Being a woman in Poland

05/07/2019

One does not have to be politically active to have opinions. There are many ways we can speak out and have opinions about what could be better. This week's lady - chosen as one of 50 bold women of 2018 - has a lot on her mind about the country she lives in, and through her blog she also gets in contact with many other 50 plus women. Read what she has to say about family, church and other things.


Name: Ela Hübner

Age: 53

Occupation: Translator and blogger (https://fajna-baba-nie-rdzewieje.pl/)

Family: Single, one son 26

Lives: Warsaw, Poland


You are a person with many interests, and you are also engaged in current issues. How would you say that it is to be a woman in Poland?

As always, there are two sides to a picture. On one hand, to be a woman in Poland is not different from any other civilized country. We have the same joys and pleasures as well as problems and challenges. I mean family, professional life, relationships, free time, interests, emotions, health issues and so on. Some of us have good education, jobs and economic status, we travel and enjoy life. Some of us struggle.

Challenges are mostly in the generally speaking social areas. First of all mentality. Polish society is strongly patriarchal, even among the open-minded, liberal and "modern-thinking". Many men still consider that women should take care of home and children, and a man's duty is to provide for the family. All research indicates that in over 80 per cent of Polish households women are responsible for most domestic duties. Nonetheless, a recent survey shows that family is the supreme value to more than 85 per cent of the women, and a professional career comes as the second best. Therefore, a vast majority of women are overburdened with "two jobs" and are greatly exposed to work-life imbalance.

Another major issue is the economic situation. After 30 years with market economy, purchasing power is still inadequate although it is constantly improving. There is a salary gap between men and women, but not as big as in some other countries. It is however more difficult for women to get a promotion. Women are financially disadvantaged in single-parent families or when there is a child with any disability. Almost 70 per cent of such children are raised by single mothers and state social aid system is greatly insufficient and underfinanced. Collection of child-support money from fathers is said to be poorest in Europe and public assistance to kids with disabilities is modest and ineffective.

It looks like women are better educated than men, especially in younger generations and yet they have more problems to find a permanent job. Sometimes women are victims of the patriarchal "stay-at-home" system. They are totally dependent on their husbands in terms of pension and if deserted by their hubbies at a later stage in life, they may face poverty as they are not entitled to any state pension (unless the husband provides for her after the divorce) and to find a job after all those years at home is almost impossible.

All right, something on a more positive note: Polish women are very attractive and feminine. They like to take care of their looks, beauty and clothes. You will meet many elegant or otherwise stylish women in the streets. Polish women are also strong and self-reliant if necessary. Clever and intelligent. Talented. Women are more and more active and visible on the professional market and in social life. They become involved in social issues or campaigns and play an increasingly more important role in many fields. I have even seen a slogan: "Poland is a Woman".

The Catholic church has great impact where you live, and 87 per cent of your citizens consider themselves to be Catholics. How does this come to expression in the daily life?

Well, churches on Sundays and Catholic holidays are full. Religion and religious customs are still strongly imbedded in Polish families' daily life. Especially in the country and in smaller towns. However, there is a growing discontent against the church, because more and more people think that the church should not interfere with the politics and should focus rather on religious and moral issues. Church is strongly against abortion and homosexuals. This has also raised a lot of protests, especially from women. Poland now has one of the harshest abortion laws in Europe (only three instances give a woman right to terminate pregnancy) and yet, Polish church demands a total ban.

Priests are of course conservative in terms of family life, so church promotes subordination of women to men, sex is called "a sin" and naturally women should be "modest", not promiscuous and not talking openly about their desires and sex life. Church is against sex education at school and contraception, not to speak about pre-marital sex or living as a couple without marriage. Apparently, our clergy are more reluctant to speak about domestic violence as "the family is the highest value".

Another thing, which is a worldwide disaster, is of course child abuse - strongly highlighted by a notorious Polish documentary recently. And although condemning homosexuals at large, the church keeps a closed eye on gay priests in its own large family. It will be interesting to watch how the situation develops.

As a woman a bit older, you say that there is a strong ageism. Have you had personal problems because of this? I know that you are very eager to show that "older" is not "old".

I think that this ageism is slowly giving way to more social acceptance in everyday life, BUT it is still strong on the labour market. The situation may be slightly changing as 50 plus women are beginning to raise their heads in protest against being "put away" by the society. I would say that we are witnessing a new start. An awakening of social awareness in this respect.

Personally, I have never experienced anything "rude" or unpleasant because of my age. Not even a real hate on my blog to be honest. Just once, a certain man accused me of putting pictures of a 35-40 year old woman (me on rollers) and pretending to be 50 to get followers. I just laughed.

I have no problems with my age and I am very assertive about it. I boost with confidence, but I also treat my age with a certain distance and a sense of humour, so why should I be discriminated? I am also successful in my profession, well educated, widely-travelled, speaking a few languages. I stick to a healthy diet and exercise on a regular basis. I have many interests and I am active socially. So, I do not feel inferior in any respect.

Of course, I have several shortcomings and faults, like any human being! Yes, I am single and that could be an issue, but I don't think it is because of my age, but rather of my personality. For many men I am too strong-minded, too active and vital.

You run a site and blog: "Cool Women Don't Get Rusty", for women 50 plus; what response do you get from your readers?

Many women write to me and thank me for this blog because it has given them a lot of inspiration and support to find their own self-confidence and redefine their lives. I have heard quite a few times that I have helped them to take their own decisions and do something they wanted to but did not have the courage.

Several of my readers underline the fact that they feel freer now that the kids are gone or say openly: "Enough of being servants to everybody around, now is the time for me". My generation - the 1960's - is the first who has entered adult life in the so-called transformation time, a journey that started after the fall of communism (1989) and included both changes in the economy and society as such. We have learned to live and think differently than our mothers and grandmothers, whose lives were predominantly centered around the man and children, then grandchildren.

Of course many mature women are still focused on their families, but definitely not to such a high extent as before. Sometimes they are forced to be full-time nannies for their grand children as there is a shortage of day care places and private care is too expensive. But more and more women enjoy their newly gained "freedom" and like to live a full life with meeting friends, going out, pursuing their hobbies and interests or travelling.

The biggest challenge is employment. According to Eurostat only slightly above 50 per cent of Polish women over 50 are in the labour force. Which puts Poland on the last place in Europe. Here ageism is very strong, 50 plus women are perceived as "outdated". My mind is hooked on doing something in this respect, maybe organizing a national campaign against ageism on the labour market. Another thing is that you will see mature women in the least paid jobs.

I have read somewhere that 50 plus is the group with the most dynamic figures in terms of divorce and mostly it's the women who file. There is a difference in expectations: women want to live a fuller, more adventurous life; men are "tired" and burnt out. Surveys and media articles show that several of the women will remain single, because they will have a great difficulty in finding a man at their age who would be willing to be equally "lively" and active. Pity. Another challenge! Maybe also for me as a blogger - to bring our two worlds closer - for mutual enjoyment and benefit.