Day 11- Women’s Activism in Europe

Europe has long considered itself the center of the world, as evidenced by most maps. And while the cultures, languages, foods and peoples of Europe are very diverse, they do not compare to the diversity of cultures and peoples in Africa and Asia, or the former diversity of Latin America. Europeans, over the course of history, have inflicted a painful history of imperialism, colonialism, persecution and war on the rest of the world. Today we will meet some European women who are both fighting against imperialism, and for human rights, including the European Women’s Lobby.

Spain: Women in Spain have made great gains in the fight for equality but are still not equal to men in terms of employment. This article explains how the financial crisis and subsequent unemployment in Spain adversely affects women there. Sex trafficking (which has also affected men and the transgender community) is another problem Spanish women are tackling but the issue is a sticky one for Spanish sex workers who participate voluntarily because of the lack of regulations.

Ireland: Abortion is a contentious issue for many but in Ireland with the Catholic Church overseeing the country’s morals, many women are fighting for their lives. The complete lack of access to abortion care in Ireland, even in cases where the pregnant woman’s life is in danger, caused the European Court of Human Rights to rule that the country “violated women’s rights” by denying women abortion services. And with high rates of rape and sexual assault that abortion care is probably needed by many. Choice Ireland is one group that is working to ensure women have the right to exercise their choice to bodily autonomy and integrity.

Italy: Berlusconi. The name of the Italian Prime Minister alone makes many women’s skin crawl but his disregard for women is even more disgusting. Droves of Italian women and men, upwards of 50,000, came out in February to protest the PM and his numerous sex scandals, including one with an underage girl. Groups of women around the world also protested in solidarity, including Paris, Tokyo, and FEMEN in Kiev.

Norway: Domestic violence is Norway’s dirty little secret. Despite the UNDP’s continuous rating as the best country to live in, one in four women in Norway will experience domestic violence in her lifetime. This campaign tackles public awareness in a shocking way. Other groups in Norway protest military violence and discrimination against immigrants. This group encourages women to Be an activist! and provides training for women who want to participate in civil society.

Poland: Like Ireland, Poland’s moral conscience is lead by the patriarchal Catholic Church. Consequently abortion access is severely restricted but The Polish Federation for Women and Family Planning works to lighten restrictions. MANIFA is another group that has lead women and men in protests against discriminatory treatment of women in Poland, especially exploitation. The Polish Women’s Lobby also works for women’s equality. All of these groups, and indeed all Polish people, have the memory of Poland’s Solidarity movement icon Anna Walentynowicz to look up to.

Hungary: The Hungarian Women’s Lobby, in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Day, rallied against domestic violence, in addition to fighting for women’s equality on a regular basis. Protests recently took place in New York City against the detention of Dr. Agnes Gereb, a Hungarian midwife. Other Hungarian women have protested against restrictive media laws.

Croatia: CROW e-zine is a Croatian publication working to advance women’s rights. Various organizations exist in Croatia to fight for LGBTQAI rights. If you can read Croatian, this page looks interesting and the Center for Education, Counseling and Research page is also available in Croatian.


And here’s a bonus picture of anti-Berlusconi protests in Paris.

About feministactivist

Many words describe me but none more so than activist. I am dedicated to equality of all people and have a special focus on gender issues including reproductive justice, sexual violence, and strategic nonviolent action. View all posts by feministactivist

2 responses to “Day 11- Women’s Activism in Europe

  • Ella

    Hello, I am Ella. I am sending you the contents of the petition FOR ACCESS TO EPIDURAL DURING NATURAL CHILDBIRTH IN HOSPITALS IN POLAND.

    Please, read it. You will not believe that what is written about in the petition happens in central europe. Shame on the Polish government that still disregards women. please, distribute this article whenever so that the whole worlds knows what is going on in one of the EU country.


