bystydzienski, 1999: 101). In 1994, Lech Walesa vetoed more liberal draft. In 1996, pro- choice parliament made an attempt to liberalize the law. According to which abortion was allowed on the social ground and was signed by the President Aleksander Kwasniewski. Again, The Solidarity Trade Union played crucial role in struggle against the law and Constitutional Court rejected the law as unconstitutional. Decisions was accepted by the parliament, despite criticism of many prominent lawyers (Nowicka, 2007: 171). According to the Court decision, although constitution did not stipulate that life is a protected value, it does not mean it is not characterized
“The constitutional regulations in Poland do not contain a rule of a direct protection of human life. It does not mean, however, that human life is not characterized as a constitutional value… The basic rule from which the protection of human life results is article 1 of the constitutional rules being in force, especially the rule of a democratic country under the rule of law. A democratic country under the rule of law gives priority to a man and the goods must be of value to him. Life is a value that in a democratic country must be constitutionally protected at every stage… Life is a value protected by a constitution and life in a pre-natal stage cannot be differentiated. There are no satisfactorily precise and proved criteria allowing for such differentiation depending on the particular stage of human life. From conception, however, human life is a value constitutionally protected. It concerns the pre-natal stage as well” (Constitutional Court, 1997, May 27).
According to the research done by OBOP (Public Research Center), in 1996 “48 per cent of respondents supported abortion on social grounds, compared to 65 per cent in 1993. 39 per cent were against abortion (Nowicka, 2007: 173). The survey showed that after 1989 the support to the Church deceased. In 1991, 60 per cent of the respondents claims that the Church was “too influential”, in 1992 43 per cent showed “disapproval” of the Church. In 1994, 61 per cent said the Church had “too much political influence” (Millard, 2003: 140). In 1996 more liberal law was passed, according to which abortion was allowed on social reasons. However, a group of parliament memebers submitted case to Constitutional Court, which stated that the law was against the privple of life protection stipulated by the constitution (
Partially, it was church responsible for the shutting voice of women. The church’s suppressed of free speech and connection between citizens and the state. It refused any debate and used only religious dogmas to get what they wanted. . (Walsh, 2011: 115). “Thus female human beings are deprived of their subjectivity, or the human causative power over their own lives. In certain situations, representatives of the Church and the state take over direct control over bodies of female human beings, even against their choices or against the very possibility of making those choices” (Umińska- Keff, 2009: 23).Democratization theoretically opened public debates on issues like abortion. However, debates remained very limited due to Church’s efforts to block public sphere. In democratizing state, many factors should be taken into account because democratization process does not lead to gender equality and extension of women’s rights by default. Communism introduced women emancipation from above not like in Western Europe through struggle. In other words, gender equality did not correspond to equality in daily life. Patriarchy and male chauvinism were not eradicated. Women did not fight for their rights not because there was lack of freedom in totalitarian state but because they actually did not believe that anything could change because always there was somebody else in change to think for them (Drakulić, 2015). Civil rights rhetoric was used by the Church to campaign and guarantee the Catholic hierarchy, privileged position in the public sphere (Mishtal, 2009: 143). The rhetoric of the Church focused on condemnation of “family demise”, “permissive sexual behaviour as alleged practices that occurred during state socialism. To promote family and “normal biological gender roles (Mishtal, 2009: 143). As Kinga Dunin , a dissident and journalist, stated abortion should not be a discussion about morality but about how to organize the life of people with different life perspectives, which is integral part of a liberal state (Mishtal, 2009: 143).