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The status of sexual equality policies in Poland

by Bożena Chołuj


What consequences has joining the EU had for Polish women? What is the status of equal rights for women in Poland? These are some of the questions that Bożena Chołuj answers in her article.


Gender Mainstreaming, diversity, equality of the sexes, women's rights are human rights, equal pay for equal work, the right of self-determination and many other postulates are still relevant today not only with regard to the situation of women in the countries who have recently joined the EU, but also in the old EU member states.

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On an EU level, equal opportunities commissioners would actually have to operate in exactly the say way like in many other countries where they are tried and tested both in state-owned and private institutions and companies. And perhaps female EU delegates could be recruited to carry out their mission. The experiences of Polish women since the transition of 1989 confirm this necessity for new EU member states by way of example. The contempt of rights against women on the part of state authorities and lack of interest on the part of the ruling parties on the public opinion of women on their own issues is not a rarity in East European countries.

For the latter, the handling of the office for sexual equality by the government in Poland is one such example. It was closed in 2006 by the Kaczynski government; however, in 2008 Prime Minister Tusk called the equal opportunities commissioner back to office again without clear allocation of authority. Both happened without any consultation with any women's organisations. There are also activities carried out by the government that appear to be fictitious actions, like e.g. the two-volume publication which was created on behalf of the Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs in 2006. Its title reads "Krajowy System Monitorowania Równego Traktowania Kobiet i Mężczyzn" (National Monitoring System for the equal treatment of women and men), it suggests the existence of a monitoring system which is incorrect. The ministry keeps the published copies in one of its offices. Neither its forwarding, distribution nor advertising is planned, allegedly because of lack of funds, which has not been confirmed officially. Only a chosen few know of the existence of these volumes and the fact that they could be collected free of charge but they only know this through the rumour mill. The report does not present any gender-critical analysis, however it provides data which can be helpful for the day to day workings of the public administration and the NGOs of any kind. One learns, amongst other things, that the activity of women is increasing in all areas of life, whilst they decrease for men in a family setting, whereby the traditional family model of the double burden for women remains dominant. Women are dependent on the political situation to a larger extent than men because the laws which were once adopted, which affect them directly, tend to change with each change of government. Alimony, maternity leave and much more besides are re-defined by law over and over again, resulting in employers shying away from giving jobs to women. Nobody wants to discuss the suggestion of paternity rights, although this solution would help both women of child-bearing age and older women alike, because the competitive power of older men could be limited by potential paternity.

Women's NGOs

Constant changes to regulations also lead to turmoil in the women's NGO because they constantly have to move their main focuses of work to new problem areas. In addition, the financing of NGO's is affected by it. Except for the one percent, those Poles who can offset tax against this or that organisation, there is no other way of safeguarding their activities. Thus, they mostly look for support from abroad, whereby they raise suspicion due to the fact that they operate in foreign cultures. And in such a way, the circle closes under the motto of cultural identity, in which the official Poles readily justify the lack of shortcomings in gender politics on the international stage. If one considers however that the state support for the campaign and help against the use of force on women in 2007 in Poland amounted, believe it or not, to 40,000 zlotys, (approx. 12,000 euros), it shows a disregard of women's issues rather than it be the cultural identity of this country. As to its political culture, it remains certain, however, that the participation of women in politics will only ever be discussed at the time of an election campaign because until today proposals in this area have not gone beyond a 30 % quota on the list of candidates of some parties.

The list of problems not dealt with concerning gender politics and women's politics in Poland, which in the political rhetoric is more family-orientated than ever before, is long. Women are only regarded as an integral part of a traditionally construed family. Family policy concentrates in particular on them as pregnant women. After giving birth they receive 1000 zloty "maternity benefit” ("Becikowe”), irrespective of their financial situation, whereby the state support is then already as good as exhausted. After all, child benefit, which large families receive, is very low and represents symbolic rather than material assistance. In the work place, the issue of child care has not been resolved. The old age pension scheme is arranged on a gender-specific basis, whereby women are disadvantaged because they retire earlier and therefore amass a shorter working period. The so-called "women's issue” has since 2005 therefore, become more topical than ever before. Communication between the government and feminist non-governmental organisations (approx. 300 throughout Poland), which for years have strived for the equality of the sexes in Poland, has practically broken down. Polish women know that the democratic idea of civil society as information flow and cooperation between all political structures can be put into practise, however only if the political will exists on the part of the state power.

 

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Bożena Chołuj
Prof. Dr. Bożena Chołuj lectures at the University of Warsaw (New German Literature and Gender Studies) and at the Viadrina European University she runs the ...
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Original in German

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The text is licensed under Creative Commons license by-nc-nd/2.0/de.

 

Further articles on the subject » EU Policy, » Social movements, » Europe, » Poland
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