Beyond the Growth Imperative

For 30 years, environmental economist Tim Jackson has been at the fore of international debates on sustainability. Over a decade since his hugely influential Prosperity Without Growth, the world is both much changed – reeling from a pandemic and with unprecedented prominence for environmental issues – and maddeningly the same, still locked in a growth-driven destructive spiral. What does Jackson’s latest contribution, Post Growth, have to say about the way out of the dilemma?

Tim Jackson’s new book, Post Growth: Life after Capitalism (Polity Press, 2021), follows his ground-breaking Prosperity without Growth (2009, updated in 2017). Whilst the previous work reflected, partly, the austerity-driven answers to the Great Recession, Post Growth falls into a different world. It is a world where the recognition of climate change as the greatest challenge facing humankind is moving towards consensus. In the United States, even the Republican Party’s younger members are looking for ways out of the corner into which the party has manoeuvred itself. It is also a world where the Covid-19 pandemic has not only taken many lives and destroyed many livelihoods, but – via the need for state intervention – has also dealt a blow to the gung-ho neoliberalism that is one of the main culprits of financial chaos and the looming breakdown of planetary life-support systems.

US President Joe Biden’s rescue plan as well as the EU’s Next Generation pandemic recovery fund are questioning the free-market paradigm that has held sway the since the Reagan-Thatcher area, and that had trickled down into centre-left politics as well. In parallel, from the Paris Agreement to the European Commission’s European Green Deal, environmental concerns that were condescendingly smiled upon until recently have now moved centre stage. The newly discovered role for the state and the emerging environmental consciousness might not be discussed at length in Jackson’s new book, but they are the backdrop against which it is to be read.

The good life

True to the idea of “post growth”, Jackson does not author a completely new book to join others in trapping dust on overburdened shelves. Rather, he deepens, fleshes out, and extends thoughts that were already present in his previous works. Post Growth is a next step, not away from the economy, but certainly closer to a host of other disciplines: from medical science, psychology, sociology, and anthropology to philosophy.

In that light, the subtitle of the book, Life after Capitalism, is chosen carefully: it is a book about life, about the good life, and how the “myth of growth” – the title of the first chapter – has led us astray from what actually matters in life.

Much of the book is dedicated to untangling the anthropological lunacy of an economy that serves profit rather than the people, their subsistence, and, ultimately, their purpose in life.

But are philosophers the ones to turn to when the wounds of an economic crisis are still raw, when a health crisis has just struck with unknown vehemence, and another crisis, unimaginable in all its consequences, looms on the horizon?

Well, following Jackson, the figures we have turned to for the past decades – mainstream economists – are the very ones who brought us to the current conjuncture of multi-layered crises. In the early pages, he quotes the standard bearer of neoliberalism – and, let us not forget, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics – Milton Friedman’s infamous bon mot, “the business of business is business”. Much of the book is dedicated to untangling the anthropological lunacy of an economy that serves profit rather than the people, their subsistence, and, ultimately, their purpose in life.

Limits to growth

Capitalism, to get the other word in the subtitle out of the way, bumps into another problem: the limits of what planet Earth can take, what the Club of Rome already called “the limits to growth” back in 1972. It relies on growth and, to keep the wheel turning, on constant expansion into new territories, commodifying whatever lies in its path. Jackson trails, with a pinch of scepticism, Rosa Luxemburg’s critique of Karl Marx here. Capitalism’s claim to social progress depends on high growth rates to finance the redistribution of wealth. The wheel must turn ever faster. However, as Jackson writes, “the peak growth rates of the 1960s were only possible at all on the back of a huge and deeply destructive exploitation of dirty fossil fuels, something that can be ill afforded […] in the era of dangerous climate change”. Hence the dilemma: growth either stops fulfilling its meagre promise of prosperity for all, or it destroys the planet. Or both.

Jackson, for one, is doubtful that economists can shepherd us out of the impasse. He only slightly caricatures when he writes, “their message is that only growth can deliver us from the mess growth itself has brought us in” – but, this time, a “green growth”, where technological innovation will allow us to “decouple” from environmental destruction.

Green growth hubris

While Jackson does not deny that the destructive intensity of a given economic output can be lowered, he reminds us that the planet does not care about relative efficiency: what matters is humanity’s overall footprint. The equation is simple: if GDP grows faster than emissions per given output decline, then the emissions keep spiralling higher regardless. Hoping for a technological miracle to solve the problem means betting on technological “efficiency” outrunning scale faster than it has ever done in the past, and doing so indefinitely into the foreseeable (and unforeseeable) future.

There is a call for “ecological investment”, but altogether, Post Growth is a little light on the question of whether another growth is possible – one driven by health, education, culture, and community work rather than the increasing production of stuff. Notwithstanding, Jackson’s equation is the yardstick against which the EU’s Green Deal – sold as a “growth strategy”, and essentially one reliant on green tech – needs to be examined.

Green growth is more hubris, comparable to Reagan’s principled refusal to even envisage such a thing as limits to growth.

Rather unsurprisingly, fresh data concedes the point to Jackson. Recent research has shown that meeting the Paris Agreement’s goals requires that carbon emissions fall every two years by an amount equivalent to the shrinkage caused by recent lockdowns. However, the world seems to be heading in precisely the opposite direction. The International Energy Agency has shown that as soon as the first lockdowns were lifted, emissions returned to their upward trajectory. In December 2020, carbon emissions were already higher than in December 2019. For Jackson, green growth is more hubris, comparable to former US President Ronald Reagan’s principled refusal to even envisage such a thing as limits to growth.

Dead and kicking

Perhaps prematurely, the chapter analysing the overarching economic system asks, “who killed capitalism?”. Jackson’s straightforward answer is capitalism itself. Its downfall is “the result of its own obsession with growth”. Unbound neoliberalism, untethered from rules, unbothered by purpose, oblivious to limits, has driven us to the verge of social and ecological disaster. Here Jackson follows economist Wolfgang Streeck, arguing that capitalism, to the extent that it is still around, is a dead man walking. The point, however, is that even in intensive care, it continues to give a severe kicking to the planet and humans alike.

This reflection takes us to where Post Growth is at its very best: if capitalism and its growth addiction were only trashing the planet, it would be bad enough. But it gets truly vertiginous upon realising that capitalism also fails to achieve its original purpose: generating happiness.

Chasing unhappiness

In times of shortage, more is generally good. But when there is too much, more becomes a recipe for disaster. States pursue GDP growth based on the “assumption that money is a good proxy for happiness”. Yet sociology and psychology tend to corroborate the popular wisdom that “money cannot buy happiness”. Only in a few well-defined circumstances does GDP growth trigger an increase in happiness.

With a host of scientific disciplines and data, Jackson exposes how capitalism structurally creates unhappiness.

However, the evidence that happiness increases and decreases with equality in societies is solid. Closing the equality gap should therefore be what societies pursue, precisely for utilitarian reasons. With a host of scientific disciplines and data, Jackson exposes how capitalism structurally creates unhappiness. How, for example, the food industry has gamed our in-built dopamine response to sugar and fat, resulting in a world where “more people die of obesity than they do of undernutrition”.

But capitalism not only makes us fat, sleepless, burned-out, addicted to consumerism, lonely, unhealthy, and unable to concentrate. It also hits precisely what links most of us to the economy: work and our connection to what is produced.

Bullshit jobs

Over a long stretch, Jackson follows Hannah Arendt, who wrote in The Human Condition that “there is no lasting happiness outside the prescribed cycle of painful exhaustion and pleasurable regeneration. Whatever throws this cycle out of balance (misery as well as great fortune!) ruins the elementary happiness that comes from being alive.” Arendt’s distinction between “labour” (roughly, the continuous activity necessary to secure our biological maintenance), “work” (the creation of durable human artifice), and “activity” (our social role) speaks to the anthropological need for physical work, for an impact on the world of things and people.

Capitalism, however, denigrates labour, undermines craft and creativity, and trashes the intrinsic anthropological worth of objects that last. It needs to sell, always more, and is therefore inimical to values like durability. As Jackson points out, “the enormous success of the advertising industry has been to persuade us that physiological needs are the very least of the functions delivered by clothing.”

Despite all the clapping in the early lockdowns, we still have precarious, underpaid, and disregarded labour on the one hand, and on the other what the late anthropologist David Graeber called “bullshit jobs” that provide neither satisfaction to the individual, nor benefit to society.

Post Growth can be read as a playbook of how to turn the categorical imperative back on its feet again […] and how to subordinate the economy to a broader reflection on its purpose

Automation will not save us either: instead of being a way to realise the economist John Maynard Keynes’s dream of a 15-hour working week, it is, as Graeber argued, the very reason for the existence of bullshit jobs. Automation could scarcely replace the labour-intensive activities that were recognised as the backbone of society in the early Covid period. Care work does not generate enough profit to attract investment – certainly not courtesy of the markets – or pay decent wages. Returning to Hannah Arendt, Jackson reminds us how excessive automation has deprived us of the deeply human need for grasping and changing the world with our own hands.

Turning Kant downside-up

Immanuel Kant’s philosophical concept of the categorical imperative asked people to act only according to principles they can reasonably want to become “universal law”. Today, as sociologist Stephan Lessenich has reasoned, capitalism has turned this imperative on its head. Industrialised societies live and consume in such a way that they cannot hope to become universal: if it did, the breakdown of Earth’s life-support systems would become all but certain.

Post Growth can be read as a playbook of how to turn the categorical imperative back on its feet again, how to build a world where equal rights to production and consumption do not ruin the planet, and how to subordinate the economy to a broader reflection on its purpose.

“State intervention” may no longer be a swearword, but economic stimulus to boost growth and redistribute wealth will not achieve social progress unless paired with a deeper reflection on work, labour, and their place in society. Society is beginning to understand the environmental challenge, but greening the economy will not be enough if current consumption patterns persist. On this point, Post Growth shows the way, by placing Keynesian economics within the limits of what the planet can take.

Neoliberalism might have taken a hit, but it is still standing. Environmentalism might have made some inroads, but it is still only budding. Radical questions, radical answers, and radical policies are a historical responsibility towards the people and the planet. It is categorical imperative against growth imperative.

How Portugal Went from Far-right Immunity to Fertile Ground for Populists

Progressive forces in Portugal find themselves fighting a war on two fronts: a resurgent far right has been making inroads into the country’s politics, while the long-standing monopoly on power held by the parties of the “big centre” has stifled the voices of any genuine opposition. In a society where the legacy of dictatorship and colonialism can still be felt, where racism remains rife, and ecological thinking has yet to take root, setting out a unifying political vision to take on these powerful rivals is far from simple.

In Portugal’s January 2021 presidential election, a far-right candidate managed to secure more than half a million votes to reach third place. That candidate was André Ventura, an MP and leader of Chega (translated as: “Enough”), a proto-fascist Portuguese party which became a member of the European Parliament’s Identity and Democracy group in October 2019, just months after the party’s formation in April the same year.

Until 2019, Portugal was touted as seemingly immune to far-right populism in the political arena, in stark contrast to other parts of Europe. Several causes for this were suggested, ranging from the country’s large diaspora, and thus increased sensitivity to heterogeneous cultural backgrounds, to the not-so-distant memory of dictatorship, which would deter people from the colonialist isolationism that accompanied poverty and repression. Immigration was also considered to play a role, perceived as having a lesser impact than in other European countries and mostly originating from Portuguese-speaking countries, thereby allowing for easier integration. Together, these factors served as an explanation as to why a xenophobic nationalistic rhetoric would not resonate with the general electorate, as it would not be addressing any real fear among the population.

Paving the way for populism

The political centre (dubbed “centrão” in Portuguese political lingo, literally “big centre”), comprising the main centre-left and centre-right parties, has been in power since the Carnation Revolution of 1974 which marked the beginning of the country’s transition to democracy. During this time, it has consistently eroded the political environment and fuelled distrust of political parties and political intervention. Data collected since 1985 shows that no more than 26 per cent of the population feel a sense of trust towards political parties. Most citizens do not trust EU institutions or political actors either, despite a slight improvement since the external intervention of the troika (the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) from 2011 to 2014. Moreover, in 2020 Portugal received its worst score since 2012 in the Corruption Perception Index compiled by the NGO Transparency International, putting the country below the EU average.

The centre-left Socialist Party (PS) and centre-right Social Democratic Party (PSD) – belonging respectively to the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and European People’s Party (EPP) groupings in the European Parliament, despite the misleading names – have alternated in power since the establishment of democracy in Portugal. Their economic policies in terms of labour market flexibility and liberalisation as well as their failure to address corruption and human rights (such as access to housing or fighting systematic racism) have contributed to a politically alienated society. The growing dissatisfaction with the political elite has created fertile ground for emerging populist movements to take advantage of the weaknesses of the regime.

The results of January’s election alongside the success of Ventura take place in a context of parliamentary stagnation. The alternation in the government occurring since the 1980s between the PS and the PSD showed signs of faltering after the 2015 elections, when an innovative parliamentary coalition between the PS, which had come in second place, and the smaller Unitary Democratic Coalition (CDU) and Left Bloc (BE) parties, both left-wing and progressive, enabled a functioning PS-led government. But it returned in 2019, after the distancing of the coalition partners on the left. On the other hand, the failure of the traditional opposition parties during a PS government, the PSD and People’s Party (CDS), to provide an alternative boosted claims that the “system” was no longer fit for purpose. In a country that has for decades avoided dealing with structural racism and hotspots of xenophobia, such as hostility towards Roma communities, this political landscape ultimately paved the way for the breakthrough of a candidate from a one-man party who has no trouble campaigning with the likes of France’s Marine Le Pen and Italy’s Matteo Salvini, or endorsing Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.

