Women, to the Tractors! Or: Polish Women Vote

mlodziez

 

When Poland regained her independence on the 11th of November 1918, the country needed to be rebuilt from the scratch. Nearly 80% of our terrains had been used as battlefields, almost 15% of our people had been killed or deported, we had no government and due to the “scorched earth” tactics used by the vacating armies, almost a third part of our national wealth had been destroyed.

With so many men lost during and after the Great War, it turned out that in many regions in Poland, women were a vast majority of the population, in charge of whatever was left of their families’ assets and properties. With that in mind, on the 28th of November 1918, the decree establishing the electoral law was released by the Head of State, Józef Piłsudski. The decree stated that “anyone can vote and be elected as a member of Parliament, regardless of their gender, provided that they’d turned 21 by the day of the election” (article 1). The decree expired in 1922 but the March Constitution of 1921 stated that “all citizens are equal in the eyes of the law” (article 96) and in 1924 the Supreme Court pointed said article as a reason why all the laws restricting women’s public rights ought to be repealed.

Nevertheless, politics remained very much a men’s world. Until 1939 only 2% of the members of Parliament and 5% of Senators were female, and hardly any of them had any real authority (like, for example, Irena Kosmowska, who was a Deputy Minister of Social Policy in the temporary government formed in 1918). Women of the Interwar were more interested in earning their education, learning new skills and gaining proper employment that would lead to their independence from men. That, however, had very little to do with the idea of emancipation and everything to do with the fact that women were payed up to 40% less than men, even though they were working just as hard.

Slowly but surely, women were gaining more and more rights and opportunities. They were able to find jobs in the metallurgical, chemical, paper and printing industries if it wasn’t “particularly harmful to health and dangerous to morals and good customs”. At the same time, new laws were passed – the new rules of civil law stated that the wife didn’t have to live with her husband, she was able to sight any agreements concerning joint property on her own, was placed in charge of said property if the husband was missing and was able to appear in court without his permission.

An unmarried woman was able to start and run her own commercial business; wives were not responsible for their husbands’ debts if they were able to prove they had assets of their own. And yet, husbands could still demand to have their protest registered, if their wives were running an enterprise without their permission.

To add some insult to injury, very little was done to protect women and girls from abuse, both physical and sexual – the State Police was reluctant to investigate rape and cases of paedophilia, often ignoring such reports altogether, up to the point where The League of Nations voiced their concerns about prostitution, juvenile delinquency and human trafficking in Poland.

As a result, in 1925, women were allowed to join the force for the very first time and a special section of Women Police had been formed, led by Stanisława Paleolog. Policewomen were not only dealing with cases of domestic and sexual abuse or looking after the minors but also collaborated with similar units in other countries, mainly on human trafficking cases.

After the Second World War, the loss of life and estate was even more devastating. The new regime promoted egalitarianism and equality – a woman’s hands were just as capable of carrying the debris as a man’s and our shiny new People’s Republic wasn’t going to build itself.

And yet, no matter how eager the government was to overcome the divisions between jobs traditionally seen as intended for men or women (for instance, Anna Walentynowicz worked as a welder and then a gantry operator at the Lenin Shipyard for almost 30 years), the actual power stayed in the hands of men – until 1989 only up to 25% of the members of the Parliament were female.

The 1989 legislative election brought in the first non-communist cabinet of Tadeusz Mazowiecki with only one woman in its ranks – the Minister of Culture and Art, Izabela Cywińska of Solidarity.

To this day, Poland’s had three female Prime Ministers – Hanna Suchocka (1992-1993), Ewa Kopacz (2014-2015) and Beata Szydło (in office since 2015). There were also only three female presidential candidates: Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, Henryka Bochniarz and Magdalena Ogórek but none of them ever won more than 3% of the votes.

 


Carrie, 25, is an aspiring lawyer from Poland. She enjoys evenings spent with her favourite movies or books. She also makes tons of her own jewellery so she can beep at every security gate within a mile. You can find her on Tumblr and Instagram.

 

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