She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
She says: “I believe Poland soon will be among countries realizing equal rights policy for everyone, regardless of their gender”.
Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka – Poland
See her own website in polish language.
On the english wikipedia.
Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka went into politics in 1991, shortly after Poland’s political system had transformed from communism to democracy. An ethnographer specializing in Mongolian culture, she quit her scientific career and was a co-founder of the Union of Labor (she left the party in April 2004). She was Poland’s first Government Plenipotentiary for Equal Status of Men and Women. Fifteen years after the beginning of her political career she became Deputy Prime Minister. She is known for her uncompromised fight for human rights, especially those of women and sexual minorities.1989: a historic date for Poland. The country’s political system begins to change from communism to democracy. Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka, an ethnographer specializing in Mongolia, a mother of two daughters, married to Jerzy Pawel Nowacki, considers entering politics. She is not sure if she can manage. Fifteen years later she is Deputy Prime Minister and a politician known for uncompromised fighting for human rights – women’s and sexual minorities’ rights in particular.
Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka was born on 23 August 1950, in Gdansk on the Baltic Sea. She moved to the capital of Poland to study ethnography at Warsaw University. “We all knew that Poland would be free, independent and democratic. We talked about it a lot during long students’ nights. We only quarreled about when it would happen,” she remembers.
The change of system found her in a library. She was an expert on Mongolia. “It was an escape from politics. But soon I realized that one could not escape it,” she recalls. Her article on Russian politics in Mongolia was censored. She was asked to cut out certain lines. She did not agree and put the article back into the drawer.
Then her friends came with an offer to establish a new political party – the Union of Labor that was founded in June 1992. “I was really confused. On one hand, I was positive I wanted to take part in building a democratic Poland. On the other hand, I was not sure whether I could handle that. Scientific work, writing in a quiet library, this differs so much from meeting with desperate people who do not know whether their workplace will survive and if not, what will happen to their families,” says Jaruga-Nowacka.
Along with Zbigniew Bujak she started a campaign for a referendum on abortion. She was one of few women from the underground movement who decided to go into politics. “Women are very rational,” says the Deputy Prime Minister. “Today we may also ask why there are so few women in political parties. The answer is: because all institutions and political parties are organized in a patriarchal way. Hardly any woman thinks that politics is a rational activity. For them it is ineffective. They look for a chance to do something, not to show off. When they join parties it is for a cause and very often they back off when they find it a waste of time. I think it is the same with the Solidarity movement. There was only one woman in the Round Table talks and later it appeared that democracy was, in fact, the democracy of men.
Meanwhile Izabela worked for Polish Women’s League, an organization that was previously affiliated with the communist Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR). She had a position in its center of organization and information. No one asked what party she belonged to. In 1991, there was the first free election in the organization. Before that, the presidents were simply appointed by PZPR. Izabela presented her own plan of action. She knew how western organizations work. Her plan was, unexpectedly for her, accepted and she became President of the Polish Women’s League.
“I was close to the Polish Feminist Association then. They were the vanguard of the women’s movement: educated, with knowledge of the theory of feminism, elite – in a good sense. In the League there were women from the grassroots level engaged in activities such as counteracting malnutrition at schools, helping mothers facing financial problems, campaigning for mammograms. If you asked them, however, whether they were feminists, they would strongly say: no! I wanted to find a common language with them. It was not easy at the beginning.”
Gradually field structures were developing. Satisfaction came after a dozen years. From both sides. elite feminists understood that their goals must be translated to the local level. “At the same time the so-called ordinary women have become more conscious of their rights. They have more courage. The women’s movement is now less elitist, more massive, more professional,” says Izabela.
She was first elected to Parliament in 1993. By then she was a member of the executive board of the Union of Labor. She became a vice president of the Parliamentary Committee for Education, Science and Technical Development. She also joined the Parliamentary Women’s Group. “When a woman raises her voice during political disputes, it will be said: ‘Well, a woman. She has gone into hysterics.’ At the same time when a man bangs his fist on the rostrum, which happens quite often, he will be quoted by name, because there was good cause for his indignation. We, women, we still are a collective subject.”
She did not let slip her Mongolian interests. She soon became a president of the Polish – Mongolian Parliamentary Commission. “I think it is our duty to help those for whom democracy is still problematic,” she argues.
She served in office four years. At the end of her service she went, as one of two women parliamentarians, with the Polish Parliament delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.”