The growing dissatisfaction with the political elite has created fertile ground for emerging populist movements to take advantage of the weaknesses of the regime.

Ventura started his political career in the junior structures of PSD and ran for mayor in a city in the outskirts of Lisbon in 2017. His use of anti-Roma rhetoric in his campaign lost him the support of the CDS, but the PSD continued to back him, illustrating how racism and xenophobia are tacitly accepted in the dominant parties. Similar discrimination against Roma communities is observed among the ranks of the PS, ranging from its mayors to MEPs.

In the presidential election, the big centre candidates gathered 60 per cent of the votes, the traditional left just over 8 per cent, the populist extreme-right under 12 per cent, and other candidates another 6 per cent. Ana Gomes, a member of the Socialist Party and former MEP, endorsed by eco-socialist party LIVRE and the animal welfare party PAN, rose to almost 13 per cent. Gomes was unapologetically anti-corruption, fighting for minorities’ and workers’ rights as well as for a broader and serious involvement of Portuguese society in the European project. This shows there is still an urgent need for a progressive, green, and cosmopolitan agenda.

The future of Portuguese progressivism

The Portuguese left is still fundamentally shaped by the end of the dictatorship and the transition to a democratic regime. The PS and the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP, part of the CDU which supported the government in 2015 and is the oldest active political party in Portugal) were the main forces on the left until the end of the century, when smaller forces dating from the Revolution converged into the Left Bloc (BE, the other supporter of the 2015 government). The third way position chosen by PS, the orthodox Marxist-Leninist approach of PCP, and the Left Bloc’s inability to exert a progressive influence in the governing of the PS have prevented the much-needed transformative left agenda from gaining ground in Portugal.

Portuguese progressivism is currently found in citizens’ movements, associations, and small parties, but has yet to break free from the frozen landscape of parties in the political scene. The challenges at hand, however, call for an urgent democratic, ecological, and cosmopolitan agenda.

Portuguese progressivism is currently found in citizens’ movements, associations, and small parties, but has yet to break free from the frozen landscape of parties in the political scene.

The emergent proto-fascism present in political discourse exploits inequalities and injustices in society that are the by-product of a predominantly extractivist, colonialist, and sexist capitalist system. At the same time, the proto-fascist forces are funded and reinforced by this very same system that generates the ailments they promise to fight. Populist rhetoric appropriates anti-system thinking as its sheep’s clothing, connecting to those feeling left behind while remaining a wolf underneath. The progressive left must not ignore or play down the wolf’s strikes at freedom and democracy.

Facing up to Portugal’s colonialist past

Portuguese history cannot be looked at in isolation from colonialism, slavery, and racism. Racism persists, largely due to the “good coloniser” myth still taught in schools: the idea that Portuguese colonialism was beneficial to the colonised peoples. The extent of structural racism was revealed by the European Social Survey of 2018-2019, which found that 62 per cent of Portuguese people expressed agreement with at least one of the presented racist beliefs, with only 11 per cent disagreeing with every racist belief presented.

Some sectors and movements in Portuguese society have awakened to the fight against racism, largely through external influences such as the Black Lives Matter movement. There is now a clear and strong demand among the younger generations for Portuguese society to confront its colonialist and racist roots. This affects their voting preferences, and thus the progressive movement cannot afford to ignore these issues.

The dynamics and proposals of the traditional leftist parties are still clinging to a past that holds Portugal’s future hostage.

Those roots still cast their shadow in the form of inequalities in access to housing, employment or education. In particular, racism against the Roma community remains the most serious example of social exclusion, both legally (police forces in 1985 stated special surveillance over “nomad” people) and culturally.

The degradation of social cohesion is worsened by a system engineered to prioritise profit, to the detriment of social justice. In Portugal, it takes five generations for a poor family to reach the average income level. The inequality that allows the top 20 per cent to hold more than 70 per cent of the wealth while the bottom 20 per cent are left with 0.1 per cent is a major factor driving the lack of opportunities for current and future generations.

A necessary paradigm shift

On the environment front, despite the efforts of the last 15 years, Portugal still lacks a sound environmental strategy that allows for a green and just transition and the recovery of its natural heritage. Recent discussions around a climate law in Portugal demonstrate the lack of commitment on decarbonising the economy. Only now are such discussions being held at a parliamentary level and the parties’ proposals are vague and unclear about concrete goals. Even this will mean nothing if the government does not back the law’s funding and implementation, which is not expected to happen given the current government’s track record on environmental policy.

The fact that the building of a new airport in a protected area to serve Lisbon is still being discussed despite multiple criticisms demonstrates the nature of the Portuguese debate on environment and climate. This is regardless of favourable conditions in the country, such as the vast maritime zone or plentiful sunlight, for public policies that would lead a green transition while restructuring its economy and allowing for a development model that promotes social cohesion.

The challenges at hand call for an urgent democratic, ecological, and cosmopolitan agenda.

The progressive ecologist political alternative is not yet dominant among the Portuguese left, which is further delaying a much-needed transition. The parties of the traditional left are not prepared to fight the far right, nor do they offer a comprehensive alternative that addresses inequality, corruption, and the lack of social and environmental justice. Their dynamics and, consequently, their proposals are still clinging to a past that holds Portugal’s future hostage. Some sectors of the Left are still socially conservative or overly orthodox and do not commit themselves to a common agenda that makes it possible to respond to people’s needs while providing progressive transformation.

In a country with clusters of poverty and endemic precariousness, state support is easily turned into anti-poor, racist go-to speech by the far right. The fight for social, political, and economic freedom needs to be fought once again, now under the universalist values of social and environmental justice and equality. This freedom will only be meaningfully achieved when access to health, housing, and education – principles of the Portuguese Constitution – is available to everyone. This stance, in a clear rebuttal of the advancing proto-fascist agenda, requires progressive forces to adapt to new dynamics. Traditional parties’ inertia squanders the opportunity to seize the national agenda and risks leaving it for proto-fascist forces to encroach upon.

The big centre has also dominated the discourse around Europe, leaving the themes of European cooperation and integration contaminated by the main parties’ conduct. There is a risk that extreme right-wing populism will control this dynamic and take advantage of popular dissatisfaction with the big centre parties. The traditional sectors of the Left are characterised by a mild Euroscepticism, so progressivism takes a gamble when looking critically at European construction, especially at a time when Portugal presides over the Council of the European Union.

The silent Portuguese presidency of the EU

When Portugal took over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union at the beginning of 2021, the debate about Europe in the Portuguese media focussed on the nomination for the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO). This EU office has the power to investigate, prosecute, and bring to judgment crimes against the EU budget, such as fraud, corruption, or serious cross-border VAT fraud, which is of utmost importance given the amount of public funding granted by the European Commission as a response to the pandemic (notably the Recovery and Resilience Facility). The nomination of the Portuguese prosecutor was troubled from the beginning, as the government overrode the decision of the selection committee in charge of the process. Once again, the parties of the big centre arranged for the final decision on the nomination to be sanctioned by the Portuguese judiciary system’s institutions.

By doing so, the two biggest Portuguese political parties turned a European procedure into one subject to the entrenched national dynamics.  It is not unreasonable to assume that both parties failed to foresee the implications of this blow to the EPPO’s integrity: with this precedent set, nothing will stop Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice party or Hungary’s Fidesz, for instance, from treating the European prosecutor’s nomination as a matter relating to the national judicial system and further undermining the EPPO.

The lack of a proper debate around Europe benefits the big centre, as it allows for the nationalisation of European successes and Europeanisation of national failures.

Above all, this issue represents the approach to European matters that is taken as the norm in Portugal: single, out-of-context cases that are viewed through the national lens and subject to the biases of national politics. The European Union is regarded as little more than a vehicle for funding some local economic development. This limiting perspective significantly hampers Portugal’s role and capacity to build the European project. The traditional Portuguese left alternates between this self-interested view and light Euroscepticism. The European Union and European democracy have enjoyed considerable popularity in Portugal, even during the troika period. As a result, the traditional leftist forces, and even the populist extreme right, have avoided overtly Eurosceptic discourse.

The lack of a proper debate around Europe benefits the big centre and is thus perpetuated by it, as it allows for the nationalisation of European successes and Europeanisation of national failures. This course of action, preferred by consecutive governments from PS and PSD, alienates the population from the process of creating a democratic EU.

The Conference on the Future of Europe, expected to promote dialogue between European citizens, is tied to the institutions, leaving citizens without a voice in the decision-making processes that will inevitably shape their lives [read more on the Conference on the Future of Europe]. The Portuguese EU Presidency thus far has been marked by similar failings: disconnected from citizens, without civil engagement, and with little reflection on the future. Instead of capitalising on the unique opportunity to strengthen connections with Europe, we see a chronic lack of ambition mixed with the loss of Portugal’s credibility caused by irregular procedures and opacity. Instead of restoring faith in continent-wide cooperation by highlighting its advantages, the way is being paved for the growth of extremism and a rebuttal of multilateralism. The future is not this way.

Progressive forces, particularly in Portugal, are now tasked with the difficult job of providing a political alternative to proto-fascist populism and reckoning with the colonialist past and racist present that help drive that populism. Simultaneously, they must respond to the social, pandemic, and environmental crises and address the concrete problems in people’s lives. Taking on these different areas of action will be hard, but it is possible.

Inclusivity Means Breaking the “Otherness” Fixation

Despite well-intended efforts, many progressives do not succeed in making their own living and working environments more diverse. Sociologist Halleh Ghorashi explores why inequalities continue to grow and exclusionary spaces persist, reflecting on her own experience and insights as a scholar and an asylum seeker in the Netherlands. When it comes to promoting diversity, good intentions are not enough. Tackling exclusion and hierarchies demands a deeper questioning of normative thinking that assumes people with a migration background are different and disadvantaged.

I arrived in the Netherlands as an asylum seeker in 1988. In Iran, I had been active in a revolution that later became an Islamic revolution. I felt connected to leftist movements all over the world, and the idea of international solidarity gave me strength and hope for the future.

With this background I entered the Netherlands, and then everything suddenly went quiet. In the beginning, it felt as if my experiences meant nothing. I had to start all over again, learning a new language and summarising my thoughts step by step in childish sentences. At times, I felt very desperate. In those first years of uncertainty, I yearned to be able to have a conversation in Dutch on the intellectual level that I had been accustomed to in Iran. My language limitations, however, meant that this sometimes turned out completely wrong. Occasionally people were curious and would try to talk to me, but much more often they would walk away mid-conversation, leaving me in shock.

After a year, I was able to start studying anthropology at the Vrije Universiteit and gradually I worked my way into the academic world. Although this gave me a great deal of satisfaction and joy, it was quite an ordeal in the beginning. I was constantly aware of the gap between my mental and linguistic abilities. In Iran, I had not been allowed to attend university because of my political background. In the Netherlands, the feeling that I had a lot of catching up to do and that the chance to do so was now mine gave me a huge amount of energy.

A tightly wound spring

During their first year in a new country, many refugees share this experience of feeling like a tense spring that is released after years of oppression and violence. Those who are able to quickly make this energy productive can make up for a lot of lost time. I was lucky to meet people who gave me a push in the right direction, even when I did not believe in myself. It was not only due to my own efforts, but also the people around me and the spirit of the times that I arrived at where I am today. Unlike refugees arriving in the Netherlands today, I did not have to follow a civic integration course or stay in an asylum seekers centre, and neither did I have to deal with a negative discourse that sees the refugee as both a burden and a danger to society. Also unlike today, I was able to start my studies without a residence permit, which allowed me to build up a life in the Netherlands relatively quickly.

At the time, I was shocked by the image of a refugee as primarily someone who needs help and has little to offer. In retrospect, however, it was not as bad then as it is today. There were hardly any institutional restrictions in those days. I often think of the words of the Dutch former politician Ernst Hirsch Ballin: “It is precisely in the space that we cannot define in rules where something meaningful happens: a moment of attention to the unique aspects of someone’s life situation, perhaps a moment of administrative and legal creativity.” Today, that kind of space that genuinely saved my life is hard to find.

I was shocked by the image of a refugee as primarily someone who needs help and has little to offer.

After finishing my Masters in anthropology, I got a PhD position in Nijmegen. I was pleasantly surprised by the friendly and leftist atmosphere. I could not believe my luck when I got a room in a living community. As an ex-Marxist, I thought it would be special to live in a kind of commune. My expectations were high; I anticipated meeting kindred spirits who would help diminish the feeling of being different that I sometimes experienced in the Netherlands.

The reality turned out to be completely different. I felt no connection in the community, and was surprised that people were not interested in my experiences as a refugee with a progressive background in their country. So, I adjusted my romantic expectations of international solidarity and kindred spirits and concentrated mainly on my academic life in the Netherlands. And now, after 25 years of researching the experiences of refugees, I am a little closer to answering a question that has intrigued me for a long time: how is it possible that so many progressive Dutch people with good intentions about diversity do not manage to make their living and working environments more diverse?

Normative thinking

Research shows that without inclusive structures, any intentions and attempts to reach diversity will not lead to the necessary change in the status quo. Therefore, such attempts remain superficial and their impact is short-lived. To make a difference, it is essential to link diversity programmes with actual inclusion. And that requires a more structural approach that challenges normative thinking.

What is meant by normative thinking? In a democratic society such as the Netherlands, the greatest challenge is the invisibility of processes of exclusion. Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman describes our era as “liquid modernity” because the operation of power processes has become more invisible, more fluid. Power does not necessarily lie with people in positions of power who oppress others, but rather within the everyday images and processes that we often take for granted. All language that leads to a certain normalisation of images and ideas (referred to by Michel Foucault as “discourse”) ensures that its power is more subtle and invisible than before and therefore harder to stop. Thought and practice are nestled in the routine of everyday life. In academic literature, this form of power is called “the power of self-evidence” ­– and that is normative thinking.

