Gender Equality in Poland
Flag of Poland
|Population (in Mil.)||38.53|
|Gross Domestic Product (In USD Billions - WB)||514.50|
|Sex Ratio (m/f)||0.94|
|Life Expectancy Ratio (f/m)||1.122|
|Income Ratio (f/m)||0.59|
|Literacy Ratio (f/m)||0.99|
|Tertiary Enrolment Ratio (f/m)||1.41|
|Women in Parliament (in %)||20.4|
|Human Development Index||39/169|
|Social Institutions and Gender Index||- /86|
|Gender Inequality Index||26/138|
|Gender Equity Index||46/157|
|Women’s Economic Opportunity Index||33/113|
|Global Gender Gap Index||43/134|
|More information on variables|
Since the end of communism in 1989, Poland's transition to a democratic state and free market economy has witnessed limited progress in gender equality for women. Wage discrepancies, traditional customs that stress the role of women in the private sphere, and inconsistent policies targeting gender discrimination and protecting women's rights must still be addressed before gender equality is achieved.
The collapse of the communism not only was accompanied by the deterioration of women’s socio-economic status, but it also witnessed the growing political power of the Roman Catholic Church and its position to effectively impact the politics. In 1980s the Church used the opportunities created by democratic processes to intensify its campaign for a complete ban on abortion. As a result in 1989-1992 several attempts were made by fundamentalist forces in the Parliament to dramatically restrict the law on abortion, which was legal in Poland since 1956. In 1993 abortion was criminalised and a restrictive anti-abortion law was introduced, limiting the right to termination of pregnancy only to three conditions: 1) when the pregnancy threatens a woman’s health or life; 2) when the fetus is severely and irreversibly damaged; and 3) when the pregnancy is a result of criminal offence (e.g. rape, incest).
Despite ongoing advocacy efforts of the community of women’s rights advocates to liberalize abortion law, especially in the context of the growing phenomenon of the abortion underground in Poland, the restrictive legislation is still in force.
Poland ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW) in 1981, voluntary pledging its commitment and accountability to take all necessary actions to advance women’s human rights. However, not enough effort is being undertaken by the Government to implement the provisions of the Convention in law and in practice. In Poland there is no comprehensive and consistent policy on women’s rights and gender equality. Since 2005, the Government has not formulated nor implemented any National Programme of Action For Women. Furthermore, there is no sustainable institutional machinery for the advancement of women and each appointed Government establishes temporary structures to deal with the issue. Women’s rights continue to be a highly politicized subject and the commitment to improve the situation of women is entirely dependent on the political party in force.
The Act on the Implementation of Some Regulations of the European Union Concerning Equal Treatment that entered into force in January 2011 established the office of the Government Plenipotentiary for Equal Treatment, which is now responsible for the Government’s anti-discrimination and gender equality policies. The above act is very limited in the scope of the protection it guarantees to various groups that are vulnerable to discrimination. For example, women are not protected in such critical areas of their lives such as education or access to healthcare. The law was adopted despite a severe critique of it by the human rights organisations in Poland. The Government introduced the law only in the context of the threat of financial penalties for not implementing the European Commission’s Directives.
Women are concentrated in the more poorly paid occupations and trades, especially in low paying and low status public sector occupations. In 2006, 52.9% of women aged 15 years and older were inactive in the labour market, among men – 37.0%. The greater labour market inactivity among women compared to men is related to traditional perceptions of women as being connected to the private sphere, and the belief that men are responsible to a greater degree for the material well being of a family. Only 5% of households with children up to the age of 12 take advantage of institutionalised Child care. Only about 3% children aged 0-3 attend childcare services; childcare remains unavailable to almost half of the children aged 3-5, the deficit being especially acute in rural areas. The present-day childcare crisis must be seen in a broader context of structural and cultural factors pertaining to the welfare system and the treatment of care-work by social policy in general. The trend in post-socialist countries after 1989 has been described by sociologists as the refamilisation of care. For Poland this process was additionally exacerbated by cultural factors, especially by pressure from the Catholic Church. During the 1990s the state largely withdrew from its former responsibilities in the realm of care (including childcare), while the market failed to fill the resulting gap. In effect, inequality between men and women deepened both at home and in the labour market.
