In one scholarly conception, the history of feminism in Poland[1] can be divided into seven periods, beginning with 19th-century first-wave feminism.[2] The first four early periods coincided with the foreign partitions of Poland, which resulted in an eclipse of a sovereign Poland for 123 years.[3]

However, if "first-wave feminism" is defined as Betty Friedan and others have done,[4] as a global movement in the 19th and 20th centuries, mainly concerned with women's right to vote (i.e., women's suffrage), then Poland experienced it at the same time as other Western countries, toward the end of the 19th, and especially at the beginning of the 20th, century.

The period prior to this had been dominated by the "woman question", when elite women and a few men challenged the subordination of women to men but did not necessarily advocate or collectively organize for equal political rights, nor for great societal changes.

In the Polish lands, the woman question developed alongside continental European debate from the 16th century onward.[5]

The Nineteenth Century

According to Eugenia Łoch, Poland experienced three successive waves of feminism in the 19th century; the first and weakest wave came before the November uprising of 1830. It was then that Klementyna z Tańskich Hoffmanowa wrote the first Polish text with ‘feminist’ features, Pamiątka po dobrej matce (Remembrance of a Good Mother, 1819). Though the author affirmed the traditional societal roles of wife and mother for Polish women, she nevertheless also advocated the necessity of education for women.

Uprisings period

A second and stronger wave occurred between the November 1830 and January 1863 Uprisings. This Polish period was influenced by French "proto-feminist" ideas: by George Sand's writings, and by La Gazette des femmes (The Women’s Gazette).

The leading Polish journal advocating feminism was Przegląd Naukowy (The Learned Review), which published articles by, among others, Narcyza Żmichowska (the Warsaw leader of the "entuzjastki"), who advocated the "emancipation" and education of women. Żmichowska was also an active speaker on behalf of women's causes.

The first Polish woman philosopher, Eleonora Ziemięcka, wrote Myśli o wychowaniu kobiet (Thoughts on the Education of Women, 1843), which postulated that the most important aim in women's education was the forming of their human nature – and only afterwards, their femininity.[6]

Positivism period

Poland experienced its third and strongest feminist wave after 1870, under major Western influence. In this wave, the principal advocates of the feminist cause were men. in 1870 Adam Wiślicki published an article, "Niezależność kobiety" ("Woman’s Independence"), in Przegląd Naukowy, containing radical demands for equality of the sexes in education and the professions. In the same newspaper, Aleksander Świętochowski criticized Hoffmanowa's books, which he said "transform women into slaves." Another newspaper, Niwa, pushed for women's equality in education and work. The most radical feminist demands appeared in Edward Prądzyński’s book, O prawach kobiety (On Women’s Rights, 1873), which advocated full equality of the sexes in every domain.

The question of women’s emancipation was especially important at the University of Lwów (Lemberg). In 1874 a University lecturer, Leon Biliński, gave a series of lectures "O pracy kobiet ze stanowiska ekonomicznego" ("On Women’s Work from the Economic Standpoint"). He strongly supported women's intellectual and economic emancipation and their free access to higher education. His efforts later bore fruit: in 1897 the first women students graduated from Lwów University.

In Eliza Orzeszkowa’s literary output, the motif of women's emancipation is particularly important. In her book, Kilka słów o kobietach (A Few Words about Women, 1871) she stressed the fundamental human nature of every woman, perverted by society.

A major figure in Polish feminism in this period and later was Gabriela Zapolska, whose writings included classics such as the novel, Kaśka Kariatyda (Cathy the Caryatid, 1885–86).

In 1889 the Russian newspaper Pravda (Truth) published an article by Ludwik Krzywicki, "Sprawa kobieca" ("The Woman Question"), which postulated that women’s liberation was inherent to the capitalist economy.[7]

Twentieth century

The fourth – modernistic – wave of feminism reached Poland around 1900. While male writers focused on the ‘mysterious and mystic’ nature of women, female authors (e.g. Maria Konopnicka, Eliza Orzeszkowa) were occupied with more rational aspects of feminity. Zofia Nałkowska was especially active in the Polish women's movement. Her speech Uwagi o etycznych zadaniach ruchu kobiecego (Remarks about Ethical Objectives of the Women’s Movement) during the Women's Congress in Warsaw in 1907 condemned female prostitution as a form of polygamy. Nałkowska's first novel, Kobiety (Women) (1906), and another novel, Narcyza (1910), denounced female passivity confronted with what she perceived as masculine domination.[8]