    To All Sensitive People

    We, Polish women have prepared this short petition to ask all sensitive people all around the world to sign and support our call for one of the most basic human rights – the woman’s right for access to epidural during a natural childbirth. In Poland women giving birth to their babies are being constantly refused to be given epidural to relieve their pain, although they are prepared to pay for it. The situation is horrible both in city and town hospitals. It is worth noticing that in Poland free epidural is rarity – it is accessible in merely a handful of Polish hospitals. The National Health Service of Poland are claiming not to have a sufficient amount of money on epidural for women giving birth in a natural way. It fact, it is not really true that the National Polish Health Service do not have enough funds for it, but they just claim so. What is more, the Ministry of Health of Poland is not interested in pain relief for women during their child birth. Polish women from all walks of life, irrespective of their financial situation are indeed prepared to pay for the epidural and still they come upon refusal, ignorance, many a time arrogance, irony or even sarcasm of medical staff who happen to say that ”…in fact, every woman is created to give birth and is biologically prepared for an extremely painful labour…”, or, ”…we have a princess here in our ward giving her birth who is asking for pain relief – what a shame”, or ”the pain that comes from your back will be twice as much during your second child birth as you are experiencing now, so be ready for the next time…”, or even ”…why did you f… if you knew you would be suffering now…?” There are far more despising and humiliating comments printed on the Internet by Polish women who have given their birth in hospitals in Poland that could be cited here, but they would need hundreds of thousands of pages to be copied. (By the way, can you imagine that Gas and Air, Tense Massage and Child Birth with the use of Hypnosis are just being introduced in Poland – now that we have the 21 st century?! The methods which have been successfully applied in other parts of the world for many years, especially the Gas and Air. It should be so embarrassing for Poland). If a woman giving birth in a terrible labour pain is refused epidural, why aren’t patients having their teeth extracted refused any anaesthetic?! Why isn’t anaesthetic refused in other really minor surgeries?! It is shocking that in the 21 st century when medicine is so highly developed that it can not only save millions of lives but also relieve patients’ pain to a great extent, women in the heart of Europe, in Poland, are continuously being refused to have this pain minimised during such an important event as childbirth is. Great numbers of women have had trauma for many years after their child birth and it is still hard for them to get rid of this. We ask you, we beg you, we call and cry for your support. Just one signature in the petition a day will mean so much for us. We hope that Polish women will be able to give birth without being refused this basic human right – the right to minimise the pain.
    Thank you in advance
    We – Polish Women

  • Kate

    To All Sensitive People Who Care About Human Rights and Equality Between Men and Women
    Please, read this article about Polish women who are struggling to be treated fairly and with respect for their own will and who want to make decisions about thier privacy and intimacy on their own.
    This article contains the main points of a petition to the Polish Ministry of Health. These points have been translated from Polish into English.
    When you have read the article, please, send it further, to other organizations fighting for and protecting women’s rights as the more people know about the problem, the more can be done to help women in Poland.
    Thank you in advance.

