The feminist movement in Poland: divided we stand

Agnieszka Kwiatkowska

University of Warsaw


  • The beginnings
  • Communist state and women’s emancipation
  • Renewal of feminist movement after 1989
  • Movement divides
  • Searching for political and social allies

To a Polish Mother (1831)

O Polish Mother, if the radiant eyes
Of genius kindle in thy darling’s face,
If even in his childish aspect rise
The pride and honour of his ancient race; [...]

O Polish Mother, ill must be his part!
Before the Mother of Our Sorrows kneel;
Gaze on the sword that cleaves her living heart—
Such is the cruel blow thy breast shall feel!

— Adam Mickiewicz
(translation: Jewell Parish and George Rapall Noyes)

Woman as a worker

Official posters of the Communist period

“Young people — onward to fight for a happy socialist Polish village!” “We serve working people
courteusly and fast”

Combining the roles

Official posters of the Communist period

“Brave girl”
(movie poster)
“We greet all women working for peace and wellbeing of the homeland!”

Sewing workshop organised by the Women’s League (1947)

Women situation during Communism

  • Uneven distribution of wages and prestige between women-dominated and men-dominated industries (e.g., high status of male coal miners, low status of female knitters)
  • Hampering women’s access to management positions
  • Dominance of men in party and state authorities
  • Conservative family model
  • Home violence and sexual abuse
  • Sexism rooted in language and media

Pro-choice protests, Warsaw

Langenort: A floating abortion clinic at Poland’s seashore (1993)

Divisions within the feminist movement

  • Programmatic: moderate vs. radical
  • Form of dominant type of actions: lobbying vs. carnival
  • Political alignment: liberal centre vs. leftist

Manifa, Warsaw (2009)

Manifa: slogans and themes

  • 2000: “Democracy without women is half democracy”
  • 2001: “Don’t let them shut your lips”
  • 2002: “My life — my choice”
  • 2003: “Our bodies, our lives, our rights”
  • 2004: “Girls, action is needed!”
  • 2005: “We’re strong, stronger together”
  • 2006: “Let’s fight together, let’s be free, let’s protect our rights!”
  • 2007: “The great march of women’s solidarity”
  • 2008: “We all agree — we want to be free”
  • 2009: “Another government, same babble”
  • 2010: “Nurseries, not stadiums”
  • 2011: “Enough exploitation, we quit the service”
  • 2012: “Let’s cut the umbilical cord” (anti-clerical)

“Enough exploitation — we quit the service!”

Women’s Party

  • More women in politics
  • Healthcare for women (esp. during pregnancy and delivery)
  • Restitution of the Alimony Fund
  • Legalizing abortion
  • Decommissioning large state-run orphanages in favour of small family-run ones
  • Harsher punishments for rape, forcing prostitution
  • Pro-family policies
  • Lone mother care
  • Refunding contraceptives and infertility treatment

“Everything for the future — nothing to hide”

The Congress of Women

  • “Time for election! Time for women! Time for solidarity!”
  • Bring parity bills into motion
  • Increase government efforts for equal status of women and men
  • Introduce an annual government report on women’s situation
  • Refund in vitro conception
  • Change education system to better prevent discrimination of women

NSM (feminism) and political forces alliances (Offe 1985)

Alliances Issue movements: feminism and human rights
Conservative-liberal right plus new movements
  • Antipornography initiatives
  • Family-centered social policies for women
  • Symbolic recognition of the special role of women and minorities in society
Conservative-liberal right plus social-democratic etc. left
  • Increasing labour market flexibility and mobility
  • Improving access of women and minorities
Social-democratic left plus new movements
  • Preferential living and quota system
  • Redistribution of work within production and household

Thank you for your attention!