Laura Kwoczała & Wiktoria Magnuszewska, Young activists from Poland
Do you experience inequality between men and women in Poland?
“Yes, every day. We often go through situations where we think, ‘Okay, because I’m a woman or a girl, I can’t do the same as my male friends’. It actually started during religion classes at school. There we were told how to behave as girls, what is later expected of us as women, that we should not wear short skirts or dresses that are seductive, that we should above all not make our voices heard. Boys learned different life lessons. So from a young age your life as a girl is controlled. Above all, we should be of service to men and thankful for life. Girls’ self-development is not encouraged, but boys are. Growing up in Poland, you are already taught as a girl that your life will be different from that of boys. It’s hard to be al girl in Poland, because we have to fight daily for equal rights.”
If you wear a short skirt and go out on the street in Poland, are you safe there?
“No you’re not. Not really in two respects. You run the risk of being harassed or assaulted. And if that happens, you also run the risk of it being interpreted as ‘provoking’. Then you are no longer a victim, but the cause. Then they only talk about the clothes you wore, not what happened to you. You should not expect much from the church in that respect either. The church has a great influence on people’s opinion and education, especially in rural areas and small villages. We feel sorry for the girls who live there. If something happens to them, they have nowhere to go. Public opinion seldom or never takes the side of the woman who has been assaulted. Public opinion will not stand up for people from the LGBTI+ community if they are attacked. That violence is not condemned. You will be judged if you give your opinion as a woman. We experienced this when we protested on the street against the new abortion law and for more women’s rights. We were then investigated and our friends with whom we organized the protests. There was a threat of punishment. By law, we can get six months to eight years in prison. That causes a lot of uncertainty and stress. It is unacceptable that you could be jailed for standing up for your position and interests. With this threatening culture, an attempt is made to extinguish activism among girls and women. We will continue to stand up for women’s rights. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens. What is very annoying is that parents and relatives all hear stories about us. Or they read articles in the media that are negative about the women’s protests. It also tries to demotivate women. The reality is that more and more young people are getting involved in the protests: men and women.”
Do you talk a lot with friends about what is happening in Poland?
“Sometimes. Not all of our friends or peers are okay with what we do. That often ends in discussions that are quite exhausting. We sometimes think ‘why were we not born in another country and grow up there in a free society with equality between men and women’. Perhaps we should study abroad. Those thoughts also make us sad, because they mean that we actually want to flee the country. While it is not our fault how Poland is developing. Politicians make decisions about our future. The politicians of the government are not real politicians in our view. A real politician is a person who talks to the people, who is always ready to help. They are not in the government in Poland now. The government in Poland does not want to help us, but mainly wants to keep us stupid. They hate intelligent women. They want us to stay at home and do what they want. We hear that message at school, that message is spread by the church, that message is often also told at home. We talk to friends who have no idea what is happening in Poland regarding women’s rights and abortion. When we explain why we are protesting, why we are taking to the streets, they look at us with wide eyes. No one ever told them.”
Do you think you can change something in Poland?
“We will have to keep pushing the boundaries in order to achieve anything. When we started protesting a few years ago, we had no illusions that we would change the government’s mind. But doing nothing is not an option at all. We are not laying out the red carpet for this government that increasingly sees women as second-class citizens. New elections are coming, until then we will continue to protest as much as possible and activate as many people as possible to participate. We should not expect anything good from this government.”