Anna Paluszkiewicz, The Center for Women’s Rights in Wroclaw, Poland
“The Center for Women’s Rights is the oldest organization in Poland dealing with women’s rights and women’s security. The aim is to help women, fight and prevent discrimination and violence. We are continuously busy, because discrimination against women and violence against women does not stop. We see women from different backgrounds, with different levels of education, of different ages.
The protests by Polish women have had an impact on our work. The attack on abortion law has moved young people for the first time. Beforehand, they were not interested in the changes in our country, until they lost the right to abortion. A huge wave of young people – including men and boys – stood up for the right to abortion. Women realize that it is a direct attack on their freedom. I am very angry that the government has decided this. I have a daughter and I realize that here in Wroclaw we know exactly what to do if something happens – for example if they don’t want to do prenatal examinations in the hospital -, where to look for help, who to contact, how to arrange money. But there are so many places in Poland, small towns, villages, regions where there is still a ‘mental medieval’. Where women are neglected, where the priest and the church are in charge. Women don’t know how to escape this. We also try to approach these women, but it is difficult. They sometimes find out by accident that they can seek help somewhere, but by then it is often too late. The protests have raised awareness. The telephone number where you can arrange an abortion pill has been widely shared. Before the protests, this was only known ‘underground’. Various women and organizations such as ‘Abortion is!’ are now also traveling through the country to disseminate knowledge.
We often notice that women are very afraid of their husbands. We can only speak to them on the phone for a few minutes, they don’t dare to stay on the phone any longer. They are not allowed to decide for themselves, have no ability to help themselves. Their fear is great and the power of their men enormous. We would like to open a secret center, like in Warsaw, where men who (forcibly) try to get their wives back have no chance. A place where women can switch back, relax and prepare for the next procedures. In addition to shelter, we also want to offer the women education and courses, so that they become more independent, stronger and less dependent on their husbands. Most of the women we meet in the center are between the ages of 30 and 50. But I see more and more young women end up in abusive relationships.
I am disappointed that many people still ignore the issue of women’s rights in Poland. Women who think: ‘I have a job, I can do what I want, go on holiday, I can say what I think, I have the Internet, so why do I have to do something?’ are frogs boiled in slowly heated water. I hope the protests continue and get even bigger. Only together can we achieve and change something in Poland. And only together can we ensure that we also reach the women who are currently surviving in a destructive relationship with an abusive man, without any help, support or perspective. It makes me angry and sad that we still have to fight against that in Poland.”