"With all your efforts and hard work, Polish women will never walk alone". Ariadne Marek, Cultural Representative for the Polish Society at the University of St Andrews, discusses the recent change to Poland's abortion laws and what we can do to stand in solidarity with those it effects.
On 22 October, the constitutional court in Poland ruled abortion in the case of foetal defects unconstitutional. Abortion is now only permitted if the pregnancy is the result of proven rape or incest or if the women’s life is at risk. The new legislation has been met with some of the largest protests in Poland since the fall of communism in 1989. In return, the protests have been met with harsh treatment from police. Polish ruling party chief, Jarosław Kaczyńsk, ordered them to use force, including pepper spray and water cannons to disperse mass crowds.
Poland now has some of the strictest abortion laws in the whole of the EU, and Polish women often must travel to neighbouring countries to gain access to safe abortions. Since the ban, the organisation Aborcja bez Granic (Abortions Without Borders) has been supporting women accessing abortions outside of Poland. They operate with the help of donations from those who are able to contribute to the cause. Furthermore, the organisation Aborcyjny Dream Team is working to educate, destigmatise, and fight against the government’s new legislation through social media and an online blog. They are also open to donations from the public to help aid their work.
After hearing about the recent tribunal’s ruling and the government’s response to the mass protests, the committee of the Polish Society of the University of St Andrews decided to stand with the Polish people and released a statement of solidarity, containing helplines and information for those who are in need of it. And, after being approached by a Polish student at the University with ideas for further action, the committee joined forces with The Feminist Society and Ourchoice to collaborate on planning a three-day demonstration in solidarity with the women of Poland.
Day one was held on Wednesday 5 November, and encouraged students to change their social media icons to include the Red Lightning Bolt – a symbol adopted by the women protesting in Poland – and to include a brief description of the situation. On day two, the Polish Society released information packs containing details surrounding the new legislation and how those of us in St Andrews can help by signing petitions, donating to organisations and using their social media platforms to educate others. We also encouraged students to create posters and banners to hang on windows and around campus. Friday 7 November was day three and the main event of the demonstration. In the union courtyard, a large banner and lightning bolt were displayed, and students were invited to come and place a coat hanger upon the lightning bolt. The turnout was incredible. I found it inspirational to see the number of students who came to show their support and stand with us in solidarity. Many students began to circulate photos of the demonstration on social media, further promoting the cause.
However, there is still a long road ahead. It is crucial that we, outside of Poland and as part of the international community, continue to stand together to condemn the actions of the Polish Government, increasing the pressure for change. As a community in St Andrews, we may be small, but we hold great strength and power to make our voices heard globally. The committee of the Polish Society sincerely thank the Feminist Society and Ourchoice for their hard work and dedication to assisting us with planning the event. We also thank all the students who stood with us and took the time to attend our demonstration. With all your efforts and hard work, Polish women will never walk alone.