    Polish women fighting for their rights to decide about their private and intimate life on their own express their concern regarding the recent plans made by the Polish Minister of Health – Ms Ewa Kopacz – who cooperates with gynaecologists and oncologists, to enforce extra compulsory cytological (smear test) gynaecological and mammographic examinations for working women.
    This compulsion is to be written in the bill specifying the list of compulsory and periodic examinations of employees.
    According to the Minister of Health’s previews, women being employed in a new place of work or already working will be obliged to undergo cytological (smear tests) gynaecological and mammographic examinations every two years. The cytological gynaecological examination is to be for women ranging in age of 25-59 and the mammographic one is to be for women between 50 and 69. Without undergoing the mentioned examinations a doctor will not issue a written statement allowing women to work.
    For the vast majority of population, enforcing compulsory examinations transgressing the intimate parts of the body under threat of losing a job, so losing livelihood as a result, would mean encroaching upon the basic regulations of a democratic and lawful state. It would mean violating the constitutional regulations as well as basic human rights.
    The most essential argument is the fact that making working women undergo obligatory cytological gynaecological and mammographic examinations would lead to violation of the binding legal order. Why?
    I. It would mean breaking the basic rights of the human and citizen written in the Constitution of The Republic of Poland.
    Next, it would involve encroaching upon the unquestionable dignity of the human being that is the source of all other rights. Enforcing compulsion for women to undergo examinations of their intimate parts will mean humiliating women in the majesty of law and subjecting their worth and work suitablility to having their cytological gynaecological tests.
    II. It would entail violation of the regulation stating that all men and women are equal according to the law. Moreover, it would break the ban on discrimination as well as transgress the rights constituting the equal treatment of both men and women particularly in terms of equal employment rights for men and women. Here, the discriminated group will be women who already work or who are applying for a job and who will be obliged by the law to undergo more examinations than men. Contradictory to women, men will not have to undergo the analogous examinations of their intimate parts (for example, examinations concerning prostate or testicles cancer which diagnosed late does not guarantee positive results of medical treatment. It is worth adding that the frequency of this kind of disease is fairly high).
    There is also justified anxiety that empolyers will discriminate women as far as the right for employment is concerned. Employing women will make employers incur higher costs than employing men.
    III. In accordance with the Constitution of Poland, ”Everyone is assured with personal inviolability and personal freedom”. Subjecting the possibility of getting a job to the necessity of undergoing cytological gynaecological examinations will be undoubtedly violating the personal inviolability. Any intrusion into intimate parts of the body without the person’s consent, even for medical reasons, means rape.
    IV. As it follows in the Polish Constitution, ”everyone has the right to protect their private life (…) as well as to decide about their life. The enforcement of compulsory cytological gynaecological examination for employees will be interfering with their intimate life and depriving them of their right to decide about their personal life and their right to protect their privacy. Everyone’s sexual life is their personal private and intimate matter, the same as genitals are considered the intimate parts of the human body. Polish women’s intimate life is going to cease to be their private matter and become the controlled part by the state.
    Cytological gynaecological examinations as well as their frequency and place where they are going to be made, ought to be the woman’s individual decision as it is in the case of men who themselves make a decision about examinations of the prostate, the testicles and the large intestine directed at finding cancerous cells. Therefore, the woman has the right not to undergo a cytological gynaecological examination taking into consideration the consequences of not having such an examination made. In spite of not undergoing the examination, she can still work. Similarly, everybody has the right to smoke cigarettes taking its consequences into account and still has the right to work.
    V. Intrusion into the human’s intimate spheres of life raises moral concerns. It is even possible to refuse the blood transfusion in the Polish legal system because of religious reasons. After all, the blood transfusion is not a health preventive examination, but life saving emergency. Why, therefore, is it to be impossible to refuse to undergo the cytological gynaecological examintion the aim of which is diagnosing the likely cancer?
    VI. Everyone has the right to protect their health, which is understood that everyone has the right to make the decision about their health on their own. As a consequence, every person has the right to refuse to undergo medical examinations or hospitalization.
    The exception to the rule are medical examinations of underage people or those who are incapable of consciously giving their consent. Does it mean that the Polish Ministry of Health regards working women as people who are under age or the ones that are unable to give their consent consciously? Furthermore, such compulsion is doubtful on account of the following reasons:
    1. Compulsion (particularly compulsion interfering with the intimate life) is the worst and the most disgusting method of the functioning of a totalitarian state. Forced medical examinations were the common practice in Nazi Germany and in concentration camps as well as in Romania during Ceausescu’s regime so the compulsion of gynaecological examinations under threat of losing a job and being with no livelihood is the example of the way in which a totalitarian state, but not a democratic one, works.
    2. The intentions of the Polish Minister of Health successively prove that women are regarded as beings who are incapacitated, unreasonable and incapable of making their own decisions and whose private life must consist of many restrictions and orders.
    3. It seems obvious that there is no justification to enforce the compulsion involving the diagnosis of the likely cancer while undergoing periodic examinations which normally assume checking the employees’ health condition regarding their kind of job.
    4. Cancer is not a contagious disease that can threaten other employees in their work environment.
    The idea is more doubtful considering the latest news about faulty equipment for mammography. The Ministry of Health of Poland wants to enforce women to undergo mammographic examinations with the use of the faulty equipment and cytological gynaecological examinations by gynaecologists whose behaviour, many a time, is totally inappropriate.
    5. There are justified fears that the Polish Ministry of Health, in the name of false concern, is impelling at any price to bring these regulations into life on the account of the interests of the medical environment. Furthermore, decisions of the compulsory use of medical examinations probably stem from pressure groups of companies and people who sponsor these examinations and earn money on them.
    6. It is more striking that the cervical cancer is not the cause of either the highest mortality or morbidity of women in terms of general causes of death. Nor is it the most frequently occuring cancer. What is more, statistics show a higher mortality of men. More men than women die of malignant cancer so it is indeed more surprising that it is just women that must be subjected to such examinations.
    7. The heart and lungs disease are the most frequent reasons for death. However, the Polish Ministry of Health does not set store by fighting against the mentioned diseases but is obssessed with fighting against the cervical cancer at all costs. How come that it is just women and especially their intimate parts and breast that are being so much ”taken care of” by the Polish Ministry of Health?
    8. Is the prevention of cervical cancer such a priority for the Polish government to such an extent that it justifies breaking the human’s basic constitutional rights and not complying with international agreements concerning the human rights?
    9. These medical examinations, namely cytological gynaecological as well as mammographic are not fully safe and indifferent to health.Why?
    * Mammography – can do the obvious harm of the x-rays!!!
    * Cytology (Smear Test) – at the most virgins the sample necessary for the examination is entirely impossible (how is it to be solved – it should not be written in the result of the examination for an employer that ”the examination has not been made – a virgin” as the employer does not care about it). What is more, for a few years cytology has been slowly and bashfully touched upon in scientific dissertations. It is said that frequent cytological gynaecological examinations have a bad influence on the woman’s reproductive organs – too frequent smear tests can be the reason for occuring epithelial degeneration and even myomas!
    In a democratic state which, according to the Basic Bill, Poland is, it is unacceptable to bring into life such intimate examinations. The most sensible and the only possible solution in a democratic state is to leave the decision about undergoing or not undergoing cytological gynaecological and mammographic examinations to women themselves.

    Many thanks for reading this article and once again please, send it further to all possible institutions and organizations that fight against breaking human rights.
    Below is the link containing the petition against enforcing this disgusting bill for women in Poland. It has nearly 1000 signatures supporting the protest. The petition was set up 2 years ago. The plans to enforce these intimate examinations for Polish women started to be made by the Polish Minister of Health in 2008. However, owing to Polish feminist groups, the enforcement of the examinations was ceased. Nevertheless, the matter was brought up again in May 2011 by the Polish Minister of Health and there are serious fears that the compulsory intimate examinations for working women can be brought into life.

    Best regards
    Katarzyna – on behalf of those Polish women who do not wish to undergo such humiliating intimate examinations.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: