Gender equality in Poland after EU accession. Expectations and reality

Kobiety a Unia Europejska

Magdalena Grabowska, Ph.D.

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Polish people are happy to be living in an EU member state. According to a recent survey, 63% of Poles think that Poland’s presence in the European Union has more advantages than disadvantages, while only 13% evaluate EU membership negativel. There is, however, a disparity between how we perceive the impact of EU membership on Poland in general and on us as individuals. While the majority of Poles believe that European Union membership has generally affected the country positively, only 43% think that EU membership is good for them personally. This article aims to assess membership of the European Union from the perspective of equality between women and men. I would like to focus more closely on the change that took place in the area of gender equality, a change that was at least partially brought about by the EU. While the transformation of gender equality policies and women’s rights discourse can be considered on a number of levels, for the purpose of this analysis I will focus on a select number of them. Firstly, I will consider changes in Polish law and their applicability to women’s lives. I will discuss how legislation has changed under the influence of the EU, whether the new laws are sufficient,  and to what extent it is in use. While the change in law is the most important way in which the EU has impacted gender equality in Poland, the effects of this change are often most visible through government actions and activities that are directed at women. I will discuss the following questions: What does the government have to offer to women? What governmental projects focus on women’s equality? How is equality understood? In what areas is equality implemented? Finally, I will consider an impact of the EU on the Polish public sphere, and explore what trends present in the EU debates on women and gender equality are most visible in Poland, and also ask how debates conducted at the EU impact on Polish social policies

Conclusions: 10 years in the European Union. Do we have the equality that we have been fighting for?

While the polls demonstrate that the level of approval among Polish people for EU membership is increasing, over the last ten years the general attitude towards gender equality has not changed much. According to the CBOS survey[1]published in the spring of 2013, the level of approval for gender equality in Poland has remained at a level of 60% since 2002. When asked about discrimination, over 50% of women (compared 35% of men) agree that it exists. At the same time, women are not happy with the provisions proposed by the state in the area of gender equality. Across various spheres of life, CBOS respondents evaluated the provisions that aim for equality between women and men as the most successful (over 60% of all Poles thought that equality in the family was satisfactory).  At the same time, Polish women are not satisfied with the provisions aimed at securing equality in the workplace - only 45% of them believe they are satisfactory, compared to 61% of men.

This data can be interpreted in a variety of ways. On the one hand, it may signal that women and men still have little knowledge of legislation that is designed to protect them against discrimination. On the other hand, it could indicate a growing consciousness of gender inequalities in the workplace and the awareness that the existing legal protection in not satisfactory. Regardless of how we interpret such data, the change that resulted from Polish accession to the EU cannot be seen as satisfactory. Its scale is still very narrow, and only a small proportion of money is devoted to action against discrimination. At the same time, only a small amount of the money devoted to equality is in the hands of women’s organisations, who seem sometimes to be the only experts in this area. And finally, while the European Union remains mainly an economic, and macroeconomic, project, gender equality within the EU remains perceived through the lens of economic equality, with particular emphasis on equality on the labor market. Such narrow definitions not only omit other important aspects of equality, but also exclude large groups of women from the gender equality project.


As a result of the conducted interviews and based on the analysis of state and international documents, the following recommendations for further action in the area of gender equality in Poland - in the context of the EU - can be formulated: 

  1. Increased resources should be devoted to the issue of gender equality, including a separate national budget for such activities within the Polish government.
  2. The antidiscrimination law, which implements some of the EU regulations into Polish law, should be amended, particularly in the area covering the extent of the protection offered to groups discriminated against, and in the catalogue of the basis for their definition.
  3. Clear(er) definition of the competence and area of engagement of institutions responsible for gender equality in Polish national structures should be provided, and the gender equality institutional structure should be strengthened at the local government level, in particular within ministries.
  4. Closer collaboration should appear between the government and social partners, particularly in the area covering the inclusion of social organisations into the process of adjusting Polish law to European legislation.
  5.  Government activities on gender equality should be extended beyond the economic sphere and the labour market.
  6. Changes in paternity laws should be introduced, particularly with regards to the equal sharing of parental responsibilities between women and men and the existence of a certain part of paternal benefits to be used only by the father (paternity leave).Image removed.                                                                                                          This project has been funded with support from the European Commission.

This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.


[1] “Równouprawnienie płci?” CBOS, March 2013, (BS/31/2013)