Power does not necessarily lie with people in positions of power who oppress others, but rather within the everyday images and processes that we often take for granted.

An example of this is categorical thinking about migrants in the Netherlands. This categorical thinking has two components. The first is that migrants, by definition, deviate in socio-cultural terms from the Dutch norm. The second is that migrants are automatically at a socio-economic disadvantage. The result of this thinking is a strong fixation on cultural differences and on disadvantages or deficiencies when it comes to the qualities of migrants and refugees. This fixation on their otherness and their disadvantages is so persistent that these images are hardly ever questioned. The power of normative thinking is that migrants always fall outside the norm, even when they do their best to become part of the norm. This mechanism has been formed contextually and historically, and it is therefore internalised rather than imposed. Think, for example, of the harsh language about migrants that was absolutely inappropriate in the 1980s but is today accepted even by centrist political parties.

The current negative and hierarchical approach to migrants stems from categorical thinking that particularly emphasises their otherness: people who live in the country but do not really belong. Even when the discourse on migrants was less negative, they were still seen as a “problem category”: vulnerable people requiring the help of the welfare state.

Diversity as a moral imperative

This approach to migrants is not unique to the Netherlands. According to researchers Evangelina Holvino and Annette Kamp, the diversity approach in Northern European welfare states has mainly been aimed at helping ethnically “vulnerable” groups since the 1990s. As a result, the diversity issue became primarily a moral duty of the state, in contrast for example to the United States, where more attention is paid to the added value of migrants. Although the US approach has its own limitations, this comparison shows how a concept can be interpreted completely differently in various contexts. According to research, it is precisely the specific context of the welfare state that contributes to the image of migrants as needing help and deviating from the norm. As a result, migrants are continuously being treated in terms of their alleged shortcomings and rarely about their qualities and strengths.

When this fixation on disadvantage is normalised, it often serves to explain the lack of diversity in various bodies. The problem is then not attributed to exclusionary structures, but to the people from these migrant groups who are “not yet ready”. The supposed solutions often involve helping these people to become more competent (read: more like the norm) rather than interventions to make the structures more inclusive. Meanwhile, generations of migrants and refugees are constantly being reminded of their otherness. The result is a paradox: they must adapt, but they will always be different.
Many attempts at diversity are thus doomed to fail. Inequality in positions and distance between groups is growing, without any explicit intention to exclude migrants and refugees. Some organisations even claim that they are doing everything they can to become more diverse. But good intentions do not lead to inclusiveness if the normalised images (both individual and collective) are not also brought into question.

What is needed is a different approach – in fact, a reversal. Being inclusive means actually creating space for diversity by questioning the dominant normative thinking and daring to disrupt the normative images. To this end, it is important to invest in the spaces between the worlds that are, for various reasons, far apart. Inspired by the work of Hannah Arendt, I have previously called this “in-between” space. But what are the conditions for such in-between space? The volatility of our late-modern age is accompanied by impatience. The art lies therefore in creating moments of delay, so that interactions and stories stand a better chance of being seen and heard. The temporary suspension of judgement, of being right, is another important step in intercultural dialogue. This creates a common in-between space that is empty of judgement, making it possible to listen to the other from their perspective. The primacy of the “I” position makes contact with the other impossible, especially when the assumptions about the other are loaded and negative.

But communal in-between spaces are also daring. These spaces create a safe environment for minorities to disrupt, and also for people in positions of influence or from privileged backgrounds to be receptive enough to allow this disruption.

The task of politicians is on the one hand to connect with the diversity of life worlds in society, and on the other hand to create the framework for a truly inclusive society and thus to counteract polarisation. The Black Lives Matter movement has put this task even more strongly on the political and social agendas.

Being inclusive means actually creating space for diversity by questioning the dominant normative thinking and daring to disrupt the normative images.

Only then will people with a migration or refugee background be allowed not only to participate in various forums, but also to do so from their own perspectives and experiences, which are often different from those of people without a migration background. Consider, for example, how the mobility of many generations of migrants and the survival experience of many refugees can make various social, institutional, and organisational bodies more vital.

A clear example of this mobility is the increase in the number of children of migrants who have received higher education despite having parents with low literacy levels. Despite this special form of social advancement, this group is mainly approached from the perspective of their otherness as lack. They do, of course, deviate from the norm because their cultural and socio-economic background is different from the privileged group that is usually considered the norm. Their perceived disadvantage is part of their story, and allowing different voices to be heard is precisely what is needed. This point deserves recognition. It is possible to give the dreams of these social climbers a real chance, but only if they are approached from the perspective of their mobility and not from their disadvantage.

Freedom of mind in exile

For people who consider themselves progressives, another valuable insight for questioning their way of thinking was provided by the headline of an interview with writer Anil Ramdas in Humanist: “Uprooting is liberating”. These words contain a beautiful description of what the Palestinian-American literary scholar Edward Said calls “intellectual exile”. An exile must constantly translate between different contexts, and therefore has a dual perspective. Nothing is fixed, and nothing is in isolation. Because of their state of “in-betweenness”, exiles are potentially able to withdraw from the power of self-evidence or normative thinking. Said uses the in-betweenness of exiles as a metaphor for progressive thinkers who do not want to conform to the status quo. They are the bearers and guardians of the free spirit, because, like exiles, they reject entrenched patterns (visible and less visible and therefore internalised). These free spirits, as it were, never want to be fully integrated. But for the exiles as well as for the dissidents, this freedom of mind is a potential that can only be made productive when someone reflects on the normalised power structures and images that influence them daily – often unconsciously – and shape their actions.

The choice of taking distance from the dominant normative thinking means being able to go beyond good intentions in order to actually invest in inclusive spaces and relationships. This requires embracing otherness and, in doing so, continually disrupting the dichotomisation of otherness in one’s own life and in one’s own organisations. People with good intentions often think they are doing the right thing, so they do not feel the need to reflect on their lens or approach. But ultimately, good intentions are insufficient and can even stand in the way of real inclusion if people do not question the hierarchical relationship to weaker groups. This results in the reproduction rather than the challenging of normative thinking. Only by disrupting normative thinking is it possible to be inclusive and to get closer to people who are distant from our lives and frames of reference.

By connecting different worlds and by converging people’s horizons, various minority groups can be given a dignified and equal place where their presence and contribution can play a meaningful role. The ideal then becomes not only to help the other, but also to help ourselves to look and see beyond our immediate surroundings.

This article was first published in Dutch on De Helling.

Hărțuirea stradală și violența de gen, subiect de dezbatere într-o România puternic zguduită de pandemia de coronavirus

Hărțuirea stradală este o realitate mult prea frecventă pentru femeile din întreaga Europă. Adesea banalizată sau ignorată, această formă de abuz trebuie înțeleasă ca fiind situată la un capăt al unui continuum mortal al violenței bazate pe gen. Jurnalista Ana Maria Ciobanu relatează povestea atletelor din România care s-au mobilizat pentru a face străzile lor mai sigure, parte a unei mișcări în curs de desfășurare pentru a atrage atenția asupra problemelor legate de gen într-un moment în care pandemia accentuează inegalitățile. În cazul în care voința politică lipsește cu desăvârșire, depinde de societatea civilă și de mass-media să mențină problema violenței împotriva femeilor pe ordinea de zi și să propună soluții.

Acest articol conține detalii despre abuzul și hărțuirea sexuală.

Andreea Călugăru alerga într-o vineri de iunie într-un parc din București. După trei kilometri, a simțit nevoia de-o pauză. Fix în momentul în care încetinise ritmul, un biciclist s-a apropiat și i-a pus mâna pe fund. Andreea i-a prins privirea ghidușă în care citea „Și acum ce o să faci?”.

Andreea are 34 de ani și e campioană națională la triathlon. E obișnuită cu eforturi de 15 ore, așa că, alimentată și de furie, a început să-l alerge cu toată puterea, fără să știe ce s-ar întâmpla dacă l-ar prinde. S-a ținut după el jumătate de parc, pe unele porțiuni cu un ritm de 3 minute 40 de secunde pe kilometru.

Din când în când, biciclistul se uita în spate. Nu mai părea amuzat. Acum el încerca să scape. „Măcar atât”, și-a spus Andreea. Poate o să se gândească la ea data viitoare când o să-i vină să pună mâna pe străine.

După ce l-a pierdut din vedere, Andreea s-a oprit și a plâns, apoi și-a reluat antrenamentul. Furia a rămas cu ea mult după ce și-a terminat alergarea. Ajunsă acasă, a intrat pe grupul de Facebook Girls Gone Running și și-a spus povestea.

La postarea ei au curs zeci de comentarii cu povești similare.

Roxana Lupu, alergătoare și biciclistă i-a scris că a pățit-o și ea: „[Am resimțit] aceeași furie. Ce te gâtuie e frustrarea că efectiv nu îi poți face nimic”. Roxana are 39 de ani și a fondat platforma pentru sportivi amatori A descoperit dragostea pentru bicicletă acum 10 ani și este printre primele 10 femei din România care au terminat o cursă Ironman.

Andreei i-au scris sportive care participă la competiții și care preferă să se antreneze în grup. Dacă sunt singure, aleg banda de la sală. I-au scris femei care au povestit despre bărbați care le-au urmărit zile în șir și le-au determinat să își schimbe rutele și orele de antrenament sau să alerge cu spray cu piper la îndemână.

Pentru că activez în acest grup din 2013, când am alergat primul meu maraton, am scris și eu că nu știu ce să le spun fiului meu de 2 ani și fiicei de 4 ani despre bărbații străini care strigă sau fluieră, sau despre vânzătorul de la care le-am cumpărat apă și care mi-a prins mâna stângă și mi-a ținut-o strâns, ca să mă mângâie pe tatuaj. I-am scris despre teama de a ieși la alergat singură când se lasă întunericul și despre cât de vulnerabilă m-am simțit la primul antrenament după lockdown-ul din primăvară când izolarea adusese cu ea și senzația de siguranță pentru că străzile erau pustii, iar reumplerea parcurilor a adus înapoi fluierăturile, remarcile nedorite și uneori atingeri.

Nu eram de departe singure. La un sondaj Runner’s World, 84% dintre femeile care au răspuns au experimentat o formă de hărțuire care le-a făcut să se simtă în pericol când alergau – de la apucat de diferite părți ale corpului la a fi urmărite, la bărbați care le arătau penisul, comentarii nepotrivite sau claxoane.

În România, 30% dintre femei spun că au fost afectate de violența fizică sau sexuală la un moment dat în viață. În 2019, în jur de 20.000 de femei au fost lovite în familie. Dintre acestea, 44 au murit. Pandemia a acutizat nevoia de servicii de prevenție și suport pentru victimele violenței. În aprilie, linia telefonică de urgență pentru victimele violenței domestice – 0800.500.333 – a primit cele mai multe apeluri din ultimele cinci luni – 308. Poliția Română a anunțat că, în martie, față de aceeași lună a anului trecut, a crescut numărul infracţiunilor de violență în familie cu 2,3%. 

Soluțiile existente sunt deocamdată insuficiente. Abia de un an ordinul de protecție se oferă pe loc de către polițiști, iar 36% dintre ordinele de protecție din 2019 au fost încălcate, fără ca România să aibă un sistem electronic de monitorizare cu brățări – o promisiune politică reiterată de fiecare dată când o femeie își mai pierde viața în mâinile unui partener sau fost partener.

Dar hărțuirea stradală e încă departe de a fi văzută de societate ca o formă de violență de gen. Când femeile se plâng de acest fenomen sau chiar când se duc spre autorități, sunt întâmpinate cu neîncredere, bănuite că au avut un comportament sau un look provocator și întrebate ce dovezi au dincolo de un disconfort emoțional.

Andreea ar fi vrut să știe ce ar fi putut să facă în acea situație în care un străin a atins-o din senin într-o zonă intimă. La fel și noi cele care am comentat. Era frustrant vidul de informații: Poți suna la 112? Poți să prinzi hărțuitorul și să-l ții până când ar fi venit poliția? Cum evaluezi riscurile? Cine ar trebui să te protejeze? Îi pasă vreunei autorități de fenomenul hărțuirii în spațiul public?

Roxana a revenit cu un impuls: „Eu am o fetiță de 2 ani. Sunt îngrozită. Este unul dintre motivele pentru care mi-aș lua timp să fac ceva, cât de puțin, în direcția asta. FACEM?”, le-a întrebat. S-a oferit să se ocupe de comunicarea inițiativei și i-a dat tag Oanei Solomon, o alergătoare care a absolvit facultatea de drept, pentru a se interesa de cadrul juridic al hărțuirii în România.

Oana Solomon a creat grupul de Facebook „Proiect legislativ Girls Gone Running” și a pus la copertă o fotografie cu fiicele ei de 7 și 9 ani la un concurs de alergat. „Fotografia nu este aleasă la întâmplare”, a scris ea, „ci scopul nostru este ca ele să alerge/să practice un sport individual în mod liber, fără teamă, fără agresiune sau cu mult mai puțină teamă/agresiune.”

În grup s-au adunat 13 femei, hotărâte să creioneze o propunere de lege care să reglementeze hărțuirea stradală. Nu era o inițiativă doar pentru sportive, ci o portiță pe care voiau să o deschidă pentru toate femeile, pornind de la disconfortul lor.

