Protests Making A Difference In Poland

Over the last several weeks, Polish students and activists have been gathering in public to protest a controversial bill that is currently being proposed in the government that seeks to limit access to quality sexual education and anti-discrimination classes in school. On December 15, President Andrzej Duda came out and declared that he would veto the bill due to the outpouring of public opposition.

The bill, commonly known as Lex Czarnek 2.0, after the Education Minister who first proposed the law,  was been submitted to Parliament in October. After President Dudo vetoed the initial proposal in March, citing wanting to avoid social conflicts given the situation in Ukraine, Czarnek proposed an updated version that is currently being discussed by the government. If passed, the legislation would authorize government bodies to decide what extracurricular and educational activities can take place in schools. This threatens the quality of education students would receive, as the Polish Government has repeatedly attempted to restrict scientifically based rights-based sex education, along with targeting those providing it. In the current system, NGOs are the primary providers of sexual education that coincides with international standards. This includes covering issues such as reproductive rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, along with an overall understanding of healthy relationships. This proposed bill would limit the work carried out by NGOs in schools and cut off students’ access to these much-needed important services.

President Duda has acknowledged the signs of popular discontent, with Human Rights Watch outlining that since the bill was first submitted, his office has received 133 letters with thousands of signatures calling on him to reject the bill. He has since announced that he will veto the proposed legislation due to the apparent lack of public support for the bill. A member of the SOS for Education – Free School Coalition, stated “Regular protests of students, teachers, parents, and non-governmental organizations in front of the Presidential Palace made a difference,” explaining “NGOs help schools, not harm them.” This is a big day in Poland, as protests have been ongoing since 2015 when the Law and Justice Party came into power. They have since launched countless attacks on women’s and LGBTQ+ rights, along with restricting judicial independence and education.

While this is undoubtedly a win for the Polish people, and proof of the real difference peaceful protests can bring, the fight is not over. Due to the government’s behaviour in the last seven years, it is unlikely that they will stop trying to limit access to appropriate and inclusive sex education. Civil society and the international community must continue to put pressure on the state to allow students the opportunity to learn and grow in a safe and accepting environment that promotes healthy attitudes and scientifically backed information regarding sexual orientation.