Magdalena Skwarek (37), Labor migrant from Poland
I come from a non-traditional family in Poland, in the sense that my mother was at home and my father worked. My mother is a teacher in education and my father also has a good job. For me it was natural that father and mother worked. So I grew up in a healthy partner relationship, my parents worked and did the household chores and raising the children together. I only got to know ‘traditional Poland’ when I moved to the Netherlands fourteen years ago and got into a relationship with a Polish man. He came from a traditional family in a small village and was raised with different values than I did. He objected that I would go to work, that I should learn the Dutch language, that I wanted to build a life of my own. He thought I should stay at home and take care of our children. He did determine what my life path would look like. That was unacceptable to me. In the end, I, along with our two daughters, left him and asked for shelter at a ‘Blijf van mijn lijf huis’. That was a difficult time, I moved twelve times. But I survived. The Netherlands has a social safety net for a single woman with children. In Poland there is none. That is one of the reasons why many Polish women stay with their husbands, even though they are unhappy and do not live the life they would like. Purely and only because they are economically dependent on their husbands. And the man knows that well. That is why he can continue to ‘use’ his wife as a house slave. She won’t leave him anyway. I did take that step, because I refuse to see and feel less of a man. We are equal, that’s how I want to be treated. No, not all men like that. I think many men find me difficult, difficult and rebellious. I am a feminist, I say what I think and I want to make my own choices in life. I don’t need a man for my own identity. I pay a price for that, yes. A number of relationships with Polish men have come to nothing. I am single now and will remain so for the time being. I’m done with men. At least with Polish men. My view of men has also changed as a result. I notice that I find it more and more difficult to trust men. I’ve been through too much.
That’s what I pass on to my daughters: make your own choices.
The fact that many Polish men assume that they work and that the woman stays at home to take care of everything, due to the upbringing. At school and at home they learn that these are the normal proportions. They grow up like this, they see that their parents and grandparents have arranged life that way. So if they get a wife themselves, then in their experience it is very logical and normal that the woman is there for the household and the children. At home, many Polish men do nothing. I resist that. I teach my 6-year-old son to cook so that he can prepare his own meals later on and not have to treat his wife like a house slave. That’s what I pass on to my daughters: make your own choices. It is a difficult process of changing mentality. I think mothers can do a lot in this regard in relation to the upbringing of children, especially boys.
Seeing women in Poland protesting for equal rights fills me with pride and anger. Proud that they do that, angry because they need to protest. I support the protesting women, because I mainly think about my two daughters. I want to prevent them from ending up in a situation in which many women now live in Poland: as their husband’s ‘modern slave’. That may sound harsh, but that’s how I feel about it. Polish men are generally not mature, lazy at home and looking for a woman who does not whine and does what the man wants. There is far too little respect for women in Poland. Many women have left Poland to build a life elsewhere. Two years ago I went to a high school reunion. Of the 26 classmates, 6 stayed in Poland, the rest went abroad. I do notice that many departed Poles do not find it very relevant what is happening in their country of birth. They have a good job abroad, a family, are happy, so they don’t care that women in Poland are getting fewer and fewer rights. It’s a far-from-their-bed show. I myself only come to Poland once every three years, to visit my family. The first week is still going well, but in the second week I get tired of the nagging and complaining of the people in Poland. It seems like they only really live when they can complain. That’s not for me. If you’re not happy, do something about it. But they don’t dare. That is why not much changes in Poland and all those unhappy women just stay with their husbands.