Cercetând legislația, alergătoarele au descoperit că, în România, hărțuirea a fost inclusă în 2018, la inițiativa deputatei independente Oana Bîzgan, în Legea privind egalitatea de șanse și de tratament între femei și bărbați. Potrivit legii, faptele pot fi constatate de polițiști, jandarmi, polițiști locali sau agenții Poliției de Frontieră Română. Aceștia pot aplica o amendă contravențională între 3.000 și 10.000 de lei. Amenda prevăzută de legea modificată de Oana, cuprinde astfel și situațiile de hărțuire care nu se petrec „în mod repetat”, așa cum cere Codul Penal.

Dar dacă nu știm de existența legii sau a sancțiunilor, la ce ne folosesc? Alergătoarele și-au dat seama că poate miza lor nu mai e o lege, ci ce ar putea face ele ca hărțuitorii să fie conștienți că sunt amendabili. Dincolo de coerciție, voiau să știe cum putem să avem o conversație despre ce e acceptabil în spațiul public și să cădem de acord că atingerile și cuvintele obscene sunt excluse.


Articolele despre hărțuire stradală au fost prima inițiativă legislativă din mandatul Oanei Bîzgan, care a fost aleasă deputat în 2016 pe listele Uniunii Salvați România (USR) și care este independentă din 2017, după o demisie „din motive personale”.

Oana spune că a început cu clarificarea legislației în privința hărțuirii, pentru că legea egalității de șanse o definea, dar nu prevedea sancțiuni și nici cine le poate aplica, iar Codul Penal includea noțiunea de „în mod repetat”, care excludea astfel majoritatea agresiunilor stradale. „Trebuie să sancționăm imediat și proporțional astfel de deviații. Altfel, neavând limite, pasul următor va fi mai grav și-i va veni natural. Agresorul vede că-i merge. Eu am vrut să transmit cel mai important mesaj: așa nu.”

Ca să modifice legea, deputata a avut mai multe discuții cu organizații care luptă pentru drepturile femeilor și așa a întâlnit-o pe cercetătoarea Simona Chirciu, care a studiat fenomenul în lucrarea ei de doctorat. Simona e reprezentanta în România a organizației HollaBack, care luptă împotriva acestei probleme și organizează anual marșuri împotriva hărțuirii sexuale.

Simona arată, în teza ei de doctorat, pentru care a făcut o cercetare cu un eșantion de 2.000 de persoane, că peste 80% dintre femeile hărțuite își ignoră agresorii. Doar 2,9% dintre femeile chestionate au spus că au sunat la poliție când au fost hărțuite.

Motivele pentru care nu fac plângere variază de la lipsa de încredere în autorități – „O singură dată am apelat la poliție, m-au întrebat ce căutam singură pe stradă noaptea”, la lipsa de informații cu privire la ce poate fi catalogat drept hărțuire – „Nu a putut să vină poliția pentru că nu a existat contact fizic”

Experții în traumă cred că minimizăm efectele hărțuirii în spațiul public pentru că nu o percepem neapărat ca hărțuire sexuală. Nu e viol, nu e violență fizică. Dar genul acesta de intruziune e ca un declanșator. Dacă vii dintr-o familie cu istoric de violență, dacă ești într-o relație abuzivă sau ai fost victima violenței sexuale, hărțuirea stradală poate fi traumatică pentru că îți întărește ideea că nu ești în siguranță nicăieri – nici acasă, nici pe stradă, nici măcar când alergi.

Când a vorbit pentru prima oară de la tribuna Parlamentului despre hărțuire, Oana a văzut coatele pe care și le dădeau colegii. Au fost politicieni care au șicanat-o: „Ce-i, Oana? Te simți hărțuită?”.

„Am avut parte de ignore total, de miștouri și râsete în plen, dar nu m-am lăsat”, spune deputata, care crede că a fost nevoie de o perioadă de ajustare pentru a înțelege că femeile nu au venit în Parlament doar ca să ocupe banca de decor (înainte de 2016, femeile ocupau doar 12% din numărul locurilor din Parlament; de atunci a crescut la 19.8%) .

Într-o discuție pe Zoom la care le-am invitat pe Andreea Călugăru, Oana Solomon și ofițerul sociolog Felicia Hrihorișan care lucrează în cadrul departamentului de prevenire a criminalității, la Inspectoratul Județean de Poliție Satu Mare, am fost peste 30 de participanți.

Întrebările și comentariile au curs în chat demonstrând că suntem încă în faza în care încercăm să înțelegem ce e hărțuirea și ce putem să facem dacă ni se întâmplă

Cum putem convinge, din punct de vedere psihologic persoanele care agresează, că agresiunea stradală (claxonat, fluierat, atingeri etc.) NU este un compliment pentru femei?

Ar ajuta ca în momentul în care ni se întâmplă o astfel de agresiune să îi spunem agresorului că nu e ok ce a făcut și că a încălcat o lege?

Cum pot să atrag atenția oamenilor atunci când cineva mă amenință în autobuz și aud și ei asta, dar nu intervin…ba mai mult se uită ciudat la mine că m-am speriat?

Eram cu toții oameni interesați să se schimbe ceva, dar era clar că vorbeam pentru prima oară ca și cum chiar ar fi posibil, iar responsabilitatea este și la fiecare dintre noi. Ne era încă greu să formulăm disconfortul sau să gândim soluții. Dar ne era evident că legislația nu va fi suficientă pentru a scoate din normal hărțuirea femeilor în spațiul public. Că trebuie să învățăm să vorbim despre acest tip de abuz, să-l recunoaștem și să-l raportăm.

Că avem nevoie de polițiști ca Felicia care să ne explice pas cu pas că e bine să ții distanța de un braț între tine și oricine te abordează pe stradă, că trebuie să fii conștientă de unde e cea mai apropiată cameră de luat vederi din zonă – ca să ai probe – și să admiți că, indiferent cât de neplăcut e, a fi femeie e o vulnerabilitate.

La sfârșitul lui august, pe o alee întunecată din parcul Tineretului din București, o alergătoare a fost agresată sexual de un bărbat care o urmărise. Femeia a sunat la 112, a reușit să descrie agresorul, iar o patrulă de poliție l-a identificat și l-a reținut la scurt timp.

Poliția Română a înregistrat în 2019, 2.045 de sesizări pentru hărțuire, încadrate conform definiției din Codul Penal și a aplicat 17 sancțiuni contravenționale pentru hărțuire stradală.

Andreea Călugăru mi-a spus că incidentul cu mâna pe fund nu o s-o țină departe de antrenamente. Pentru ea, hărțuirea, dincolo de a fi enervantă, „e și o barieră în calea femeilor de a-și îndeplini maximumul de potențial sportiv”. Antrenamentele ei pentru triatlon implică ture cu bicicleta în afara orașului. „Nu pot să mă duc 150 de kilometri singură, în câmp. Eu nu mai pot să accept realitatea asta. Când voi fi mamă, dacă voi avea o fiică, mi-aș dori să facă sport, mi-aș dori să nu-i spun, cum mi-a spus mie mama la 5-6 ani, că bărbații îți pot face rău.”

De la incidentul din parc, Andreea se tot întreabă ce e de făcut. „Mi-aș dori ca alți alergători și cicliști să fie alături de noi, nu să ne indignăm doar noi. Ca bărbat, poți să alergi oricând, nu te temi să alergi seara. Mi-aș dori ca gașca de sportivi să conștientizeze problema și să luptăm pentru un mediu mai sigur pentru toată lumea.”

Sociologul Daniel Sandu explică că un aliat este acea persoană care susține un grup vulnerabil chiar dacă nu a fost vreodată martor sau victimă a hărțuirii stradale. Aliatul crede mărturiile pe care le aude, fără să caute vină victimelor sau scuze agresorilor, și e dispus să își folosească vocea pentru a crește vizibilitatea problemei.

Studii recente au arătat că foarte mulți bărbați sunt aliați pentru egalitate de gen în discuții private, dar nu și în public pentru că se tem să nu spună ceva nepotrivit sau cred că nu e rolul lor să dezbată astfel de teme. E firesc să te simți încurcat, chiar dacă empatizezi cu cele care trec prin forme de violență de gen, pentru că generalizările ne produc disconfort.

Grupul Girls Gone Running caută acum căi de a pune presiune publică pentru a face din combaterea hărțuirii stradale o prioritate guvernamentală.

În 2020, discuțiile despre egalitate și violență de gen au ocupat deseori agenda publică din România.

Mai întâi a fost cazul tragic al adolescentei din Mehedinți violate și incendiate după ce făcuse plângere la poliție împotriva agresorului iar sistemul și-a demonstrat încă o dată incapacitatea de a proteja victimele.

Apoi vara a fost dominată de ample dezbateri despre utilitatea educației pentru sănătate în școli care este momentan opțională și ocolește orice terminologie care include cuvântul sex. România are cel mai mare procent de nașteri în rândul femeilor sub 20 de ani din Uniunea Europeană: 9.9% din numărul total de nașteri, față de 2.8% media UE, situația socio-economică a acestora fiind de cele mai multe ori precară —  40% dintre mamele minore spun că veniturile nu le ajung pentru strictul necesar, iar alimentarea cu apă curentă nu este disponibilă în cazul a peste 60% din gospodăriile cu mame minore. Bătălia ideologică pe educație sexuală pentru adolescenți se duce între un filon religios conservator, activiști care luptă de 30 de ani pentru dreptul la informație, sănătate și contracepție, părinți speriați că școala le-ar distruge inocența copiilor, profesori nepregătiți să susțină discuții deschise cu adolescenții și politicieni care dansează pe această sârmă emoțională fără să se consulte cu specialiști în politici publice.

Peste dezbaterea despre educație sexuală s-a suprapus apoi un proiect de modificarea a legii educației, pornit de un senator teolog, care interzice orice referire la conceptul de identitate de gen în școli și universități. Concret, noua lege a educației, care a fost contestată de către Președinte la Curtea Constituțională interzicea „activitățile în vederea răspândirii teoriei sau opiniei identității de gen, înțeleasă ca teoria sau opinia că genul este un concept diferit de sexul biologic și că cele două nu sunt întotdeauna aceleași”. După o jumătate de an de decizii amânate, Curtea a decis că modificarea legislativă este neconstituțională.

Proiectul de modificare a legii educației a născut proteste în ciuda pandemiei, dar și solidaritate între organizațiile neguvernamentale feministe, activiștii LGBTQ+ și mediul academic, ceea ce a dus la o vizibilitate mai mare a fenomenului.

Oana Băluță, doctor în științe politice cu o teză despre gen, spune că în ultimii ani s-au desfășurat campanii în Europa și America Latină care au blocat proiecte care veneau în sprijinul femeilor și comunității LGBTQ și au alimentat ascensiunea unor politicieni iliberali. Câștigând sprijin politic, în Ungaria au scos în afara legii studiile de gen. „Studiile de gen au dus la dezvoltarea politicilor publice, a legislațiilor și a convențiilor internaționale pentru violența și inegalitatea de gen. Genul se manifestă în stereotipuri, discriminare, inegalitate”.

Vântul schimbării în ceea ce privește mișcările feministe din România pare să vină tot de la adolescenți, prin organizații ca Girl Up! Romania care invită fetele să își povestească experiențele, creează grupuri de suport online și au o abordare incluzivă a fenomenelor de violență de gen. Girl UP! e un grup creat de Sofi Scarlat, o adolescentă de doar 15 ani la momentul fondării, care vara asta a derulat campanii despre discriminarea femeilor rome, istoria sclaviei și holocaustului în rândul minorității rome și efectele acestor sute de ani de violență asupra femeilor.

În toamna lui 2020, 10 adolescenți au folosit arta pentru a documenta hărțuirea stradală, în cadrul expoziției „Hey, pisi!” și a vorbi despre aceste experințe în rândul tinerilor, pentru a face fenomenul mai vizibil.

Organizații ca Identity.Education din Timișoara, contribuie, în special în pandemie, la creșterea accesului publicului la evenimente culturale online (proiecții de film, piese de teatru, dezbaterii și seri de stortylistening despre coming out în comunitatea LGBTQ+) pentru că cred cu tărie că arta e un limbaj comun, indiferent dacă ai sau nu cunoștințe de drepturile omului și că atașând figuri și povești umane de fenomene sociale complicate, ai mai multe șanse să câștigi aliați din afara comunității.

Adolescenții activiști cuprind diferit intersecționalitatea în acțiunile lor și au deschiderea de a colabora cu multiple organizații pentru a vorbi despre gen, de exemplu cu E-Romnja, o mișcare feministă romă care crede că schimbarea se va petrece prin intermediul adolescentelor pe care le consiliază la firul ierbii și le sprijină să conștientizeze inegalitatea și discriminarea din interiorul și din exteriorul comunităților lor.

Genul acesta de solidaritate, adusă de pandemie dar și de hățișurile birocratice care încearcă să îngrădească libertatea de exprimare și să încetinească progresul activismului pentru echitate în România, pare a fi ancora de care se agață tot mai mulți activiști.

2021 e un cu multe provocări, cu fonduri puține și sărăcie și inegalitate de gen accentuate de pandemie, dar societatea civilă pare mult mai conștientă de importanța unor acțiuni comune, incluzive care să ne clarifice implicațiile egalității de gen în viața și domeniile fiecăruia și implicit să determine autoritățile locale și creatorii de politici publice să înțeleagă într-un mod mult mai cuprinzător egalitatea de gen. Un exemplu ar fi inițiativa organizației A.L.E.G de a invita școlile și grădinițele să se înscrie într-un proiect de educație pentru egalitate de gen conform cu recomandările emise pentru România de către Comitetul ONU pentru eliminarea discriminării femeilor care prevede combaterea stereotipurilor de gen încă din copilăria timpurie.

