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The Times (UK), September 24, 2007

Naked women promote Polish political message



Seven naked women on billboards across Poland are stirring passions in the country’s already over-heated election campaign.

The poster is an attempt by the newly founded Women’s Party to alert female voters to what it believes is the real political problem in Poland: male chauvinism.

Polish politics, says the party’s founder, the novelist Manuela Gretkowska, is run by men in suits on behalf of other men in suits. The party has taken up the cudgels against right-wing religious parties — such as the League of Polish Families, which wants to tighten the already restrictive abortion laws — and the male-dominated political spectrum.

They argue that the status of women in Poland has deteriorated, especially undert the nationalist Government of Jaroslaw Kaczynski. It wants free contraception, an increase in the number of gynacologists, a right to pain-free birth, expanded child care, equal pay and pension rights.

“The poster is intended to shatter stereotypes in the anachronistic world of politics,” said Ms Gretkowska. “We are beautiful, nude and proud.”

Ms Gretkowska, 43, appears on the photograph that has shocked Catholic Poland. Priests have expressed their dismay and members of the conservative Law and Justice party, the main group in the outgoing Government coalition, have described the poster as an insult to voters.

Ms Gretkowska was unabashed. “This is not pornography, there is nothing to see in terms of sex, our faces are intelligent, proud and committed,” said the writer whose novels frequently deal with troubled male- female relationships. Indeed, the poster is no more offensive than the Calender Girls, and the most sensitive bits are masked by a sign saying: The Women’s Party — Poland is a Woman.

The latest opinion poll by the TNS-OBOP institute gives the party three per cent of the vote, below the five per cent needed for parliamentary seats. But surveys this year suggested that as many as 60 per cent of Polish women might be ready to vote for the party on October 21, in the privacy of the polling booth. Even a handful of seats could be enough to give it a say in a finely balanced parliament.

Their campaign is gathering momentum. One of the country’s leading actresses, Krystyna Janda, is supporting the party: so too is the singer Kayah and the female boxer Agnieszka Rylik. Ms Gretowska was prompted to start the party when she read of the case of a Gdansk schoolgirl who had been abused by boys in the class-room. The girl committed suicide.. “I saw a connection between the passivity of the other girls in the classroom — they just watched it happen — and the way that women did nothing when politicians proposed to tighten the abortion laws,” she said.

Ms Gretowska does not want to make abortion the central tenet of her party. She is a Roman Catholic, albeit a liberal one by Polish standards, and knows that the country’s women are divided on the issue. “If you want to turn Polish women against each other, then you talk about abortion,” said Ms Gretowska. Instead, the party wants to change the male Polish mentality. “It can’t be right that we pay taxes just like men and yet let men decide over our future, work and health,” she said.

In Poland about 55 per cent of women — six million — stay at home and out of the labour market. Most are dependent on the salaries of male partners or on modest welfare payments. The political parties all claim to offer equal opportunities for would-be women politicians but in practice place their names low on electoral lists so that they rarely succeed.

Mocked in the press, the Women’s Party has been fighting back with television advertisements and the poster campaign. Slowly, it is being taken seriously. President Kaczynski has just appointed an adviser on women’s affairs, Nelly Rokita, to help to mobilise the Catholic female vote.

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