Interwar period

Irena Krzywicka, 1930

The fifth wave of Polish feminism took place in the interwar period (1920s and 1930s). Feminist discourses of that epoch (in Poland as well as in other countries) searched for new definitions of feminism and tried to identify new goals (there were doubts about whether to fight for full equality or rather for protective legislation). Almost every feminist (even radicals) believed that women had achieved their liberation.[9] Róża Melcerowa expressed those feelings: Feminism (...) in fact ended among those nations where de jure had secured its object: social and political equality.[10]

Article 96 of the Polish constitution of 1921 provided that all citizens were equal under law, however, it did not apply to married women.[11] On 1 July 1921 the Act on the Change of Certain Provisions of the Civil Law Pertaining to Women's Rights was enacted by the Sejm, to address the most obvious inequalities for women who were married. The provisions of the Act allowed women to control their own property (except their dowry), to act as witnesses to legal documents, to act as custodian of her children if her husband was incapacitated, and to live separately from her spouse. The law also removed the requirements that a woman had to obey her husband and abolished requirements for a wife to obtain her husband's permission to engage in legal actions.[11]: 250 [12]

In 1932 Poland made marital rape illegal. Nałkowska continued to analyse women's questions: in the novels Romans Teresy Hennert (Teresa Hennert’s Liaison, 1923) and Renata Słuczańska (1935) she dealt with the limits of women's liberty in traditional society.

The 1920s saw the emergence of radical feminism in Poland. Its representatives, Irena Krzywicka and Maria Morozowicz-Szczepkowska, shared an aggressive rhetoric and advocated women's deliverance from the emotional relationship with men ("fight against love") as the sole medium towards individual independence. Krzywicka and Tadeusz Żeleński (‘Boy’) both promoted planned parenthood, sexual education, rights to divorce and abortion, and strict equality of sexes. Krzywicka published a series of articles in Wiadomości Literackie (Literary News) (from 1926), Żeleński wrote numerous articles (Brewerie (Brawls) 1926, Dziewice konsystorskie (Consistory Virgins) 1929, Piekło kobiet (Hell for Women) 1930, Zmysły, zmysły (Libido, Libido) 1932, Nasi Okupanci (Our Invaders) 1932), among others, in which he protested against interference by the Roman Catholic Church into the intimate lives of Poles. Both Krzywicka and Żeleński were exceptionally active speakers, promoting the ideas of feminism in the whole country. A different aspect of Polish feminism figures in the poetry and drama (Szofer Archibald (Chauffeur Archibald) 1924 and Egipska pszenica (Egyptian Wheat) 1932) of Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska. That author advocated a female erotic self-emancipation from social conventions.

The Second World War virtually silenced Polish feminists.

Under communist rule

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After World War II, the communist state established by Soviets in Poland promoted in propaganda women's emancipation in the family and at work.

Communist poet Adam Ważyk realistically described situation of workers (Including the female ones) in his Poem for adults.[13]

This period, known as the "sixth wave" of Polish feminism, was characterized by considerable propaganda advocating equality of the sexes and by massive women's participation in industrial production, agriculture, and politics. Poland had the first female government minister in the world.[14]

Julia Minc (wife of Hilary Minc) was president of the Polish Press Agency, 1944–54. Zofia Grzyb (a worker with elementary-school education) was the first and only woman member of the Politburo of the Polish United Workers' Party, from 1981.

Second-wave feminism

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The second-wave feminism as a period of feminist activity began in the early 1960s in the United States. The same wave reached its peak in Poland already in 1956 with the legalization of abortion, which generated the production of polemical pro-choice texts. Afterwards, feminist voices were almost silenced (until 1989)[need quotation to verify]; the state considered feminist demands fulfilled, any open discussion about women's problems was forbidden[need quotation to verify], only official (‘materialist’ and ‘Marxist’) feminist texts, mainly focused on taking off women the burden of ‘traditional’ female domestic work, were allowed[need quotation to verify]. ‘Western’ feminism was officially prohibited and was practically absent in the Polish social life until 1989.[15]

In Poland during the years 1940–1989, feminism in general, and second-wave feminism in particular, were practically absent[need quotation to verify]. Although feminist texts were produced in the 1950s and afterwards, they were usually controlled and generated by the Communist state[contradictory]. In fact, any true and open feminist debate was virtually suppressed. Officially, any ‘feminism of Western type’ did not have the right to exist in the Communist state, which had supposedly granted to women every one of the main feminist demands[need quotation to verify].

