Since 2015 Poland is ruled by PiS (Law and Justice), an ultra-conservative, right-wing, populist party. Their views on social issues are much more conservative and traditionalist than those of their social conservative counterparts in Europe. The party politicians portray themselves as defenders of national identity and traditional family against a ‘great offensive of evil’: that which they perceive as a foreign import: multiculturalism and what they refer to as ‘LGBT ideology’. They boast that their flagship ‘500+’ child subsidy scheme introduced in 2017 encourages women to have more children and provided a financial boost to lower-income households. What they do not mention though, are the ways they changed the laws and social landscape in the country that make a growing number of women nervous at the very thought of becoming pregnant.
Reelected in 2019, the party has been gradually introducing changes that are frequently labelled as authoritarian, attacking democratic institutions and eradicating systems of checks and balances. This erosion of democracy, or as many call ‘velvet dictatorship’ is marked by the political assault on judicial independence, curtailing activities of NGOs and media critical of the party’s actions, and the government’s control of the state media (which became a partisan outlet, used as a tool to discredit opposition). All of this accompanied by an openly anti-EU,anti-LGBTQ, anti-refugee rhetoric. Women became a new target... and they fight back.
The PiS politicians in power hold strong traditionalistic, conservative views on the role of a woman in society. In 2016 they supported legislation to ban abortion under all circumstances and investigate cases of miscarriages but failed to introduce these changes after large protests of ‘Women’s Strike’ erupted. In October 2020, they turned to the Constitutional Court, packed with party loyalists, to proceed with the tightening of the already stringent law on constitutional grounds, introducing a near-total ban on abortion, forcing women to deliver in cases of lethal fetal deformity. Woman’s body became a place of a political battle, their rights, physical and mental well-being threatened not only by the new regulation but also the announcement of the plans of the government to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, EU treaty on preventing and combating domestic violence. The party ‘makes a real difference in every woman’s life' in other ways too: pushed forward bills to criminalize sex education, cut off funds for in vitro treatments and NGOs supporting women, ordered police to pepper-spray and beat up peaceful protesters (Women’s Strike). More restrictive laws are on the cards: making divorce more difficult, limiting access to contraception. Margaret Atwood’s ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ in Poland is no fiction...
In what could be described as a massive, unprecedented ‘backlash against patriarchal culture' hundreds of thousands of Polish women and supporting men took to the streets of cities and towns across the country, the scale of the anti-government protests unseen here since three decades after the fall of communism. Crowds consisting mainly, but not exclusively, of young women, voiced their discontent with the Constitutional Tribunal’s decision of 22nd Oct 2020, deeming abortions in cases where a fetus has severe or irreversible birth defects or incurable illness that threatens its life, unconstitutional. Fetal abnormalities account for more than 80% of the procedures performed every year. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the ruling Law and Justice party leader and Poland’s most powerful politician had said that even the nonviable fetuses had to be carried to birth so that they could be given a baptism, a name and a burial.
The advert / subvert I created references the political situation in my homeland and adds to my bodies of work where I examine a theme of women’s oppression and empowerment.