Organising and executing a protest is much easier nowadays. We’ve seen this globally with examples such as #BlackLivesMatter, #FreeBelarus, #EndSARS and the most recent #WomenProtest in Poland. Laura Matjusaityte delved into social media to see what is happening on the streets of Poland.
It all started four years ago. In 2016, a draft law on a stricter ban on abortions in Poland was proposed, after an anti-abortion citizens coalition succeded in collecting some 450,000 signatures for a petition on a ban on abortions.
Even before the petition, Poland was one of the European countries with the strictest abortion laws. Abortions in the country were legaly permitted only in three cases: when there is severe foetal abnormality, when there is threat to mother’s health and in cases of rape and incest.
In early October 2016, women in Poland dressed all in black went out on the streets to protest against the proposed draft law on abortions. It was a peaceful protest, where women declined to work or do any chores on the day and expressed their grief for their reproductive rights by wearing black.
On the 22nd of October, 2020, a Constitutional Tribunal in Poland ruled on a stricter ban on abortions. According to the new law, abortions are no longer permitted in cases with severe foetal abnormality. Abortions in the cases of rape and incest and where mother’s health is at risk remained legal.
This ruling, once again, brought black-clothed women back to the streets, to protest for their rights.
As the protests move into a second week, it seems that women in Poland are far from giving up. Instead they are getting more innovative in expressing their frustration. One example is the use of strong language in their chants and slogans.
One of the Facebook groups dedicated to the protests Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet (“National Women’s Strike”) posted on their account:
“Some commentators present the visual setting of protests as vulgar or worse, and banners interpret as going beyond the standards of social debate. We would like to point out that protesters using provocative images and symbols is an example of expression of anger and helplessness against a decision that was taken without respect for human rights…”
Emilia Wanat, a protester and activist from Warsaw, agreed that the language of the protests is getting more vulgar.
“The vast majority of participants agree that we have already been polite. If there is no dialogue, we can only shout and swear,” said Wanat.
The ambush on social media proves that the protesters are getting more irritated. Many videos show demonstrators shouting such slogans as “wypierdalać”, while the new hashtag claims #tojestwojna (#thisiswar), which shows that the protesters are not messing around.
Some protesters have used vandalism to express their anger. Catholic Churches have become the main targets. In these protests the Church and the government, that often go hand in hand, are seen as the main enemies of the demonstrators.
Wanat admitted that there were occasional riots outside churches in many parts of the country, as police and opposing groups are trying to defend the entrance to churches against activists.
In another instance a video posted on Youtube showed a crowd of young protesters gathered in front of the church engaging in a heated debate with a priest.
Evidence of vandalism is being displayed in the posts on Twitter as well. One shows graffiti of lightning, a symbol of the movement, on the walls of the church.
Another protester from Warsaw, Jakub Tuchay, said that the protests are mainly peaceful, but that there were instances where police used pepper spray.
“Now in Poland we have a war for women rights and for human rights,” Tuchay said.
However, when the question comes to the human rights protesters appear to be divided.
A controversial question among protesters is whether the LGBTQ community should be included in the strike. Some women participating in protests said that the women’s strike is about women’s rights and there shouldn’t be a mix of interests by including the LGBTQ community.
Others see it differently, with one of the Twitter user posting:
“To all those who don’t like the rainbow on #StrajkKobiet, I would like to say 2 things:
- LGBT people attend all protests, whether they are about courts or women’s rights, because they understand solidarity.
2. They won’t go home, they will keep fighting whether you like it or not.”
Major discussion regarding LGBTQ inclusion broke out on Instagram when protesters started to oppose the idea of the march for solidarity.
“I am participating in strikes because I am fighting to respect women’s free choice on the issue of abortion. Why connect the LGBT community to it? I understand that they are with women, but why suddenly the strike should be rainbow and not black? A strike for everything and nothing is starting here,” one Instagram user wrote.
“What do the rainbow flags have for an abortion decision? I do not agree, I was fighting for another cause,” other comment said.
“It is not appropriate to combine LGBT with a strike, they are two different things. I’m with women but not LGBT!” a protest supporter wrote on Instagram.
The discussion was filled with thoughts that allowing the LGBTQ community to march side by side with women might do more harm than good:
“Everything will fall apart in a moment. Don’t do it! It’s a women’s strike. I am for equality, I support LGBT people, but they are a minority and for many people in Poland it is controversial, and MASS is needed to initiate changes,” another Instagram comment read.
A recent post on Facebook by an LGBTQ+ community from Wrocław, a city in Poland, showed their solidarity with the women protests saying: “We feel discriminated against in our country, a country that we love so much. Women are also being discriminated against and that is why we stand behind them.”
The post on Facebook brought a backlash among protesters once again with some protesters showing their disagreement.
“It seems to me that the colors will harm the protesting women more than they will help them,” one of the comments said.
Even without a consensus on the LGBTQ community’s inclusion in the strikes, it seems that the protesters are not leaving the streets. Live videos posted on Instagram show Warsaw and other cities of Poland streets full of people shouting slogans and carrying banners. In some places cheerful music is playing and people are dancing.
“It seems like we’re having a carnival on the streets. People are dancing and singing, nobody is going anywhere. The banners are hilarious – but this is the internet and memes generation,” Wanat said.