România pășește în acest an cu un Parlament proaspăt ales în care reprezentarea femeilor atinge doar 17%, o scădere de aproape trei procente față de legislatura anterioară, ceea ce plasează țara pe ultimele locuri din Uniunea Europeană în ceea ce privește reprezentarea politică a femeilor. Egalitatea de gen nu a fost o temă discutată în campania electorală, deși numeroase studii și monitorizări au arătat ca pandemia a afectat în mod disproporționat femeile, pentru că acestea au fost primele care au renunțat la carieră pentru a-și îngriji copiii, în momentul în care grădinițele și școlile au fost închise și au fost afectate de violență domestică, un fenomen accentuat de izolarea socială. În lipsa reprezentării politice care să combată activ violența de gen, misiunea rămâne preponderent pe umerii societății civile și a mass-media pentru a o menține pe agenda publică, a sancționa derapajele, a propune și pilota soluții.

EU Gender Equality Strategy: Too Little but Not Too Late

In 2019, the EU reached a milestone for gender equality with the election of the European Commission’s first female president. Shortly after, President Ursula von der Leyens Commission launched its Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025, a notable step up from previous EU-level commitments to tackling gender discrimination. Marialena Pantazi Psatha explores how the issue of gender equality has steadily gained prominence in Europe, the strengths and limitations of the strategy, and the challenges it faces going forward. While this may be the start of a new chapter for gender equality in Europe, a truly feminist EU is still far off.

The promotion of gender equality is a task for the European Union required by its treaties and a key principle under the European Pillar of Social Rights. According to the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, the European Union is committed to eliminating inequalities “in all its activities”. In 2020, eight of the top 15 countries ranked for gender equality worldwide were EU member states. However, this is not enough to say that parity has been achieved across Europe.

After the 2019 European elections, the issue of gender equality rose up the political agenda with the backing of President von der Leyen, culminating in the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025. The strategy, launched on 5 March 2020, frames the European Commission’s work on gender equality and sets out policy objectives for a five-year period. It is the first strategy delivering on the commitments made by the president in her political guidelines. Looking towards the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration (the UN resolution on gender equality adopted in 1995), the strategy represents the EU’s contribution to shaping a more gender-equal world.

Rising up the agenda

The European Union’s history of promoting equality between men and women can be traced back to 1957, when the principle that both sexes should be paid equally for equal work was included in the Treaty of Rome. The principle was introduced to measures falling within economic and social policy to help overcome the historical disadvantages faced by women. In 1976, a directive was adopted focussing on the implementation of the equal treatment principle in access to employment, vocational training and promotion, and working conditions. The turn of the century brought the adoption of a further two EU directives in aid of this principle: the first, in June 2020, on equal treatment irrespective of race or ethnic origin, followed in November 2020 by another directive establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation. The notion of gender mainstreaming was also developed through a number of European Parliament resolutions, including the 2016 Resolution on Gender Mainstreaming in the work of the European Parliament and the 2018 Resolution on Gender Equality in EU Trade Agreements.

While important steps have been made over the past 15 years, progress has been slow and the gap between member states remains wide.

2016 also saw the launch of the Strategic Engagement for Gender Equality 2016-2019, a reference framework to guide the Commission’s work to promote gender equality. This strategic engagement identified five key areas for action: equal economic independence for women and men; equal pay for work of equal value; equality in decision-making; dignity, integrity and ending gender-based violence; and promoting gender equality beyond the EU.

While important steps have been made over the past 15 years, progress has been slow and the gap between member states remains wide. In 2020, the EU scored 67.9 (with 100 representing full equality) on the Gender Equality Index developed by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE). The EU’s highest points are scored in the domains of health, money, and work, and its lowest in the domain of power, which refers to decision-making across the political, economic, and social spheres. When it comes to political power, women continue to be underrepresented in EU politics: only 30.3 per cent of members of national parliaments are women. In the 2019 European elections, only 39 per cent of elected MEPs were women, though this represented an all-time high.

In the workplace, structural problems which undercut the value of women’s work are only fully revealed when combining a macroeconomic perspective with insight into women’s experiences of the workplace. Sectoral segregation – which sees some sectors dominated by women (e.g. education) while others are heavily occupied by men (e.g. construction and agriculture) – work-life balance, and the glass ceiling all play a role in the persistent gender pay gap. While more women are entering full-time employment, they are still overrepresented in part-time work. EIGE research has also found that less than 10 per cent of CEOs are women, and that women are three times more likely than men to be sexually harassed at work, mostly by a male supervisor.

Gender-based violence also remains a serious issue that affects many women in Europe. According to a 2015 report, 33 per cent of women in the EU have experienced physical and/or sexual violence, while 55 per cent of women have been sexually harassed. With the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, stay-at-home orders to contain the spread of the virus have intensified domestic violence in Europe as across the world.

Backsliding in member states

This stagnation of progress on gender equality can be understood against the backdrop of an international backlash against women’s rights. While situations vary across Europe, a 2018 study commissioned by the European Parliament identified a backsliding on women’s and girls’ rights in six countries (Austria, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia) in areas including sexual and reproductive health and the situation of women’s rights NGOs.

The stagnation of progress on gender equality can be understood against the backdrop of an international backlash against women’s rights.

In recent years, the EU has also witnessed the rise of “anti-gender” movements in various countries, at times with negative impacts on legal and institutional frameworks. Poland is a notable example: although it ratified the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on combating violence against women in 2015, there has been significant resistance since the arrival to power of the right-wing Law and Justice party the same year, with the government announcing its intention to formally withdraw from the Convention [read more on gender politics in Poland]. Poland’s former Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro openly opposed ratification of the Istanbul Convention, calling it “a carrier of gender ideology”. A similar situation has played out in Slovakia, where in 2018 Prime Minister Robert Fico announced that the country would not ratify the Istanbul Convention, claiming it could violate the constitution and question the “natural differences” between men and women. To date, six EU member states have still not ratified the Convention: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia.

Aiming for a Union of equality

Against this challenging backdrop, the Commission’s Gender Equality Strategy sets out important actions towards equality by 2025. It targets similar areas to the 2016-2019 strategic engagement, with a renewed commitment to combatting gender-based violence and promoting a gender-equal economy, equality in decision making, participation in society, and gender mainstreaming. The 2020-2025 Strategy builds on the former strategic engagement by bringing more concrete proposals and introducing further priority areas.

The first and most crucial step that the Commission proposes in the strategy is to complete the EU’s accession to the Istanbul Convention. The Commission also sets out its intention to extend the areas of crime with a cross-border dimension to include crimes such as human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of women, recognising that a unified European approach would be more efficient in tackling these. It proposes additional measures and new legislation aimed at preventing specific forms of gender-based violence, for example female genital mutilation, sexual harassment, honour killings, or forced marriages. The strategy outlines a commitment to the prevention of violence and the importance of pre-emptive measures and education, which includes not only teaching gender equality to children from a young age but also reinforcing public services and the criminal justice system.

The first and most crucial step that the Commission proposes in the strategy is to complete the EU’s accession to the Istanbul Convention.

In the area of gender-equal economy, the strategy sets out its aim to offer women and men “equal opportunities to thrive, be paid equally for work of equal value and equally share caring and financial responsibilities.” The Work-Life Balance Directive will introduce minimum standards for family leave and will promote equal sharing of caring responsibilities between parents in order to close the gender gap. Furthermore, the strategy outlines measures to promote women’s participation in innovation through the Horizon Europe European Innovation Council, which will provide support to female entrepreneurs and investors in an effort to reverse their under-representation in higher paid professions. Meanwhile, the updated European Skills Agenda will help address horizontal segregation, stereotyping, and gender gaps in education and in training. The legislative initiative on pay transparency that the strategy proposes, combined with effective means of enforcement such as mandatory pay audits for large companies, constitutes a necessary step to close the gender pay gap.

When it comes to political representation, the Commission pledges to promote the participation of women as voters and candidates in the 2024 European elections. Other notable measures outlined in the strategy include the appointment of the EU’s first Commissioner for Equality, whose work is to be supported by a task force charged with ensuring the implementation of gender mainstreaming across the Commission’s major initiatives, as well as the launch of the Gender Action Plan (GAP III) as a policy framework to address gender inequality in all external EU action.

Far from a level playing field

According to a 2017 Eurobarometer survey, 91 per cent of Europeans think that supporting gender equality is vital for a democratic society, while 87 per cent deem it important for the economy. However, attitudes to gender equality vary greatly across member states.

The Nordic countries have historically been considered leaders on gender equality in Europe, being among the first in the world to provide women with full voting rights. EIGE ranks Sweden, Denmark, and Finland in the top four places of its 2020 Gender Equality Index (scoring 83.8, 77.4, and 74.7 respectively). These countries have pioneered gender-neutral parental leave policies, and in 2015 Sweden became the first country in the world to announce it would adopt a feminist foreign policy.

The bottom two places in EIGE’s 2020 Gender Equality Index are occupied by Hungary and Greece. In both countries, inequalities are most pronounced in the domains of power and time, meaning that women are under-represented in decision-making positions and spend a significantly high proportion of time doing care and domestic work. In 2020, the Hungarian Parliament refused to ratify the Istanbul Convention, arguing that it promotes “destructive gender ideologies”. The same year, Hungarian Minister for Family Affairs Katalin Novák released a video encouraging women to embrace their role as mothers and to turn down “false emancipation”. It is hard to imagine that in such a context implementation of the Commission’s Gender Equality Strategy will be met with acceptance and enthusiasm.

The disruption of women’s economic participation due to lockdowns can only make it more difficult to promote a gender-equal economy.

Greece faces a different set of challenges. While the country has some of the most liberal abortion laws in Europe and has taken notable steps to advance gender equality in the past (for example, its 2009 nationwide programme to prevent violence against women), progress stalled following the 2008 financial crisis which saw higher unemployment rates for women as cuts dismantled the public sector (which predominantly employed women).

Varying perceptions of issues related to gender in member states will likely be an obstacle to the effective implementation of the EU Gender Equality Strategy. The debate around ratification of the Istanbul Convention demonstrates this. Should the EU’s accession to the Convention remain blocked by certain member states, the Commission has announced its intention to propose other measures to reach the objectives set out in the Convention.

Ongoing austerity measures in some countries may also pose a barrier to the successful implementation of the strategy, a situation that will likely be exacerbated in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The disruption of women’s economic participation due to lockdowns can only make it more difficult to promote a gender-equal economy. Moreover, the increase in domestic violence during the pandemic underlines the need for the strategy to prioritise combatting gender-based violence.

A welcome step, but room for improvement

The Gender Equality Strategy is a joint effort on the part of the EU institutions to fight the root causes of gender inequality, and for that it is undeniably welcomed by many civil society organisations. President of the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) Gwendoline Lefebvre has hailed the strategy asa great first step to accelerate progress on the rights of all women and girls throughout the EU”. Nonetheless, there is certainly room for improvement. One proposal by the EWL is to consider all forms of violence against women as Eurocrimes (offences required to be dealt with at the European level according to the treaties), as the strategy currently limits this to “areas of crime where harmonisation is possible”.

The Gender Equality Strategy is a joint effort on the part of the EU institutions to fight the root causes of gender inequality, and for that it is undeniably welcomed by many civil society organisations.

Meanwhile, other civil society organisations such as the European Confederation of Relief and Development NGOs (CONCORD), the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants (PICUM), and the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) have proposed concrete actions to make gender mainstreaming standard practice and highlighted the infringement of women’s rights by private companies as an area in need of policy intervention. In a public consultation led by the European Commission, gender stereotypes as well as women’s political under-representation were also identified as issues requiring urgent attention.

In the European Parliament, the Greens/EFA group has welcomed the Strategy but remains critical of it, calling for a higher level of ambition and stronger measures that are backed up by clear targets and monitoring mechanisms, in areas such as AI and taxation. In terms of legislation, the strategy’s prospects are low. Swedish Green MEP Alice Bah Kuhnke voiced her disappointment: “This was a critical opportunity to commit to a directive to combat gender-based violence – and the Commission has wasted it. The crisis of gender-based violence cannot be allowed to continue without a legal framework.”

The strategy also fails to identify actions to improve the socio-economic situation of women who face multiple forms of discrimination – such as migrant, disabled, and LGBTI+ women – and to combat feminised precarious work. There are no clear commitments on gender budgeting or to unblock the Equal Treatment Directive, an anti-discrimination directive that has been at a political impasse ever since it was proposed in 2008. Beyond the Gender Equality Strategy, the Greens/EFA group highlights the poor introduction of a gender perspective in European climate policies: gender is a glaring absence in both the Commission’s European Climate Law and the European Green Deal.

The strategy fails to identify actions to improve the socio-economic situation of women who face multiple forms of discrimination – such as migrant, disabled, and LGBTI+ women

Given the impacts of the Covid-19 crisis on women’s health and social and economic well-being, gender mainstreaming should be at the core of the recovery. The EU’s recovery plan, however, has been found to be gender-blind: the Next Generation EU funds fail to address challenges in the care sector (in which women are over-represented as workers) that have been exposed by the pandemic, and other gendered impacts of the crisis. There is much to be gained by adopting a “dual approach” to recovery that incorporates a focus on a transition to a green and care economy as well as clear gender equality objectives.

No one route to equality

The Gender Equality Strategy is an important undertaking by the European Commission that can reinforce and intensify efforts to tackle gender inequalities across member states. Since, broadly speaking, there is support for the strategy among the European institutions, member states, and European citizens, it is worth considering why it is facing severe obstacles in its implementation. Is the strategy to be treated as another legal trophy to be added to the long list of directives and resolutions adopted over the years? Should approaches to tackling gender inequality be tailored to reflect the specific issues faced by each member state? Every national context has different needs and capacities. It would therefore be prudent to start by focussing on the areas that pose the most significant challenges. For instance, Greece could begin by concentrating its efforts to address gender inequalities in representation and decision-making, whereas Bulgaria faces a bigger challenge in the area of domestic work. The strategy should try to strike a balance between offering a unifying approach and recognising the different realities in each member state.