One of the major problems for the labour market in contemporary Poland is the growing phenomenon of ‘working poor’. The lowest earning are in the feminised professions and thus the phenomenon affects women to a larger extent than men. The Salary Reports in Poland 2009 by Sedlak & Sedlak Company shows that the lowest wages are earned by women in the garment industry. Cashiers (salespersons) – a strongly feminised occupation – were in the third position from the end. One in eight employed women do not fall into the category of ‘working poor’, with salaries that do not cover the cost of living, and thus that do not allow women to live in dignity. This has considerably contributed to creating social underclass (with a significant number of women) living in poverty.
The biggest gaps between men’s and women’s salary is among people with basic vocational and primary education (and also among people with tertiary education) – over 30%. This is particularly alarming for women with the lowest education, which means the lowest earnings.
The basic vocational education addressed to women neither corresponds to the current challenges in the labour market, nor leads to a salary which could contribute to reducing the huge gap in the income between women and men and guarantee a living wage. Among people with this level of education, the gender pay gap thus amounted to 33,3% in 2008.
The relationship between the activity rate and education is very apparent. In 2010, the activity rate of women with tertiary education was 79%, and that of women with primary or incomplete primary was only 13,4%. The data reveals an enormous polarisation of women in their economic activity, as well as a continuing trend of ‘pushing’ women with the lowest education outside the labour market and into the informal economy or emigration (often seasonal).
Legislation and Institutional Machinery
The formulation of equal rights of women and men found in the Constitution of the Republic of Poland guarantees the equality of women and men in employment, access to promotion, and equality of wages for work of equal value (art. 33). However, despite ongoing advocacy of the civil society organisations no gender equality or anti-discrimination act was adopted. The first version of the gender equality act was prepared in 1993 and since then it has been amended and debated in every four-year term. In December 2004, the Government adopted a bill on combating and preventing family violence.
In December 2010, Poland adopted the Act on the Implementation of Some Regulations of the European Union Concerning Equal Treatment. This law was only approved in the context of the obligation to implement the Directives of the European Commission on equal treatment and the threat of severe financial sanctions for not fulfilling this duty. Unfortunately, there was no political will to formulate comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation that would guarantee legal protection from discrimination for all groups in all areas of life. The newly adopted so called ‘anti-discrimination’ act establishes the Office of the Government Plenipotentiary for Equal Treatment (GPET), responsible for the coordination of implementation of the Government’s anti-discrimination policies.
Until 2011, when the so called ‘anti-discrimination’ act was adopted there was no sustainable institutional machinery for the advancement of women in Poland. Each appointed Government established temporary structure and its competencies were highly dependent on the political will of the winning party to advance gender equality. For example, after winning the elections in 2005, the right wing, conservative political party – Law and Justice eliminated the Office of the Government’s Plenipotentiary for the Equal Status of Women and Men, which had a severe consequences on the situation of women in Poland. Since 2005, the Government has not formulated nor implemented any National Programme of Action for Women.
Women in Poland gained the right to vote and run for office in 1918. Women attained their highest numbers in Sejm (Poland's Parliament) from 1980 to 1985, when they represented 23% of parliamentarians. After the 2005 elections, women’s representation dropped. While the number of women parliamentarians remained at a similar level to the previous term’s (94), the number of women in the Senate went from 23 to 13, resulting in Poland placing much lower, 49th
(out of 139) in the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s worldwide ranking (IPU).
In Polish politics women are a minority. Their participation in Government, both at the national as well as the local level is below 30%. This is despite the fact that since 1989 the number of women parliamentarians has been constantly increasing. Until 2001, in each term of the Seym (the lower house of the Polish Parliament), women constituted between 10 and 13%. After the 2001 elections women constituted 20% of all parliamentarians. This sudden increase in the participation of women has to be linked to the voluntary adoption of quotas by three parties, the SLD (Democratic Left Alliance), UP (Labour Union) and UW (Freedom Union). These quotas required either gender to have at least 30% of the total number of candidates on electoral lists.