Formally abortion was legalized in Poland almost 20 years earlier than in the United States and France (but later than in Scandinavian countries), equality of sexes was granted, sexual education was gradually introduced into schools, and contraceptives were legal and subsidised by the state. In reality, however, equality of sexes was never realized and contraceptives were of such a bad quality that abortion became an important method of planned parenthood. Those real problems were never officially recognized and any discussion of them was forbidden.

After the fall of communism

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Speakers at International Women's Day activities, Warsaw, 2010.

During communist rule, Polish women enjoyed liberties (abortion, labour market, childcare) that were different from the West.[dubious ] However, following the transition to democracy in 1989 the government took "re-familisation" measures. Feminism in post-communist Poland is contested by the Polish public due to the influence of the Catholic Church in an ongoing "war on gender".[16] Post-communist Poland experienced the seventh wave of feminism and was suddenly confronted with concepts of Western second-wave feminism that at once met with fierce opposition from the Roman Catholic Church. Western feminism has often been erroneously identified with the prior Communist reproductive policy, similar in some aspects, and feminism for that reason has often been regarded as ’suspect’[citation needed].

In the beginning of the 1990s, Polish feminist texts often used the aggressive rhetoric related to feminist publications of the interwar period. That kind of ‘striking’ argumentation was more adequate in that epoch of violent polemics about prohibition of abortion. After the Polish government introduced the de facto legal ban on abortions (on January 7, 1993), feminists have changed their strategies. Many Polish feminists since that event have adopted argumentative strategies borrowed from the American ‘Pro-Choice’ movement of the 1980s. In Polish feminist texts, the mixed argumentation of ‘lesser evil’ and ‘planned parenthood’ has prevailed. In fact this argument is contrary to the feminist ideology and has proved ineffective. The ban on abortions has appeared immovable. State funding of contraceptives have been strongly suppressed since 1989[citation needed] . But Polish feminism is seemingly undergoing change; new feminist books include Agnieszka Graff’s Świat bez kobiet (World without Women) (2001), which directly points out the contemporary phenomenon of women’s discrimination in Poland; and Kazimiera Szczuka’s Milczenie owieczek (Silence of the Flock) (2004), which passionately defends abortion and often takes positions directly related to the interwar period and radical French feminism, thus renouncing the hitherto dominant ‘moderate’ American argumentative strategies. Ewa Dąbrowska-Szulc[17] expressed the necessity of changing the Polish feminist stance as well: "We [feminists] have lost a lot by these lessons of an appeased language we are still giving each other".

Currently, Poland still has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.[18][failed verification] A proposed total ban on abortion, which had first been introduced in September 2016, and later in April 2016, has initiated a wave of demonstrations Black Protest, raising awareness about the women's right situation in Poland worldwide.[19] Kaja Godek is a radical anti-abortion activists.[20]

Zuzanna Radzik claims to be a Catholic feminist.[21]

International Women's Day

In Poland, International Women's Day comes with some practices that Polish feminists find problematic. Traditionally, women are given a red rose and some perfume. There is a movement by Polish feminists to change the focus of International Women's Day in order to mobilize women toward activism. In Poland, stereotypes view women as either man hating feminists (much like the stereotype seen in America) or traditional mother figures. The movement to reclaim International Women's Day is focused on viewing women as complex individuals, not just through these popular stereotypes.[22]

Since 2000, Women's Day in Poland is celebrated with feminist demonstration actions called Manifa.[23] Demonstrations and happenings take place nationwide, providing a platform to fight for women's rights.

Important Women of Polish Feminism

Eva Kotchever (1891–1943) was an activist, owner of the famous Eve's Hangout in Greenwich Village, deported from the United States for "obscenity", murdered at Auschwitz.

