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‘We won’t give up’: 25 years of feminist resistance to the war on women’s bodies in Poland

In 1993, the Polish government took away our right to abortion – starting a war on women’s bodies which continues to this day.

4 March 2018 march. 4 March 2018 'Manifa' march. Photo: Agata Kubis.Before 1993, we could terminate our pregnancies legally and safely. Today, Poland is home to one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. In theory, abortion is legal when the mother’s health is at risk, in cases of fetal abnormality, or when pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. But, in practice it is almost impossible to access abortion services legally.

According to official statistics, only 1,098 legal abortions were performed in the whole country in 2016. Many more women terminate their pregnancies illegally, in conditions that may be unsafe, amid a climate of fear and intimidation. Those who can afford it, may travel outside of the country to access these services.

In 2013, 20 years after the restrictive law was passed, a poll from the Public Opinion Research Centre (CBOS) found that as many as one in three Polish women have had an abortion. A Poland free from abortion is a pure fiction.

A century after Polish women got their right to vote, politicians and religious fundamentalists in our country refuse to give up power and control over our bodies, our sexualities and our lives. But feminists in Poland have never given up: we resist, we fight back, we’re united.

The world heard about us in October 2016, when hundreds of thousands went out into the streets for the so-called Black Monday protests which successfully challenged attempts to ban abortion under all circumstances. Since that time, as before it, our resistance continues.

In 2017, we collected more than two hundred thousand signatures under a pro‐choice civic initiative project to challenge the current law. We returned to the streets countless times, including for our annual International Women’s Day march ‘Manifa’, and for International Women’s Strike.

4 March 2018 march. 4 March 2018 'Manifa' march. Photo: Agata Kubis.The war on our bodies continues, and in the corridors of power our voices are still ignored. But we have not stopped supporting each other, helping to arrange safe underground abortions, with pills, both in Poland and abroad.

In January 2018, the Polish parliament rejected our proposal to make abortion safe and legal, and instead voted to continue work on a project put forward by hardline conservative group to also outlaw abortion in cases where the foetus has a congenital disorder – which account for 95% of all legal abortions performed in Poland today.

If passed, this will make things even worse for women. This year, for our annual international women’s day ‘Manifa’ march, our message is: ‘Abortion YES, Police No. Mutual Support against Systemic Violence’.

This means that we are also against the policing of our reproduction through, among other things, limiting our access to emergency contraception (currently available only with a doctor’s prescription) and the abuse of freedom of conscience clauses by Polish doctors and pharmacists (who are increasingly refusing to provide condoms and contraceptive pills).

These issues, along with the current restrictive abortion law, impact women from marginalised groups disproportionately. Meanwhile, the right to abortion is integral to women’s enjoyment of a whole spectrum of other rights including our right to health.

We also demand quality, free healthcare; sexuality education; accessible, affordable contraception; IVF and fertility support; investment in care infrastructure such as creches; support for families and children with disabilities; support for single mothers; and measures to address gender discrimination at work and recognise women’s unpaid labour.

4 March 2018 march. 4 March 2018 'Manifa' march. Photo: Agata Kubis.We refuse to accept politics which trivialises our experiences of violence. According to 2016 research by the feminist organisation STER, 87% of women in Poland have experienced some form of sexual violence. Shockingly, its findings suggested that one in five women have experienced rape. The Polish government has repeatedly said that it would withdraw from the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women. This is unacceptable.

We also reject homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. Poland is one of the worst states in EU to be an LGBTIQ individual. More than 2 million people in our country live in same-sex relationships but have no right to legalise them through marriage if they wish to. Violence against LGBTIQ people is common and goes unpunished.

We stand in solidarity with sex workers, denounce violence against them and demand that sex work in Poland be decriminalised. We are also disgusted by the government’s racist and xenophobic politics which demonise refugees, people of colour and those of different faiths.

Last year, tens of thousands of people joined one of the biggest nationalist marches in Europe, in Warsaw. Polish politicians refused to open our borders to refugees. This is absolutely disgraceful.

We realise that our struggle for rights is global. Our history is of persistence and resistance and our fight continues. Every day, everywhere, there are women, men, and non-binary people rising up against patriarchy, religious fundamentalism and for social justice. We demand a feminist future in Poland and beyond because it is necessary, and possible.

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