In 2010 women’s rights advocates involved in a massive initiative called ‘Women’s Congress’ drafted an act on parity on electoral tickets and launched the campaign for its adoption. They gathered over 100 thousand signatures in support of this initiative. In the legislative process the draft law was amended and quota system amounting 35% was introduced on electoral tickets to the Parliament. The results of the October 2011 elections show that the effectiveness of this measure is considerably limited. Although it led to the doubling of female candidates in the 2011 election compared to the 2007 election, women got only 24% of places in the lower House of Parliament. This is a record number of women in Seym, but still women remain to be significantly underrepresented in this decision-making body. Women’s rights advocates continue to argue that there is a need to adopt parity with a zipper system (alternate order of women and men) on electoral tickets to effectively increase women’s participation in political life.
In Poland, the life expectancy at birth is 76 years for both sexes, females have a higher life expectancy average rate with 80 years, whereas men can expect an average of 71 years. Thus, men and women in Poland have a higher average life expectancy compared to the global average of 66 years for men and 71 years for women. The adult mortality rate (per 1000 adults between 15-59 years) remains high with 137 in contrast to the global average of 176. The maternal mortality ratio is measured with 6 deaths per 100000 live births, which is comparably low when considering the global average of 260 deaths. The under-5 mortality rate has decreased significantly from 1990 till today, and is stated as 6 deaths per 1000 live births, which includes both sexes and is below the global average of 60 deaths. Prevalence of HIV occurs at one case per 1000 adults aged from 15-49 years, which is far less than the average of 8 cases globally. The prevalence of tuberculosis is also lower with 32 cases per 100000, than the global average with 201 cases. Tobacco smoking does not show a big contrast between the genders; 37,7% of 15+ years old men are regular smokers, and 29,6% of women smoke regularly. There is an equal proportion, 29,9% of both genders older than 20 years to suffer from obesity.
One of the major area of gender-based discrimination in Poland is sexual and reproductive health and rights. Poland has one of the most restrictive anti-abortion legislation in Europe. What is more, the law is more restrictive de facto than de jure. Women face extreme difficulties with accessing lawful abortion, which resulted in a number of cases at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in the last couple of years.
- UNDP, Gender Mainstreaming Report 2007: Poland [accessible on: http://www.undp.org.pl/gender/aktualnosci.php?news=1019] http://www.who.int/gho/countries/pol.pdf
- KARAT Coalition. Alternative Report on the Implementation of CEDAW in Poland 2012.
The Women, Business and the Law
Where are laws equal for men and women?
The Women, Business and the Law report presents indicators based on laws and regulations affecting women's prospects as entrepreneurs and employees. Several of these indicators draw on the Gender Law Library, a collection of over 2,000 legal provisions impacting women's economic status. This report does not seek to judge or rank countries, but to provide information to inform discussions about women’s economic rights. Women, Business and the Law provides data covering 6 areas: accessing institutions,using property, getting a job, providing incentives to work, building credit, and going to court. Read more about the methodology.
For detailed information on Poland, please visit the Women, Business and
the Law Poland page.
The FAO Gender and Land Rights Database
The FAO Gender and Land Rights Database contains country level information on social, economic, political and cultural issues related to the gender inequalities embedded in those rights. Disparity on land access is one of the major causes for social and gender inequalities in rural areas, and it jeopardizes, as a consequence, rural food security as well as the wellbeing of individuals and families.
The Database offers information on the 6 following Categories:
- National legal frame
- International treaties and conventions
- Customary law
- Land tenure and related Institutions
- Civil society organizations
- Selected Land Related Statistics
For detailed information on Poland, please visit the report on Poland in the FAO Gender and Land Rights Database.