Agnieszka Graff (1970) – an author, human rights activist, and a co founder of Porozumienie Kobiet 8 Marca, she works at Warsaw University's Institute of the Americas and Europe. Her written works include the book World Without Women in 2001.[24]

Maria Janion (1926–2020) was a renowned feminist and scholar, she gave many lectures on feminist ideals and inspired many new age Polish feminists. She received an honorary degree from the Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences.[25]

Wanda Nowicka (1956) is a Polish Politician, perhaps best known for her fight for legal abortion and her work co-founding the Federation for Women and Family Planning in 1992. She graduated from the University of Warsaw and worked as a Latin and English teacher until working in politics as the Deputy Marshal of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland from 2011–2015.[26]

Elżbieta Korolczuk (1975) is a Polish sociologist, researcher and leftist activist. She works at the Södertörn University in Stockholm.

See also


  1. ^ The term "Poland", in the 19th century and to the end of World War I, refers to the Polish territories within the boundaries of 1771. (From 1795 until 1918, the Polish state did not exist, having been partitioned by its neighbors Russia, Austria, and Prussia.)
  2. ^ Łoch, Eugenia (ed.) 2001. Modernizm i feminizm. Postacie kobiece w literaturze polskiej i obcej. Lublin: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu M.Curie-Skłodowskiej, p.44
  3. ^ Davies, Norman. God's Playground: a history of Poland. Revised Edition. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005.
  4. ^ Drucker, Sally Ann. "Betty Friedan: The Three Waves of Feminism". Archived from the original on 2020-10-26. Retrieved 2020-10-21.
  5. ^ Bogucka, Maria (2017). Women in Early Modern Polish Society, Against the European Background. Routledge.
  6. ^ in: Łoch, 2001:46
  7. ^ in: Łoch, 2001:47
  8. ^ in: Łoch, 2001:48
  9. ^ Poland granted to women the right to vote in 1918.
  10. ^ in Łoch 2001: 59
  11. ^ a b Klimaszewska, Anna; Gałędek, Michał (2016). "'Crippled Equality': The Act of 1 July 1921 on Civil Rights for Women in Poland". Acta Poloniae Historica. Warsaw, Poland: National Ossoliński Institute. 113: 231–260. doi:10.12775/APH.2016.113.09. ISSN 0001-6829. Retrieved 11 May 2019.: 239–240 
  12. ^ "100 years of women's right to vote in Poland". Warsaw, Poland: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Poland. 27 November 2018. Archived from the original on 11 May 2019. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
  13. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2019-08-08. Retrieved 2019-08-08.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ "99 lat temu Polki uzyskały..." Retrieved 2017-11-29. Pierwszą polską Ministrą była Zofia Wasilkowska (również pierwsza kobieta na świecie na stanowisku ministerialnym), która w 1956 roku objęła urząd Ministra Sprawiedliwości, natomiast drugą była Maria Milczarek - Ministra Administracji, gospodarki terenowej i ochrony środowiska w 1976 r.
  15. ^ in: Śleczka, Kazimierz, 1997. "Feminizm czy feminizmy". In: Zofia Gorczyńska, Sabina Kruszyńska, Irena Zakidalska (eds.). Płeć, kobieta, feminizm. Gdańsk: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Gdańskiego: p.17
  16. ^ Narkowicz, Kasia, and Konrad Pędziwiatr. "Saving and fearing Muslim women in ‘post-communist’Poland: troubling Catholic and secular Islamophobia." Gender, Place & Culture 24.2 (2017): 288-299.
  17. ^ in Szczuka 2004: 13
  18. ^ "Abortion Not Allowed in These European Countries".
  19. ^ Santora, Marc; Berendt, Joanna (2018-03-23). "Polish Women Protest Proposed Abortion Ban (Again) (Published 2018)". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-12-15.
  20. ^ Lipiec, Aleksandra (2019-03-15). "Kaja Godek". (in Polish). Retrieved 2020-12-15.
  21. ^ "Teolożka i feministka o roli kobiet w Kościele". Retrieved 2020-12-15.
  22. ^ Jucewicz, Agnieszka (March 2003 - April 2003). "Polish Feminists: Forging a Sisterhood". Off Our Backs. 33 (3/4): 26–28.
  23. ^ "Manifa Warszawa | Porozumienie Kobiet 8 Marca". Manifa Warszawa (in Polish). Retrieved 2020-12-15.
  24. ^ Feffer, John. "Poland Feminist Genealogy".
  25. ^ Gozlinski, Pawel (4 April 2011). "What they're reading in Poland". The Guardian.
  26. ^ Mishtal, Joanna (2015). The Politics of Morality:The Church, the State, and Reproductive Rights in Postsocialist Poland