In February 1998, she became vice president of the Union of Labor. Ten months later she joined the board of the Family Planning Association. She has been vice president of the Association since November 2000. In 2001, she was again elected to Parliament. Immediately she was given the office of Secretary of State and Government Plenipotentiary for Equal Status of Men and Women. She was the first one to serve in this office. She quit her position as President of the Polish Women’s League then. She explains: “Being president of an organization involves a lot of responsibility. Some male politicians take a dozen positions, sometimes not appearing at their workplace for several months. Women are different.”
She was a spokesperson for sexual education at schools, free contraceptives and introduced a bill that makes abortion permissible for social reasons. There is a strict law on abortion in Poland: it is allowed only when the life of a woman is in danger. Hence there is widespread illegal abortion underground.
As Plenipotentiary she organized several international and national conferences, among others: Women’s rights are human rights and Equal opportunities for men and women in the European Union (EU) and Poland, before Poland became a member of the EU in May 2004. Following her Swedish counterpart, she started to give Gender Equality Eye Glasses to people who understand that men and women of all sexual choices should be equal. At the same time, people who seem not to understand the importance of gender equality are given a note to the eye doctor.
She strongly supported a project “Let them see us”: a billboard campaign conducted by the Campaign Against Homophobia. Homosexual couples were photographed while holding hands. It raised a lot of controversy and protests from right-wing parties and organizations.
She also supported organizations fighting for improvements in Polish law on violence against women. “During the communist period there was also violence against women, but no one talked about it. It is women’s organizations that started a discussion about it. They have made people realize it is a crime,” says Izabela. She recalls special tribunals organized every few years by the Center for Women’s Rights. The Center invites police officials, judges, politicians to hear the stories of women who experienced violence, whose mothers were killed by their fathers, whose sisters were raped by their fathers. “You cannot forget those tribunals. They make people realize how we, the society, perceive violence. We tolerate it,” she says.
As Plenipotentiary she applied for EU money to conduct courses for police and judges on violence against women. “There was a group of judges that behaved as if they were offended by the invitation to the course. How dare you tell us what to do,” they said. After the course, however, they had learned to look at these issues differently. Before a case, even about violence, was just a case. It is really moving when someone, who has been acting according to a stereotype, suddenly changes their point of view.
For her opinions, she has been constantly attacked by right-wing parties and populists. The most spectacular offense, however, came from Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek. In 2002, he called her “a feminist block of concrete that will not change even by means of HCl acid.” The words were repeated by all media. “It did not discourage me at all. Women’s rights issues happily became crucial in EU politics, and more and more Polish politicians see that they are important. If there is a little of my input, I am glad. For sure, I am not going to back off.”
She has not changed her mind since she became Deputy Prime Minister in 2004. “It does not matter whether I am in this office or another. When I became Government Plenipotentiary, a journalist, Monika Olejnik, asked me what I thought about the anti-abortion act. My answer was the same as before: The act makes abortion accessible only to wealthy women, other women risk loss of health and life. Prime Minister Leszek Miller said afterwards: “If a Minister has an opinion different from the Government’s, it will be her last day.” I said: “That is a pity but I will not change my mind.” It was not, however, her last day. On 19 April 2004 she left the Union of Labor. She wants to found the Union of the Left. (Red all on 1000peacewomen).
Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka in polish: Izabela Walentyna Jaruga-Nowacka (ur. 23 sierpnia 1950 r. w Gdańsku) – polska polityk, posłanka II, IV i V kadencji sejmu – najpierw z ramienia UP, obecnie z SLD, była działaczką i przewodniczącą Unii Pracy i Unii Lewicy. Ukończyła studia etnograficzne na Uniwersytecie Warszawskim, później pracowała w Instytucie Polityki Naukowej i Szkolnictwa Wyższego (1974-1976) i Polskiej Akademii Nauk (Instytut Krajów Socjalistycznych, 1976-1986). Feministka. Współzałożycielka, a od kwietnia 2004 przewodnicząca Unii Pracy. Wicepremier ds. komunikacji społecznej od 2 maja 2004 roku oraz minister polityki społecznej od 24 listopada 2004 do 19 października 2005 roku w rządzie Marka Belki. Jest matką dwóch córek Barbary i Katarzyny oraz żoną prof. Jerzego Pawła Nowackiego, rektora Polsko-Japońskiej Wyższej Szkoły Technik Komputerowych w Warszawie. (Read much more on the polish wikipedia).