If you’re wondering why the flower peddlers in the street are especially aggressive today, wonder no more: it’s International Women’s Day, a holiday celebrated around the world, and enthusiastically so here. “Men in Poland,” one Polish culture guide writes, “are now ‘burdened’ with two occasions to adorn their ladies with gifts and flowers.”1 This includes not just romantic partners, but all women in a man’s life.
But the tradition of Women’s Day goes beyond a glorified one-way Valentine’s Day. In fact, Women’s Day was founded in the spirit of political activism, a tradition that continues to this day.
The holiday was originally over a century ago by the Socialist Party of America to commemorate a strike of female garment factory workers in New York City. After playing an important role in fomenting the 1917 Russian Revolution which brought the Bolsheviks to power, Women’s Day was largely a communist holiday until its 1977 adoption by the United Nations. Many women (and men) annually celebrate the holiday not just with tokens of affection, but also by staging demonstrations promoting women’s rights and recognition.
Lately these issues have been at the forefront of the Polish zeitgeist perhaps more than ever. Last year, the conservative PiS government backpedaled on plans to criminalize abortion under all circumstances after a series of large and energetic “Czarny” (“Black”) protests by women and their male allies across the country. Also recently:
- Several Polish cities (including Krakow) hosted iterations of the global Women’s March following the inauguration of US President Donald Trump.
- PiS has placed greater restrictions on the “morning after” contraception pill, making it all but impossible to obtain in time.
- President Andrzej Duda came out against laws designed to reduce violence against women, of which there are over a million cases in Poland each year, calling them “superfluous.”
- Ultra-right Polish politician Janusz Korwin-Mikke tried to justify the wage gap by claiming that “on average, women are weaker, smaller, and less intelligent than men.”
Today, therefore, there will be an International Women’s Strike. The Krakow manifestation will include a number of activities throughout the day to draw attention to the plight of women, culminating in a demonstration beginning at 16:30 on Rynek Debnicki. The organizers specifically highlight their insistence on “free access to medical care (including full reproductive rights) and severe penalties for those convicted of rape, domestic violence, and sexual violence.” They aim to make a “wall of fury,” making noise with household objects in hand rather than chanting.
“We are more than half of humanity and in our hands lies the power,” the local event page reminds participants. “Do not forget that the continuation of life on Earth depends on women.”
1 The same website continues, seemingly without irony, by lamenting the lack of a Men’s Day and concluding,”Isn’t it nice to be born a woman in Poland?”