It is undeniable that important victories for women’s rights have already been achieved in legal and institutional frameworks. However, the promotion of gender equality also requires deeper cultural change and greater solidarity. There is no linear development towards gender equality, but through national and international cooperation (for example, building alliances with international organisations such as UN Women), the EU can respond to discriminatory norms that continue to stand in the way of progress.

„Przestajemy prosić, by ktoś zaczął nas traktować jak ludzi. Po prostu tego żądamy”

W październiku 2020 roku prawa reprodukcyjne kobiet w Polsce zostały znacząco uszczuplone. Trybunał Konstytucyjny zdecydował się na dalsze zaostrzenie i tak już restrykcyjnej ustawy antyaborcyjnej. Decyzja ta stanowi kolejny etap ataku na prawa kobiet – procesu, który przyspieszył w trakcie rządów Prawa i Sprawiedliwości (PiS). W odpowiedzi na ten fakt doszło do masowych protestów ulicznych. Feministka i edukatorka seksualna, Antonina Lewandowska, tłumaczy, co werdykt oznacza dla kobiet w Polsce oraz mówi o żądaniach, pojawiających się w trakcie protestów. Międzynarodowa solidarność oraz silny ruch, który na różne sposoby walczy o osiągnięcie wspólnego celu – to elementy, składające się na ścieżkę dlaczego rozwoju polskiego feminizmu.

Marek Nowak: Co w praktyce oznacza opublikowany niedawno wyrok upolitycznionego Trybunału Konstytucyjnego dla życia kobiet w Polsce?

Antonina Lewandowska:  Oznacza, że 27 stycznia skończyła się w Polsce legalna aborcja. Nie mamy dokładnych danych, ile rocznie ciąż jest terminowanych z powodów pozaustawowych – Federacja na rzecz Kobiet i Planowania Rodziny szacuje, że jest to około 100 tys. przypadków rocznie. Legalnych, a więc wykonywanych w ramach obowiązującej ustawy, aborcji wykonywało się około 1.200 rocznie, z czego 98% stanowiły zabiegi z usuniętych właśnie przesłanek embriopatologicznych. Publikacja wyroku sprawiła, że w ponad 38-milionowym kraju, terminacji wykonywać się będzie mniej niż 50 rocznie! Aborcji z przesłanek ustawowych już więc w Polsce de facto nie ma – kobiety i osoby w ciąży zostały pozbawione wsparcia państwa. Zostały nam samopomoc, tabletki i podziemie.

Dlaczego Pani zdaniem ograniczanie praw reprodukcyjnych ma miejsce akurat teraz?

Ograniczanie, o które Pan pyta, nie zaczęło się teraz. Nie możemy traktować go jako jednorazowego wydarzenia – w tym przypadku publikacji wyroku Trybunału – bo mówimy tu o dużo szerszym zjawisku, które trwa od lat, wyrok jest tylko i aż jego najostrzejszym przejawem. Federacja na Rzecz Kobiet i Planowania Rodziny od lat monitoruje stan praw reprodukcyjnych w Polsce. Widzimy, że mamy do czynienia z długofalowym trendem ograniczania dostępu do edukacji i opieki medycznej. Przywrócenie recept na antykoncepcję postkoitalną, kolejne nowelizacje podstaw programowych do Wychowania do Życia w Rodzinie (WDŻ), likwidacja lokalnych oddziałów szpitali położniczych, podnoszenie cen leków, wykreślanie świadczeń z list refundowanych, utrudnianie dostępu do diagnostyki prenatalnej… Lista się ciągnie. Nazywamy to zjawisko przemocą instytucjonalną – w 2019 roku Federa opublikowała na ten temat osobny raport.

Oczywistym jest natomiast, że wprowadzony zakaz to najbardziej spektakularny do tej pory krok w długiej walce z prawami człowieka w Polsce. I myślę, że na tym władza się przejechała – nie tak dawno media podawały cytat z Jarosława Kaczyńskiego, który “nie spodziewał się aż takiej reakcji”. Wprowadzenie zakazu miało uspokoić konserwatywny elektorat PiS-u i odzyskać poparcie najbardziej konserwatywnego elektoratu, który partia rządząca zaczęła tracić na rzecz fundamentalistycznej Konfederacji, ale wygląda na to, że odbije się im czkawką i doprowadzi w końcu do liberalizacji prawa.

Orzeczenie Trybunału Konstytucyjnego wywołało ogromne protesty na niespotykaną od dawna w Polsce skalę. Kto protestuje? Czy możemy dziś spróbować przedstawić socjologiczne cechy tej grupy? A może mamy do czynienia z kilkoma grupami, które swój udział opierają na innych celach i odmiennych emocjach?

Z pewnością protesty te były bardzo ciekawe z perspektywy badawczej, bo nie mieliśmy do czynienia z jedną, ale z szeregiem zróżnicowanych grup, które połączył wspólny sprzeciw wobec zaostrzenia prawa aborcyjnego. Wśród protestujących były zwolenniczki utrzymania tzw. ”kompromisu aborcyjnego” oraz zwolenniczki liberalizacji prawa aborcyjnego na wzór prawodawstwa większości krajów europejskich (w których dopuszcza się terminację ciąży do końca pierwszego trymestru bez podania przyczyny z rozszerzeniem do nawet 24 tygodnia w przypadku uszkodzenia płodu). Wśród protestujących znaleźć można było osoby wszystkich płci, różniące się wiekiem i wykształceniem.

To, co jest w obecnych wydarzeniach fenomenalne i bardzo rzadkie, jeśli chodzi o protesty masowe w Polsce, to fakt, że ogromna część protestów odbywała się w mniejszych miastach. Zdarzały się protesty nawet paroosobowe w naprawdę małych miejscowościach, gdzie wszyscy się znają – tak otwarte zajęcie stanowiska wiąże się więc z dużo większym ryzykiem pojawieniem się ostracyzmu wobec protestujących. Protest stał się więc aktem odwagi, który wymagał naprawdę głębokiego zaangażowania emocjonalnego, a widzieliśmy je naprawdę w całym kraju. Myślę, że możemy w tej sytuacji postawić tezę, że mówimy o przekroju całego społeczeństwa. Co warto podkreślić, wbrew narracji mediów rządowych, która próbuje przedstawić protestujących jako „nihilistyczną młodzież” i przeciwstawić im „konserwatywną większość społeczeństwa”, protestowało bardzo wielu katolików i katoliczek sprzeciwiających się odbieraniu im podmiotowości i narzucaniu, w ich ocenie, zbyt fundamentalistycznego prawa. Dawno w Polsce nie było tak licznych protestów łączących tak zróżnicowane grupy społeczne.

Czy wśród protestujących przeważa pogląd o konieczności powrotu do poprzedniego, restrykcyjnego prawa aborcyjnego, obowiązującego w Polsce od 1993 roku, czy też mamy do czynienia z rodzącym się ruchem społecznym na rzecz całkowitej liberalizacji prawa do przerywania ciąży?

Chcę podkreślić, że ten tzw. „kompromis aborcyjny”, o którym mówimy, to zakaz aborcji z trzema wyjątkami: embriopatologicznym, ciąży z przestępstwa oraz ciąży zagrażającej życiu i zdrowiu kobiety. Wcześniej istniała jeszcze przesłanka społeczno-ekonomiczna, ale została uchylona w 1997 roku. Nawet przed wyrokiem upolitycznionego Trybunału Konstytucyjnego mieliśmy w Polsce do czynienia z jednym z najbardziej restrykcyjnych praw Europie. To nie jest prawo aborcyjne, a prawo antyaborcyjne, które w tej chwili zostało dodatkowo zaostrzone do jednego z najostrzejszych w Europie i na świecie. Protestujący, jak już mówiłam, tworzą w pewnym sensie przekrój całego społeczeństwa, więc i postulaty poszczególnych grup są różne – od zwolenników przeprowadzenia referendum do pełnej liberalizacji. Myślę, że obserwujemy narodziny szerokiego ruchu pro-choice, ale musimy pamiętać, że nie wszyscy protestujący się do niego zaliczają.

A jak wygląda kwestia społecznego poparcia dla pełnej liberalizacji prawa aborcyjnego w Polsce? Czy wyrok i związane z nim protesty zmieniły coś w społecznej percepcji tej sprawy?

W badaniach od lat wyraźnie widać różnice w odpowiedziach badanych w zależności od tego w jaki sposób sformułujemy pytanie. Jeśli sugeruje się w nim podmiotowość płodu, a pomija podmiotowość kobiety, to mamy niższe poparcie dla legalnej aborcji, niż w sytuacji odwrotnej. Niemniej zdecydowana większość badań pokazuje, że tendencja pro-liberalizacyjna umocniła się po wyroku Trybunału Konstytucyjnego w październiku 2020 roku.

Wspomniany wyrok, jak już podkreślaliśmy, wywołał w społeczeństwie silne emocje. Czy widać już może jakąś polityczną reprezentację tych emocji?

Temat aborcji jest tak obecnie ważny w debacie publicznej, że każda formacja polityczna jest niejako zmuszona, by jakoś się ustosunkować zarówno do wyroku TK, jak i samej jego materii. W tym sensie szokującą jest dla mnie reakcja największej formacji opozycyjnej, Koalicji Obywatelskiej, która… poprosiła o więcej czasu, by wyklarować jakieś stanowisko. To ugrupowanie wyraźnie ma problem, ponieważ w jego skład wchodzą zarówno bardzo konserwatywni politycy jak i tacy, którzy w kwestii praw reprodukcyjnych kobiet prezentują progresywne poglądy. Dlatego z jednej strony KO chce politycznie zagospodarować emocje strajku i część jej polityków bierze aktywny udział w protestach, a z drugiej – nie jest w stanie wykrzesać z siebie żadnego spójnego komunikatu w tej sprawie.

Lewica jest w kwestii aborcji zdecydowana. Niektóre polityczki tej formacji były zaangażowane w przygotowanie projektu „Aborcja bez kompromisów”, który miałby doprowadzić do liberalizacji prawa aborcyjnego do poziomu, który obowiązuje w większości krajów europejskich. Równocześnie jedna z posłanek lewicy, Magdalena Biejat, zwraca się do całej opozycji i proponuje jak najszybsze przyjęcie przez sejm tzw. „ustawy ratunkowej”, która dekryminalizuje zabieg. Skrajnie prawicowa Konfederacja domaga się dalszego zaostrzenia zakazu aborcji, natomiast centroprawicowe PSL oraz Ruch Szymona Hołowni proponują zorganizować referendum w tej sprawie.

Jaka jest opinia protestujących na temat referendum?

Kwestia referendum z pewnością, mówiąc kolokwialnie „nie urządza”, większości protestujących, choć jest pewna grupa – myślę, że ta najbardziej centrowa – która popiera takie rozwiązanie. Natomiast postulaty dotyczące podmiotowości cielesnej oraz możliwości samostanowienia i decydowania o sobie, które bardzo wybrzmiewały podczas protestów, wzmocniły u wielu protestujących przeświadczenie, że referendum jest bezsensowne, a sama jego propozycja jest oburzająca, gdyż nie może być tak, że większość społeczeństwa będzie decydować o tym, co kobiety mogą robić ze swoim ciałem. Ta postawa coraz bardziej wybrzmiewa i to widać w reakcjach na propozycję referendum.

Zostańmy jeszcze chwile przy tym, jak protestujący odbierają uczestników sceny politycznej. Czy protestujący identyfikują się z tymi ugrupowaniami, które istnieją? Czy może uważają, że wszyscy dotychczasowi politycy ich zawiedli i oni dopiero czekają na swoją polityczną reprezentację?

Myślę, że te dwie postawy, które Pan nakreślił, nie wykluczają się. Często jest tak, że nie czujemy się do końca reprezentowani, ale jednocześnie popieramy którąś partię, bo jej postulaty są nam najbliższe. Sądzę, że taka postawa występuje wśród protestujących najczęściej, ale najbardziej radykalna ich część – która mówi o aborcji na żądanie bez żadnych regulacji prawnych – odczuwa brak mocnej reprezentacji politycznej.

W wielu komentarzach (także na łamach mediów niechętnych obecnemu rządowi w Polsce) poruszono kwestię „wulgarności” protestu i użytych w nim haseł, które według tej narracji mają „zniechęcać umiarkowaną część społeczeństwa” od poparcia protestów. Od protestujących często słyszymy odpowiedź, że „grzeczne już byłyśmy”, a wszystkie umiarkowane strategie dyskursu okazały się przeciwskuteczne, co potwierdza miejsce, w którym jesteśmy dzisiaj. Jakie jest Pani podejście do tej sprawy?

Jestem w tej sprawie rozdarta. Jako socjolożka absolutnie rozumiem argument mówiący o tym, że skrajny radykalizm form protestu, do którego można zaliczyć wspomniany wulgarny język, w ogóle nie trafia do centrum, które raczej stara się uniknąć konfliktów i rozwiązać sprawę w miarę możliwości „bezboleśnie” (co zresztą na tym etapie jest już chyba niewykonalne). Ogromna część centrum uważa, że najlepszym rozwiązaniem będzie powrót do tzw. „kompromisu”. To deklaracja, którą słychać było wśród wielu osób uczestniczących w protestach sprzeciwiających się zaostrzeniu ustawy aborcyjnej, gdyż uważały, że to zaburza porządek społeczny. Taką opinię słychać szczególnie u osób niezaangażowanych w ruch feministyczny i działania na rzecz praw reprodukcyjnych kobiet. Obawa o pogłębienie polaryzacji światopoglądowej podzielają tak niektórzy socjolodzy, jak i umiarkowana część opinii publicznej.

