Once Optimistic, Poland's Women's Rights Activists Live in Climate of Fear
On October 3, 2016, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets across Poland in defiance of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) partyâs attempt to enact a complete abortion ban. #CzarnyProtest, or Black Protest, and #StrajkKobiet (Womenâs Strike) became rallying cries for womenâs reproductive freedom and rights at p rotests broadcast around the world. When parliament rejected the ban on October 6, it felt like a triumph for popular protest and womenâs rights.
Two years later, âtriumphantâ hardly describes the reality for womenâs rights activists in Poland. In recent interviews with activists across Poland, one after another described a culture of fear and government intimidation that casts a shadow over their work.
Anna, coordinator of the Womenâs Rights Center in Lodz, described police raids on three of the centerâs offices on October 4, 2017, the day after demonstrations marking the Black Protest anniversary. A 70-year-old volunteer called Anna, saying four police officers were waiting outside the office. Anna contacted the organizationâs director, herself en route to the Warsaw office, who said it must be a mistake. âThen she went silent,â Anna recalled. âShe said, âOh, no. Theyâre here as well.â
Police raided another longstanding womenâs righ ts organization in western Poland, BABA, the same day.
Police said the raids were part of an investigation into former Ministry of Justice staff, and, because the organizations had received Ministry funding, they had to furnish information. But activists said their timing â" immediately after the Black Protests â" and methods suggest otherwise. âThey had four police officers to get a few binders [of documents],â Anna said. âIt was scary â" it was a coordinated action. You donât use these kinds of methods to deal with non-suspects.â
Two years on, Anna and other activists say the raids, along with government defunding and officialsâ rhetoric against womenâs rights, have ongoing effects. The raids caused public suspicion and tarnished the organizationsâ reputations. Funding cuts have hit essential services for survivors of violence that are often unavailable in Poland, especially outside major cities, such as shelter, counselling, and legal aid.
Determined to continue, they work in the shadow of a government that denies that domestic violence occurs in marriage and disdains efforts to advance gender equality. âIt is still in the back of your mind,â Anna said. âThere is a slight, constant fear, wondering what will be next.âSource: Google News Poland | Netizen 24 Poland