It always seems impossible until it’s done.
– Nelson Mandela
The second half of the year 2018 will be accompanied by hightened emotions in the midst of the forthcoming local elections in Poland. What will this election bring? May local authorities – the last bulwark of power not dependent on party politics – be protected? And will 2019 finally be the year of women’s choices?
So far it is difficult to answer these and other questions. Yet, it is safe to assume that the results of the election depend strongly on us.
With the year 2015, women’s engagement in socio-political sphere has rapidly increased. In October 2016, this engagement was manifested in a series of protests held across Poland as a part of the Black Protest (Czarny Protest) movement. Thousands of Polish women gathered both in large metropolitan areas and small towns to protest against governmental attempts to introduce more restrictive abortion laws.
The demonstrations were cross-generational in nature. Women of all ages, often accompanied by their children, husbands, and life partners, were arriving at the protest venues. The ruling Law and Justice party was so surprised by the sheer size and scope of these demonstrations that it withdrew from the Parliament the bill proposing restricting abortion rights further.
Polish women succeeded in their efforts, gaining something even far more important – a sense of power and mutual support. The sense of having power over what is going on with the matters crucial to our lives is one of the most significant factors that contribute to the development of motivation and engagement in socio-political activities. Mutual support that emerged between the protesting women and their inner circle is another key factor.
Two Types of Involvement
It seems reasonable to utilize the generated activization to expect a heightened participation of women in the forthcoming local election. Their engagement is a crucial condition for gaining influence and control over what is happening in Poland. This involvement might be active – we vote for our prospective representatives – or passive – we join the race and, as a result, get elected.
These two types of involvement are both very significant and bring tangible results. It is worth to remember that in 2015, 39.7% of women voted for the currently ruling party.
Women who consciously decide to run in elections as candidates that wish to compete for a mandate are still a very much an endangered species. Although since 2011 the Polish electoral system features a quota mechanism (that guarantees women presence on the tickets at the level of at least 35%), this solution is not one that would encourage women to run for the office.
Quotas and Zippers
However, this system might be applied only to proportional election method – for offices in regional assemblies (sejmik), district counties (rada powiatu), and county councils (rada gminy) in the areas with more than 20 thousand residents). It does not apply to elections for councils of smaller counties (with less than 20 thousand residents) where majority election method with only one candidate on a ticket is in place.
Moreover, the quota system does not guarantee women the so-called “prime ballot positions” (the first three positions and the last position), which may potentially increase the chances of a candidate to obtain the mandate. The tickets also not include the “zipper mechanism” (placing female and male candidates alternately).
In light of these phenomena we might conclude that Polish lawmakers do not make it easy for women to choose to run for an office.
Women Are Experts
We should therefore ask ourselves this: do we, Polish women, need the lawmakers to be willing and merciful so that they would want to enable women to exert a real influence on the world? Can we afford to place our fate in the hands of someone else – usually a man?
Let us take a look at ourselves. Every day we make a series of decisions that have an impact on our surroundings (inner circle, professional life, personal life) no matter how well educated we are, what is our social or financial standing.
We are experts in the fields of education system – supervising the education of our children; social welfare – ensuring a proper support for the disabled members of our families or those who are in need; and finally, healthcare system – taking care of the health of our families and our own.
We are also capable of ensuring that the rights of our children and our own are respected despite ongoing political jockeying. Finally, we either happily help prepare for our kids the best party ever at a local school or a civic center or work for the benefit of a local community.
We have our beliefs and ideas about how to make things better and what to improve. We, the women, do it every day – boldly, willingly, and with no reservations. Our work and activities matter and what we often lack on a daily basis is a chance to exert real influence and make a real change in our world.
One of the easiest and most efficient methods that enable gaining such an influence is participating in elections. Both as voters, who make informed choices, and as candidates, who put forward their vision of what and how to change.
Is There Something to Be Afraid Of?
Fear and reluctance to enter the world of politics are the two factors that often discourage individuals from entering the election race as candidates. Our fears often stem from information that the media feed us.
We must therefore be aware of the fact that what we see or hear on the news is but a small fragment of real politics as politics is a kind of social work that allows for bringing about a real change and introducing solutions that might benefit us and our immediate surroundings.
After all, we, the women, do it anyway. We are active in our communities, we promote change and innovative solutions, we demonstrate and protest. Therefore, the time has come for us to gain real influence – a driving force and a chance to bring our ideas and plans to life. The year 2018 and local elections are a good start.
If Not Us Then Who?
We must stop fearing establishing own electoral committees and trying to get in touch with already existing organizations that intend to run in the election.
Let us not be afraid of being vocal and of promoting ourselves and our agenda. Let us not be afraid of the fact that the time spent in politics will be the time taken away from our families – let us ask for their support. After all, we are already active members of our communities and we have our own ideas for what and how to change.
We, the Polish women, are mobilized enough and ready to take up the gauntlet and face the challenges that lie ahead. The forthcoming local election in Poland is the best opportunity for taking the matters into our own hands. If we do not do it ourselves, nobody will.
The article was originally published in Polish at Liberte.pl