Natomiast jako aktywistka, edukatorka seksualna i jako kobieta zdecydowanie przychylam się do stwierdzenia, że „grzeczne już byłyśmy”. Wprowadzenie ustawy antyaborcyjnej w 1993 roku spotkało się z ogromnym sprzeciwem społecznym – Polki nie chciały wprowadzenia w tej formie ograniczenia dokonywania aborcji. Prawie dwa miliony podpisów pod projektem liberalizującym prawo poszło wtedy do kosza, jednak protesty były „grzeczniejsze”. Przez kolejne lata prosiłyśmy, rozmawiałyśmy, próbowałyśmy merytorycznie przekonywać. W pewnym momencie dyskusja dotycząca aborcji w Polsce wyglądała tak, że i aktywistki, i osoby, które doświadczyły przemocy ze strony systemu, prosiły i argumentowały na rzecz swoich naprawdę podstawowych praw, podczas gdy władza pozostawała na prośby głucha zaostrzając kolejne przepisy.

Do tego dochodzą problemy poza, czy też „ponadprawne” – jak choćby ten, że w Polsce nadużywana jest „klauzula sumienia”. Powołują się na nią lekarze odmawiając kobietom legalnej aborcji, ale też recept na środki antykoncepcyjne, czego klauzula nie obejmuje. Jesteśmy jedynym krajem w UE, gdzie pigułka „dzień po” nie jest dostępna od ręki, a edukacja seksualna w szkołach jest na żenująco niskim poziomie. Tak, „grzeczne już byłyśmy”, bardzo długo. Nastąpił moment w którym przestajemy prosić, by ktoś zaczął nas traktować jak ludzi. Po prostu tego żądamy.

Zatrzymajmy się chwilę przy kwestii edukacji seksualnej. Z perspektywy osoby zajmującej się tym tematem (zarówno teoretycznie, jak i praktycznie), jaki jest poziom wiedzy młodych ludzi? Czy w ostatnich latach mieliśmy do czynienia z postępem, czy regresem?

Niestety, nigdy nie było dobrze, a teraz jest gorzej niż było. Po ostatnich zmianach programów nauczania z WDŻ-tem (Wychowaniem do Życia w Rodzinie) jest naprawdę fatalnie. Zresztą bardzo znamiennym jest to, że edukacja seksualna jest w Polsce prowadzona pod nazwą „wychowanie do życia w rodzinie” – już samo to dużo mówi o podejściu i pozycji ideologicznej, z której prowadzone są zajęcia. W roku 2016, po dojściu do władzy Prawa i Sprawiedliwości, zmienione zostały podstawy programowe tego przedmiotu i w tej chwili słowo seks pojawia się w niej dwukrotnie, w kontekście cyberseksu i uzależnienia od seksu – oba konteksty są negatywne. Tymczasem słowo rodzina pojawia się w dokumencie ponad 170 razy. Nie ma w podstawie programowej rozmowy o tożsamościach płciowych, w ogóle nie porusza się kwestii świadomej zgody na seks, ani nie rozmawia o przemocy w relacjach seksualnych, za to jest informacja o tym, np. jak składać życzenia na Dzień Babci. Nie uczymy rozmowy, nie uczymy intymności, nie uczymy ciepła, nie uczymy bezpieczeństwa – w ogóle niczego nie uczymy. Przez porażkę polskiej szkoły w tym temacie, młodzież informacje na temat ludzkiej seksualności czerpie głównie z Internetu i mitów powielanych przez znajomych, co ma swoje bardzo negatywne konsekwencje. Wiedza dotycząca antykoncepcji jest bardzo niska, wiedza dotycząca chorób przenoszonych drogą płciową praktycznie nie istnieje – w Polsce bada na nie się mniej niż 10% osób aktywnych seksualnie.

Co gorsza Polska, jak wskazują dane zebrane w Atlasie Antykoncepcyjnym 2020, jest na szarym końcu Europy, jeśli chodzi o dostęp do środków antykoncepcyjnych. Drugi rok z rzędu zajmujemy ostatnie miejsce nie tylko w Unii Europejskiej, ale w całej Europie! Przewodniczący komitetu, który jest odpowiedzialny za przygotowywanie Atlasu, powiedział, że Polska spadła tak drastycznie, że musieli specjalnie dla nas wymyśleć nowy kolor na mapie. To, co się u nas w tej chwili dzieje z perspektywy logiki jest kompletnie absurdalne. Nie prowadzimy edukacji seksualnej, mamy najgorszy dostęp do antykoncepcji w Europie, a prawo dotyczące aborcji jest jednym z najbardziej restrykcyjnych na kontynencie. To poważny problem, który dotyka wszystkie kobiety, szczególnie boleśnie te z mniejszych miejscowości. Warto zaznaczyć, że istnieją w Polsce gminy, które nie mają ani jednego gabinetu ginekologicznego.

Poza tym w Polsce istnieje pewna luka prawna, która dla mnie, jako osoby pracującej z młodzieżą, jest rażąca i potwornie krzywdząca wszystkich młodych ludzi. Wiek przyzwolenia w Polsce wynosi 15 lat, czyli od tego momentu można zgodnie z prawem uprawiać seks, a do gabinetu lekarskiego bez rodziców lub opiekunów prawnych można pójść dopiero po ukończeniu 18 roku życia. Mamy 3 lata, kiedy młodzież może legalnie uprawiać seks, ale nie może komfortowo dostać jakichkolwiek, poza prezerwatywami, środków antykoncepcyjnych. Polska jest dziś krajem reprodukcyjnego absurdu.

Wróćmy do kwestii protestów w Polsce. Czy wywieranie międzynarodowej presji na rząd pomaga protestującym, czy też pomaga rządowi poprzez mobilizację jego zwolenników?

Myślę, że warto wywierać taką presję na rząd, ale niekoniecznie z powodów politycznych. Nie sądzę, by jakakolwiek presja międzynarodowa mogła spowodować, że decyzja rządu podjęta rękami Trybunału Konstytucyjnego zostanie cofnięta i by powróciło przynajmniej to prawo antyaborcyjne z trzema wyjątkami, które obowiązywało do tej pory. Niemniej, o ile ingerencje międzynarodowe nie zmienią obecnie nic w Polsce, to jednak myślę, że będą stanowiły bardzo ważną podstawę pod ewentualną zmianę prawa w przyszłości. Jednak przede wszystkim uważam, że wszelkie wyrazy wsparcia międzynarodowego są ważne nie dla polityków, a dla kobiet. W tej chwili organizacje zajmujące się prawami reprodukcyjnymi w Polsce prowadzą rozmowy z szeregiem dyplomatów z różnych krajów. Federacja na rzecz Kobiet i Planowania Rodziny jest w kontakcie z politykami z wielu krajów europejskich, m. in. Szwecji, Belgii i Norwegii. Szereg krajów skandynawskich już ma w swoich parlamentach ustawy, które liberalizują w tych krajach dostęp do aborcji dla Polek. Presja międzynarodowa ma sens, bo podtrzymuje zainteresowanie naszą sytuacją, gwarantuje zagraniczne wsparcie dla działań oddolnych i ułatwia uzyskanie pomocy osobom, które jej potrzebują.

Zostańmy przy kwestiach międzynarodowych. Czy liderki polskiego ruchu pro-choice  inspirują się doświadczeniami podobnych ruchów za granicą?

Przynajmniej częściowo inspiracje widać. Taką najbardziej oczywistą są zielone chustki noszone przez niektóre aktywistki – zielony był kolorem kampanii liberalizującej prawo aborcyjne w Argentynie. Polskie organizacje zajmujące się prawami reprodukcyjnymi są w kontakcie z aktywistkami zarówno z Europy, jak i z Ameryki Południowej. Polki są mocno wspierane przez Irlandki, które niedawno we własnym kraju wywalczyły liberalizacje prawa aborcyjnego. Dzielimy się wnioskami oraz doświadczeniem – to stała praktyka aktywistyczna. Wymieniamy się strategiami, zastawiamy się, co można zrobić lepiej, co zmienić, w jaki sposób projektować dalsze działania.

Jak wiadomo, wszelkie rozwiązania należy przenosić biorąc pod uwagę historię, tradycję, czy też doświadczenia danego społeczeństwa – mówiąc w skrócie, jego specyfikę. Czy są może podejmowane próby zrozumienia tej specyfiki i wypracowania własnej, „polskiej drogi” dla ruchów społecznych walczących o prawa reprodukcyjne kobiet?

Z pewnością polski ruch pro-choice podejmuje próby znalezienia własnego języka. One są, moim zdaniem, jeszcze nie do końca stabilne i niezbyt poradne, natomiast widać, że się odbywają i myślę, że przekaz jest coraz lepszy. Ewidentnie stawia się na podmiotowość kobiety (lub osoby w ciąży), wolność wyboru i możliwość realizacji aspiracji życiowych. Polska jako kraj postkomunistyczny, z bardzo świeżym doświadczeniem demokracji, z bardzo dużym przywiązaniem do neoliberalnego systemu organizacji społeczeństwa i do kapitalizmu, gdzie wolny rynek kojarzy się nam z wolnością, ma faktycznie pewną specyfikę. Opowieść o samostanowieniu uwzględnia tę specyfikę i wpisuje się w rozumienie polskości jako wolności. Takiej wolności, która odcina się od komunizmu i jest silnie związana z liberalizmem i kapitalizmem.

Uważa Pani, że połączenie feminizmu i neoliberalizmu to najwłaściwsza droga? W końcu ta, w gruncie rzeczy dość hiperindywidualistyczna, opowieść wcale nie była jedyną możliwą, do której można się było odwołać. Tak jak kwestia połączenia dyskursu feministycznego z dyskursem antykomunistycznym w sytuacji, gdy Polska Ludowa zezwalała obywatelkom na aborcję, a dopiero III RP pozbawiła je tego prawa, nie była wcale jedyną możliwą strategią. Oczywiście nie mam wątpliwości, że takie prokapitalistyczne i neoliberalne ujęcie jest dla wielu ludzi atrakcyjne, ale czy nie jest jednak tak, że jest również dla dużej grupy osób zupełnie nieatrakcyjne?

Myślę, że zadaje Pan bardzo trudne pytanie, które na wielu frontach wzbudzi poważną burzę. To jest charakterystyczne dla dyskursu publicznego, że mówimy „feminizm”. Przecież nie ma jednego feminizmu, to idea wielu nurtów i filozofii. Istnieje m. in. feminizm liberalny, socjalny, eko-feminizm, anarcho-feminizm, więc w zależności od tego, w którym nurcie feminizmu dana osoba się odnajduje, zmienia się jej sposób budowania narracji wokół danego zjawiska. Czy to słuszne, że dominującym w dyskursie jest feminizm liberalny? Prywatnie uważam, że nie. Z szerszej perspektywy – dla feministek liberalnych oczywiście tak, dla osób związanych z liberalizmem gospodarczym również. Jeśli chodzi o socjalistki, czy anarchistki, mówiąc eufemistycznie, już niekoniecznie. Zwyczajnie nie da się zbudować przekazu, który w ten sam sposób dotrze do wszystkich.

Dobrym przykładem jest tu Irlandia, gdzie organizacje pro-choice pracowały na paru różnych frontach. Z jednej strony była duża koalicja organizacji budująca przekaz pozytywny mówiący o podmiotowości kobiety – stworzono fantastyczne w mojej opinii hasło, które dotarło do ogromnej części społeczeństwa: „aborcja jest kwestią prywatną, która wymaga publicznego wsparcia”. Istniała też grupa feministek i aktywistek,  które uważały, że ta strategia jest „za miękka”, i które inspirowały się działaniem aktywistek z Ameryki Południowej. Argentynkom zdarzało się wielokrotnie wybijać okna, czy niszczyć mienie w aktach protestu. Choć w Irlandii do poważniejszych zamieszek nie dochodziło, to i tak dało się zaobserwować obecność tego radykalniejszego przekazu. Wydaje mi się, że nie istnieje możliwość stworzenia wspólnego frontu ze wspólnym językiem, który jednoczyłby wszystkich.

To co da się zrobić, to zbudować parę frontów, które budując przekaz w różny sposób i współpracując ze sobą będą dążyły do wspólnego celu. I to jest kierunek, którym polski ruch feministyczny powinien moim zdaniem dążyć.

“We no longer ask to be treated as humans. We demand it.”

In October 2020, women’s reproductive rights in Poland suffered a huge blow as a constitutional tribunal ruled to further restrict the country’s already draconian abortion law. The decision was the latest step in a long-term attack on women’s rights that has accelerated under the rule of the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party. In response, protestors across Poland mobilised en masse. In this interview, feminist organiser and sex educator Antonina Lewandowska explains what the ruling means for women in Poland and the demands from the protest’s front lines. International solidarity and a strong movement that campaigns on different fronts to achieve a common goal will both be important in the path forward for Polish feminism.

Marek Nowak: The Polish constitutional tribunal’s ruling on abortion came into effect in January. What does it mean for women in the country?

Antonina Lewandowska: On January 27, legal abortion in Poland effectively ceased to exist. There is no precise data on the number of abortions that are carried out illegally in Poland, but the Federation for Women and Family Planning (Federa) puts the figure at about 100 000 cases every year. Prior to the recent ruling, there were about 1200 legal abortions per year, of which 98 per cent were because of abnormalities or serious illness of the foetus – the reasons that were just outlawed. The ruling means that, in a country of almost 38 million, there will be less than 50 legal terminations per year! De facto, legal abortion has become impossible. Pregnant women have been left in limbo by the government and now those who wish to terminate their pregnancies must rely on self-help, pills, and backstreet abortions.

