Why are gender issues so important in Poland?

On Friday the 12th December 2014, Krytyka Polityczna started off a cycle of English-language seminars entitled Poland for beginners, looking at key Polish issues in a way intended to explain them to people with little to no prior knowledge of the country. This seminar took place at Krytyka’s premises on the 2nd floor of Foksal Street 16, Warsaw for the first seminar in this series at 18:00 on Friday the 12th December, when Agnieszka Graff looked at men, women, difference and (in)equality within Polish society, asking Why are gender issues so important in Poland?.

A full recording of the debate appears on this page and one can also find a trailer of the feminist documentary Podziemne państwo kobiet [The Female Underground State], referenced in the lecture, a series of related Eurozine articles and more information on the evening’s speaker, Agnieszka Graff.

Why is gender discourse a man in a dress and why is s/he so important in today’s Poland?

Portrayed as a threat to families (in particular to children) and a source of perversion and cultural degradation, “gender” has become one of the key political conflicts in Poland. The word “gender” hit the headlines of all major Polish newspapers and TV stations in the autumn of 2013, taking gender studies scholars and students by surprise. Since then “genderism” – also known as “gender ideology” – has been consistently demonised by Poland’s bishops and conservative politicians.

This lecture dealt with the anti-gender campaign in some detail, examining its myriad initiatives, looking into its political and theological sources, analysing its strategic significance for the right and assessing how popular culture and the liberal and feminist left have responded. It positioned the emergent conservative dialogue on “gender” within the broader context of Polish debates about LGBT and women’s reproductive rights, providing an introduction to Polish feminism(s) in the 21st century.

The main focus of this lecture was to provide newcomers to Polish society with the thematic links between the ban on abortion (introduced in 1993), Poland’s EU accession (2004), the ongoing rise of the religious and nationalistic right and the present war on “gender” and the recordings. And, we hope that the recording, which we will look to post in the near future, will also be able to help all those who were unable to be present to gain a better grasp of this crucial area in contemporary Polish politics.

As part of this seminar, Agnieszka also referenced the feminist documentary Podziemne państwo kobiet [The Female Underground State] (dir. Claudia Snochowska Gonzalez and Anna Zdrojewska, 2009) [on illegal abortion in Poland] and guests were subsequently offered the chance to watch this in an adjoining session. And, for those visitors unfamiliar with the film, we provide a short, subtitled trailer.

gender darth image

Agnieszka Graff

Agnieszka is a Polish writer, translator, commentator, feminist and women’s and human rights activist. She is a graduate of Oxford University, Amherst College (Massachusetts, the U.S.A) and the Polish Academy of SciencesSchool of Social Sciences. She completed her PhD in English literature in 1999 and in 2001 she published Świat bez kobiet. Płeć w polskim życiu publicznym [A World without Women. Gender in Polish Public Life] (W.A.B., Warsaw, 2001), a book that was hugely debated in Poland. She works at the Warsaw University’s Institute of Europe and the Americas and gives lectures on gender studies. Her essays and features have been published in Gazeta Wyborcza (a popular, mass circulation left-leaning newspaper), Literatura na Świecie (World Literature) and Zadra (The Thorn, a Polish feminist magazine). She is also a member of Krytyka Polityczna[Political Critique] and a co-founder of the women’s organisation Porozumienie Kobiet 8 Marca (The Women’s Coalition of the 8th March), with whom she organises the annual Manifa Warsaw women’s march. Additionally, Agnieszka sits on the International Helsinki Federation For Human Rights Precedent Cases Programme’s Programme Board.

Podziemne państwo kobiet [The Female Underground State] trailer:

Related articles:

Readers may also be interested in the following Eurozine articles, which appeared in a feature on this topic shortly after its emergence at the start of the year.

1) Poland’s gender dispute. What does it say about Polish society? – Jarosław Kuisz and Karolina Wigura

2) Conservative backwardness. A conversation on gender in Poland – Agnieszka Holland in conversation with Łukasz Pawłowski

3) Gender in Catholic Poland: Beyond ideology? –  Marcin Nowak in conversation with Tomasz Sawczuk

Event location:

This debate takes place with the kind support of the Warsaw City Council and the European Cultural Foundation

ECFWarsaw Council