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The populist war on women

Dec 28,2016 - Last updated at Dec 28,2016

Jaroslaw Kaczynski and Donald Trump, two politicians who have shocked the world this past year, have mostly got away with their outrages. But not anymore.

When Kaczynski’s Law and Justice (PiS) party came to power last year, it immediately seized control over key Polish institutions, including the constitutional tribunal, the state prosecutor’s office, public media and enterprises, even state-owned horse stables.

Because the PiS government inherited a sound economy and strong fiscal position, Kaczynski has not seen the need for a finance minister, so the post was recently liquidated.

Trump, too, has been engaging in behaviour that under normal circumstances would be politically disqualifying: attacking the parents of a Muslim-American soldier killed in combat, mocking a disabled reporter, and impugning Senator John McCain for being captured during the Vietnam war (he was held and tortured for more than five years).

Everyone was outraged, except for Trump’s voters.

This state of affairs might have continued. But both Kaczynski and Trump have recently been confronted by a political force that neither reckoned with: women.

Before last year’s parliamentary elections in Poland, the far-right organisation Ordo Iuris had proposed a blanket ban on abortion, one that would go beyond Poland’s current legislation, already among the most restrictive in Europe, by forcing women to give birth even in cases of rape, incest, health risks and serious foetal defects. 

But at the same time, another legislative proposal was put forward to liberalise abortion laws, introduce sex education into schools, and guarantee insurance coverage of contraceptives.

Although PiS solemnly promised that the Sejm (parliament) would not reject the latter bill in the first reading, the legislation criminalising abortion was advanced to a parliamentary vote, and the pro-choice proposition was rejected.

Women spontaneously took to the streets en masse.

For nearly two decades, Poles believed that the country’s abortion laws could not be changed, owing to the power of the Catholic Church and the subordination of the political class to religious authorities.

But the actress Krystyna Janda, who starred in Andrzej Wajda’s film “Man of Iron”, called on Polish women to launch a general strike. 

On October 3, instead of going to work, women across the country turned out to protest, following a model established by Iceland’s women in 1975, when 90 per cent did not go to work and effectively paralysed the country.

The demonstrations occurred even in small towns, and despite dismal weather. Women also congregated outside PiS headquarters, the true seat of power in Polish politics.

In solidarity with Polish women, women from Kenya to Berlin took to the streets dressed in black.

For the first time since PiS’ return to power last year, Kaczynski was frightened. The next day, he had his party vote to reject the anti-abortion proposal. Never before had he acted in a similar manner.

In the United States, Trump’s presidential campaign began to crumble only when it was revealed that he boasted about sexually assaulting women.

Soon, women who had endured his attacks began to come forward and describe what had happened to them.

Trump’s spell was broken. Independent voters — and many Republicans — bolted. 

Michelle Obama delivered an emotional address about how Trump’s behaviour had shaken her, speaking in a way that Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, cannot because of the complicated history of her own marriage.

Support for Trump, particularly among suburban women, crashed. 

According to recent polls, his backing from women plummeted from 39 per cent to 29 per cent over the course of a couple of days. 

And yet neither Trump nor Kaczynski seems willing — or perhaps able — to reverse course. 

After withdrawing his support for the Ordo Iuris proposal, Kaczynski could not leave the issue alone.

“We will strive to ensure that even pregnancies that are very difficult, when the child is doomed to die or is seriously deformed, are brought to term so that the child can be baptised, buried, and given a name,” he announced on October 13.

Women have called for another general strike on October 24.

Perhaps Kaczynski has always been inclined to self-destruction.

As prime minister in 2007, he handed power to his opponents on a silver platter, by attacking his coalition partner, the Samoobrona Party, and calling for an early election. 

Once again, it appears that Kaczynski is his own greatest nemesis.

This time, Kaczynski (who holds no official government position) first united the political mainstream (whom he dubbed “the worst sort” of Poles) against him by attacking liberal democracy.

Now, by pressing his war on women, who form a majority in Poland, he has united the mainstream with the left and politicised and galvanised the country’s youth.

Immediately after Kaczynski’s latest comments, women began to gather in front of his house, warning him: “You want to peer into our beds? We’ll peer into your home.”

According to an opinion poll by the newspaper Rzeczpospolita, 69 per cent of Poles support the so-called black protest that women have mounted. 

If the October 24 strike is larger than the spontaneous demonstrations of October 3, support for PiS will surely drop significantly for the first time since it assumed power, and Poland will find itself in a new political situation.

Trump, too, has doubled down on sexism, blaming the media for his travails and calling one of his accusers “that horrible woman”, adding: “Believe me, she would not be my first choice.”

And, appealing directly to his many white-supremacist supporters among the so-called alt-right, he has also begun indulging a classic anti-Semitic trope, accusing Clinton of meeting “in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of US sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers”.

But Americans are not buying it; nor are Poles. 

And it is only fitting that Trump, and possibly Kaczynski, will be defeated by those whose dignity and equality each refuses to recognise, with women in the lead.



The writer, founder of the Krytyka Polityczna movement, is director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Warsaw. ©Project Syndicate, 2016.

4 users have voted.


Involuntary sterilization for abortion proponents, including the doctors and nurses and assistants and secretaries. General population proponents too.

Killing a fetus is the same thing as killing a baby dude. There's no difference. The fetus still feels like a baby does.

There is no such thing as a right abortion! Abstinence is the only right way to prevent unwanted pregnancies! Stop following Hollywood's, Femen's, and Planned Parenthood's kaffirism instillment movements!

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