Dorota Tyniec (65) and Stanisława Kuzio-Podrucka (44), Activists from Poland
We have been taking to the streets together for 5 years. It started with the ‘Black Protest’ in 2016, when for the first time people in more than 350 cities in Poland protested the government’s proposal to introduce a total abortion ban. Since then, we often make our voices heard: for women’s rights, LGBTI+, a free and independent judiciary in Poland and for the freedom of the media. Someone has to take the lead so that others get moving. We understand each other almost without words. Something happens, we look at each other and ‘are we going?’ ‘Yes, we are going’.
Dorota: We complement each other well. Stasia is rebellious and doesn’t mince words. I am calmer and think education is very important. At the moment I am committed to the case of the Stalag VIII-A. A place here in Zgorzelec, where there used to be a prison camp during the Second World War. There were more than 120,000 inmates, many of whom did not leave the camp alive. Now the political opposition party has decided to sell the land so that houses can be built on it. I find that unacceptable. We must not forget the people of the camp. We must never forget history.
Stasia: People from our circle support us. They know what we stand for, what we fight for. I’ve become something of a heroine in my neighborhood. People recognize me and yell when we go back out on the street or take other action. Even my mother, when she was healthy, joined the protests. But I also have a neighbor who has been ignoring me for years. It’s different on the street. We are regularly abused by men: on the street, in the store. In such a small town you do not remain anonymous when you take actions. On social media they go further than just cursing, we are faced with a terrible threat. I was shocked to see that my home address and work address were shared on the internet. I felt very intimidated. My windows have been pelted with eggs. I filed a report, but the police didn’t do anything about it. Since then I always carry tear gas with me. For at least a month I went to work in a taxi. I was too scared to be on the street.
Dorota: It’s important to be socially engaged. People need to know what is happening and understand the consequences of certain government decisions. Stasia leads 1000 people through the city shouting ‘Kurwa mać, Jebać PiS’ (damn, fuck PiS) and on the other side of the city I start with ‘dear ladies and gentlemen…’ and teach history. Education is very important.
Dorota: Afghanistan has the Taliban, we have Minister Czarnek. He won’t behead anyone, but as far as women are concerned, he has much the same vision as the Taliban: women are not partners. They are in favor of having children and sitting at home. It is appalling that neo-fascist organizations are funded from above. These organizations are encouraged by the government to act against protesting women. They do that by force. Our government has a lot on its conscience.
The so-called ‘conscience clause’ gives the doctor and pharmacist the right to decide for themselves whether or not to prescribe and sell the pill.
Stasia: You see that in Poland more and more young girls, 13-15 years old, are getting pregnant. A bitter consequence of government policy. Sex education in schools is banned, contraception is almost impossible in various places in the country and you can forget about the ‘morning-after pill’. Recently I came into contact with a woman from Nowy Sącz. She needed the pill. She already had three children, all born by Caesarean section. Three extremely difficult deliveries and the last thing she wanted was to get pregnant again. In her city she could not get the pill. The so-called ‘conscience clause’ gives the doctor and pharmacist the right to decide for themselves whether or not to prescribe and sell the pill. The woman was terrified of another pregnancy and desperate. She already wanted to work with a medicine for stomach ulcers. I got her on the pill here in my city and sent it to Nowy Sącz by courier. I was able to help her, but how many women are there who are completely alone and powerless in this kind of situation? Women who risk their lives to dangerously interrupt an unwanted pregnancy.
Dorota: We can count on help from our German neighbor Görlitz. There live Polish women who, for example, give us the pill and also participate in the protests. Financial? We often arrange this ourselves. We pay small amounts ourselves, sometimes we receive donations from sympathizers. Protesting costs money. We can also count on legal and psychological help. Almost all of us get a ticket or are taken to court. The accusations are often absurd. But it has a huge impact on your emotions. You become insecure. Threats on social media and name-calling on the street also affect you a lot. Most of us need to seek psychological help to live with this.
Stasia: The protests have changed people’s consciousness. The opposition is on our side and it has our support. But we don’t want them to abuse our trust. Some politicians seek popularity through engagement in women’s protests. We also monitor their work. We want them to remain loyal when decisions are made. We monitor them.
Dorota: We guard that we are all the face of the protests. It is not about one person or organization, it belongs to all of us. How do we get moving? Sometimes there are calls from Warsaw to take action: Then we take it to the streets. But much more often than not, political events are the trigger. If there is a new bill, we know that it has to be discussed and voted on within a certain period of time. Then we are ready to let you know what we think.