Why this story matters:
"Well-behaved women seldom make history," Laurel Thatcher Ulrich famously wrote.
In this spirit, the attendees at last week’s Women's Congress in Łódź, Poland, were learning how to be loud. Not just metaphorically, at numerous discussions on activism and female representation in politics, but also literally, during workshops with a voice coach.
After all, it’s hard to speak up for ourselves when for most of our lives we've been told to behave.
100 years after Polish women won the right to vote and a decade since the Congress’s establishment, it was time for a roundup. What have we achieved so far? What are we missing? Has the Congress changed the gender awareness of Poles? Did it empower women to demand their rights in all spheres of life?
In such a close proximity to history, no wonder one of the pivotal demands was a call for "herstory" -- the kind of history written by ill-behaved women.
The members of the Congress believe that due to the current political situation in Poland, we are witnessing a step back in terms of women's rights.
"Those currently in power treat women like citizens of an inferior kind. We've had enough of discrimination, humiliation, marginalization, erasing us from history, infantilization, and harassment. We want full rights in a democratic, law-abiding Poland," they wrote.
One question that has been raised repeatedly over the years is: why not turn the Congress into a political party? Those in favor argue that it would give them concrete influence on policy-making. Instead of issuing recommendations, they could create bills.
The trouble is that it would also trigger internal divisions within the Congress, because, at the moment, its members represent various political parties (though not the ruling PiS party and other far right groups). So rather than aligning with a particular group, they'd rather focus on problems universal to the majority of women.
Even if the Congress doesn't go into party politics, it remains deeply political.
It discusses current policies and provides an outlet for activism and cultural exchange. Also, in the end, it creates an inclusive space, which in a country as politically split as Poland, has tremendous value.
Details from the story:
- The Women's Congress was established in June 2009.
- It is a movement comprised of socially and politically involved Polish women, including: artists, writers, politicians, journalists, homemakers, businesswomen, academics, as well as trade unions and NGOs.
- Among its initial goals were: introducing gender parity in electoral lists, issuing an annual parliamentary report about the situation of women, introducing effective family support policy and refunding in vitro fertilization. The Congress’s work on the first demand led to the creation of a legal act guaranteeing women 35% of spots on electoral lists (as of January 2011).
- This year, the Congress had a strong focus on the parallel between suffrage and the current situation of women.
- Film director Agnieszka Holland received the Congress's annual award.