Back in Black In 2016 Polish women got dressed in Black to stand for their right to abortion. Photo: Grzegorz Żukowski via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Back in Black

Polish fight for women’s rights dressed in black in 2016 when hundreds of thousands of women stood against a restrictive anti-abortion bill. In March 2018 the so-called Black Protest was back gathering people in the streets and online. Marcelina Zawisza, a co-founder of the Polish political party “Razem”, took part in the organisation of the rallies. She spoke to BlueLink Stories about civil resistance against the restrictive bills on 16 May, during the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum General Assembly in Sofia. 

A few years back in 2016 the bill was introduced. It was a bill that received huge support from our ruling party “Law and Justice” (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość) and sought to restrict the anti-abortion law that we have in Poland right now. The law in Poland allows women to terminate pregnancy in only three cases. First, when the pregnancy is a result of a crime. Second, when the fetus is seriously damaged. And third, when the life of the woman is in danger. What they wanted to do is to force raped girls to give birth. They wanted the women who have miscarriages to explain themselves to a prosecutor. And they wanted to put us in prison for getting an abortion and for having a miscarriage.

So we started to organise. At the beginning we organised over the internet. We wanted to do something to allow women all over Poland to attend our protest even though they could not be there in person, because they live in small villages and cities. My friend from Razem said we should all wear black and upload our photos online with the hashtag “black protest” to show our support to the fight as well as our opposition to the bill supported by our ruling party.

This was in 2016. At the beginning of the year, we organised a small rally and only 10,000 people showed up. It was the biggest demonstration ever to deal with women’s rights. A few months later when the bill proceeded to parliament, we created an event online. We asked people to wear black, take a picture and upload the photo with the hashtag. So they did. And our event was literally flooded with pictures. Even whole classes of high school children wore black and uploaded their photos. Nurses and doctors wore black ribbons and supported our protest as well.

We don’t have political parties in the parliament that support women’s rights.

We decided then that we had to take further action. The Polish Women’s Strike said we should go on the streets and not go to work for one day. No one actually believed that it was possible that women in Poland would not go to work, because workers’ rights in Poland are as poorly implemented as women’s rights. In fact, as a country, we have huge problems with workers’ rights, women’s rights, human rights.

On 4 October, 2016, several hundred thousand women did not go to work. It was mind-blowing how many of us decided to show our opposition and how we managed to build a sisterhood, solidarity and show our determination. The “Law and Justice” party got scared. This was the first time that our ruling party got scared and backed down. They voted out the bill from parliament. So we won. It was a huge victory and a huge relief because what they tried to do to us was barbaric and inhumane.

Fight continues

Today we have another bill that we are fighting. Because the fight didn’t stop on 4 October, 2016. We have had two more fights against two more bills and now we are fighting in the courts as well. Because women who were involved in the black protest got fired from work, some of them. Some women who attended the black protest are now facing charges. And some women are still active and are, for example, stopping the neo-fascist and neo-nazi marches. They help people with disabilities and those who take care of them to fight for better lives. So they are still active and do a lot of good, positive work for society. What is the scariest thing is that few days ago a woman was sentenced by the court to three years in prison because she helped her daughter terminate a pregnancy.

What we did is that we created a bill, a draft. It was a civic initiative that we achieved with several organisations. We collected hundreds of thousands of signatures, but our bill was rejected by parliament without giving us the proper time to talk about it and talk about our rights. Parties like “Nowoczesna” and “Platforma Obywatelska”, the liberals, voted against this bill as well as “Law and justice”. So we don’t have political parties in the parliament that support women’s rights.

There were a lot of men at the rallies and a lot of men who fight side-by-side with us. And what is very interesting, polls are showing that a majority of polish men and women support our bill that is trying to implement the European standards of pregnancy termination in Poland.

We believe we can create a better future for us and for our daughters

“Razem” constantly supports women’s rights. We organise rallies; we attend rallies. We help women’s organisations to organise these rallies. We are working together for a better future. Because we were founded in 2015, we didn’t need to create a political party after the Black Protest. We just were. And a lot of women joined “Razem” and organisations that fight for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights. And we are fighting together. Because we believe that we can create a better future for us and for our daughters.

More BlueLink stories about civil initiates 

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This journalistic article was published as a part of the project “Remembering Europe: Civil Society Under Pressure Again”, implemented by the BlueLink Foundation with co-funding from the EU’s Europe for Citizens Programme. No responsibility for the content of this articice could in any way be attributed to the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency and the European Commission. All responsibility for the content lies with the BlueLink Foundation.