Why is this roll-back of reproductive rights happening now?

The crackdown on reproductive rights in Poland didn’t begin with the constitutional tribunal ruling in October 2020. This was years in the making, part of a much wider trend of limiting access to education and medical care in the country. Other examples include the return of a prescription requirement for post-coital contraception, changes to sex education programmes, the closure of local maternity wards, and obstacles to accessing pre-natal diagnostics. This is institutional violence.

The latest abortion ban is the most spectacular example in the long attack on human rights in Poland. The current government will probably lose out on it – media outlets have even reported that the leader of PiS, Jarosław Kaczyński, did not expect the ban to meet with such opposition. This measure was aimed at appeasing the conservative electorate that threatened to shift allegiance to the more right-wing Confederation Liberty and Independence party. In the long term, it might backfire and actually lead to liberalisation of Polish abortion law.

The ruling sparked protests on a scale not seen in Poland for years. Who is protesting and what is driving them?

These protests involved a diverse set of groups united under the umbrella of resisting the tightening of abortion law. Some protesters backed the continuation of the status quo before the ruling, while others supported liberalisation inspired by abortion legislation in other European countries which allows for legal terminations until the end of the first trimester, for whatever reason. Others still supported the right to abortion in case of abnormalities or serious illnesses of the foetus up to 24 weeks. The protesters included people from all genders, age groups, levels of education and social strata.

Even before the 2020 verdict, Poland had one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. It was not an abortion law, but an anti-abortion law, and now it has only got worse.

What was great and unique about these mass protests was that many of them took place in smaller towns, with some even in very small settlements where everyone knows one another and there is therefore a much larger risk of being ostracised as a protester. Choosing to protest in such a context is an act of courage requiring huge emotional engagement, and this was seen across the country. Contrary to the narrative of the pro-government media which depicted the protesters as nihilistic youngsters in contrast to the conservative majority, many Catholics also took to the streets to fight against the stripping of women’s agency and the enforcement of what they consider an overtly fundamentalist law. There have not been such protests in Poland for a long time.

Which is the dominant view amongst protesters – the need to reverse the new ruling and return to the previous abortion law, or to fight instead for full liberalisation?

The 1993 “abortion compromise”, which was in place until the recent ruling, meant banning abortion in all but three instances: in cases of foetal defects; rape or incest; or danger to the mother’s health. Prior to 1993 there was another situation in which abortion was permitted related to the mother’s socio-economic conditions, but this was annulled by a constitutional tribunal in 1997. Even before the 2020 verdict, Poland had one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. It was not an abortion law, but an anti-abortion law, and now it has only got worse. The demands of the protesters are diverse, with the spectrum ranging from a referendum to full liberalisation. We have witnessed the birth of a wide-ranging pro-choice movement, though not all protesters form a part of it.

What is the level of social support for full liberalisation of the abortion law in Poland? Have the tribunal ruling and protests impacted this?

Opinion polls vary consistently depending on how the question is framed. If the question implies the agency of the foetus – and the agency of the woman is neglected – then the level of support for abortion is lower. Nonetheless, the vast majority of opinion polls indicate the strengthening of the pro-liberalisation trend following the tribunal’s verdict.

The verdict provoked an outburst of strong emotions in society. Is there sign of potential political representation for these sentiments?

The abortion issue is so important in Poland right now that every political force is obliged to have an opinion on both the tribunal verdict and abortion itself. What I find shocking is the response of the biggest opposition party, Civic Platform (PO), which asked for more time to clarify its position. The party clearly has a dilemma because it has members with both conservative and progressive views on reproductive rights. On the one hand, the Civic Coalition (KO), of which PO is the largest part, wants to politically gain from the protests and the accompanying social mood, and on the other it is unable to form a single, coherent position.

Proposing a referendum seems outrageous as it implies that a majority should be able to decide the fate of women’s bodies.

The Left is more consistent. Some female politicians on the left prepared an “Abortion without compromises” legislative project that would bring Polish abortion law to the level in mainstream Europe. Magdalena Biejat, an MP with the Left (Lewica) party, argued that the opposition should unite behind an emergency law to decriminalise the procedure. The far-right Confederacy party has an even tougher stance on abortion than PiS, while the centre-right Polish People’s Party (PSL) and Poland 2050, the movement led by former presidential candidate Szymon Hołownia, propose a referendum on the matter.

What do people protesting on the streets make of the idea of a referendum?

It is not a proposal met warmly by most protesters, although some with a more centrist standpoint support it. During the protests, demands about women’s agency over their own bodies, the right to self-determination, and of being able to decide for oneself were loudly articulated. This strengthened the belief among many protestors that a referendum on abortion makes no sense. From this perspective, even proposing a referendum seems outrageous as it implies that a majority should be able to decide the fate of women’s bodies.

Do the protestors feel connected with the existing political parties? Or are they disappointed by politicians in general, and still waiting for political representation?

These two perspectives are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Often, we do not feel fully represented but nonetheless support a party whose policies seem closest to our own beliefs. Such a view seems to be most prevalent amongst the protestors, but the most radical part of the movement, which argues for completely unrestricted abortion, feels a lack of political representation.

Many commentators (even in outlets critical of the Polish government) remarked on the “vulgarity” of protestors’ slogans, claiming such language discourages moderates from taking part. On the other hand, protestors retort that “playing nice” before never got them anywhere. What is your take?

I am torn on this issue. As a sociologist, I absolutely understand the argument that more radical protests with “vulgar” language do not connect with people who consider themselves centrists and who try to solve issues in a “clean” manner while avoiding conflict (which, in this case, seems improbable). Those critiquing the language of some protestors argued that it poses a threat to social order. Such opinions are particularly visible amongst those not involved in the feminist movement and its fight for reproductive rights, and there are many who share anxieties about deepening ideological polarisation.

On the other hand, as an activist, a sex educator and a woman, I definitely lean towards the view that we already tried playing nice. When the 1993 anti-abortion law was passed, there was huge social rejection among Polish women. A project to liberalise the law gained almost two million signatures, but these were ignored. Protests were “nicer” back then. For years after the law was changed, we asked politely, discussed, tried to argue with facts. There came a moment when activists and women who had experienced violence at the hands of the system had to beg for their basics rights. Those in power just did not listen and continued pushing for even stricter regulations.

International pressure maintains interest in our struggle, it guarantees support for bottom-up action, and it helps women in times of need.

But the problems go beyond legal restrictions, for instance with abuses of the so-called conscience clause [which allows medical professionals to decline performing abortions on moral grounds]. Doctors refer to this not only in cases where the abortion would be legal, but also when declining to prescribe contraceptives – an issue not covered by the clause. Poland is the only country in the EU where the morning after pill is not accessible over the counter. So, we were already “nice”, and for a very long time. Now, we no longer ask to be treated as human beings. We demand it.

As someone who sees the issue from both a theoretical and practical perspective, how do you assess the state of sex education in Poland? Has there been progress in recent years?

The situation was never good and now it is only deteriorating. It speaks volumes that sex education in Poland is taught under the name “Education for Family Life” – this says a lot about the ideological stance that guides teaching. In 2016, after PiS had entered government, changes made to the school curriculum led to a situation in which the word “sex” appears only twice in the core sex education material: “cybersex” and “sex addiction”. Both mentions have clearly negative connotations. The word “family”, on the other hand, comes up over 170 times in the document. There is no mention of topics such as gender identity, consent, or sexual violence, but a pupil will get information on how to wish their grandmother a nice holiday! We do not teach dialogue, intimacy, warmth or safety. We teach nothing. Thanks to the complete surrender of the Polish school system, young people learn about sexuality mainly from the internet or myths disseminated by their friends – with dire consequences. Knowledge of contraception is very low, and of sexually transmitted diseases it is practically non-existent. Less than 10 per cent of sexually active Poles check themselves for sexually transmitted diseases.

The European Contraception Atlas 2020 lists Poland at the bottom in terms of access to emergency contraception. For a second year running, Poland occupies last place not only in the European Union, but across the whole continent. The chair of the committee responsible for preparing the Atlas said that Poland’s position had dropped so sharply that they were forced to use a new color on the map. The situation is absurd. There is no real sex education, extremely limited access to contraception, and one of the most restrictive abortion laws on the continent. This is a serious problem that affects all women, and especially those living in smaller towns. There are communes in Poland that don’t have a single gynecological facility. As someone who works with teenagers, there is also a particularly harmful legal loophole: the age of consent is 15 years, but it is only possible to see a doctor without parental consent from 18 years. That means there is a period of three years during which teenagers can legally have sex but cannot comfortably get any contraception beyond condoms.

Returning to the protests in Poland – does international pressure on the government help protesters, or does it hinder them by mobilising PiS’s nationalist voter base?

International pressure is worth having, but not necessarily for political reasons. It is unlikely that any external pressure would result in the retraction of the Polish government’s decision (taken via the constitutional tribunal) and the reinstatement of the previous law. But although such interventions may not change much now, they will form an important base for potential change in the future. International solidarity is important not for politicians, but for women. Polish organisations working on reproductive rights, like Federa, are talking with diplomats and politicians from different countries including Sweden, Belgium, and Norway. Proposals have already been made in some Scandinavian countries to help Polish women access abortions abroad. International pressure maintains interest in our struggle, it guarantees support for bottom-up action, and it helps women in times of need.

Are leaders of the Polish pro-choice movement inspired by experiences from similar movements abroad?

There are some signs of inspiration, yes. The most obvious is the green scarves worn by some activists, a reference to the campaign for liberalisation of abortion law in Argentina. Polish initiatives fighting for reproductive rights are in contact with activists from across Europe and Latin America. Polish women are strongly supported by Irish women, who quite recently won their battle for liberalising abortion [read more on the pro-choice campaign in Ireland]. We talk about strategy and share our conclusions and experiences on a regular basis.

Feminists can build different fronts, shaping their narratives in different ways and cooperating to achieve a common goal.

All solutions need to be understood in their social context, taking into account historical experiences. Are there attempts to come up with a “Polish way forward” for social movements fighting for reproductive rights?

Without a doubt, the Polish pro-choice movement tries to find its own language and its messaging, while still being developed, is becoming more effective. It highlights the agency of pregnant women, their right to freedom of choice and to have the chance to fulfil life aspirations. Poland, as a post-communist state and a relatively new democracy, and with its strong attachment to neoliberalism which equates the free market with freedom itself, certainly has its own quirks. An account of self-determination that takes into account this specific context interacts with a vision of Polishness as freedom – a freedom that breaks with communism and is strongly connected to liberalism and capitalism.

Is combining feminism and neoliberalism the best way forward? Such a hyper-individualistic narrative is not the only option. The same goes for connecting feminist and anti-communist discourse: under communism, Polish women had the right to abortion. This was taken from them with the arrival of democracy and the Third Polish Republic. A pro-capitalist, neoliberal narrative is attractive for some, but unattractive to others.

This is a tough question. We talk about “feminism”, but in truth there is no single feminism – it is an idea belonging to various philosophies and ideological groups: liberal, socialist, ecological, anarchist… Feminist narratives shift depending on the ideological stance of the person who builds them. Liberal feminism is now the dominant voice in the discourse, which of course suits liberal feminists but not at all social or anarchist feminists. It is impossible to create a catch-all feminist narrative.

A helpful example comes from Ireland, where pro-choice organisations worked on different fronts. On one side, there was a broad coalition which built a positive story about women’s self-determination. They came up with a fantastic slogan which resonated with large sections of society: “Sometimes a private matter needs public support”. There was another group of feminists and activists, inspired by Latin American feminists, who found this strategy too soft. In Argentina, it was not uncommon for feminist activists to break windows or destroy property during protests. While Ireland did not experience this level of unrest in protests, the more radical stance was also visible.

It is not possible to build a single front with a common language that appeals to all. But feminists can build different fronts, shaping their narratives in different ways and cooperating to achieve a common goal. That is the path the Polish feminist movement should take.

Capital Versus Biosphere: An Eco-social Agenda Fit for the Times

The coronavirus pandemic has been a reminder of humanity’s inherent interconnection with the natural world. At the same time, the crisis threatens to further deprioritise climate action when it is needed most urgently. Joan Herrera i Torres, former leader of the Catalan Green party, proposes an eco-social agenda for post-Covid Europe based on three key elements: protecting biodiversity, valuing the local, and accelerating energy transition. In the wake of the crisis, Europe is uniquely positioned to pursue a recovery that responds to both present and future needs.

The defining conflict of the 20th century was the conflict between capital and work. With the turn of the century the gender conflict came to the fore, paving the way for feminism to break the public-private boundary and show how the system is carried on the broad shoulders of women and their caregiving. Today, all signs suggest that the conflict set to erupt in the 21st century is between capital and biosphere – a conflict which exposes the physical limits of growth and the mass species extinction that characterises our era, the Anthropocene. Previous conflicts have not disappeared; on the contrary, they have worsened, but they now exist in a world where humankind is testing the limits of the very space in which we live.

The fire, as Greta Thunberg puts it, is spreading through the house. As temperatures continue to break records, the meagre results of international climate action reveal a disconnect between most of the world’s governments and science.

Configuring the post-Covid world

The Covid-19 crisis could see the climate agenda pushed even further to the margins. The unprecedented measures taken over the past year have been justified by arguments that they are necessary to respond to a “real” emergency such as the pandemic. These arguments distinguish between what is deemed an emergency (stopping the spread of the virus) and what is deemed an ominous forewarning (the environmental crisis). Climate change thus becomes an intangible phenomenon that affects the planet rather than a tangible emergency that harms individuals. This obscures the very real impacts of climate change on people’s lives: flooded homes and neighbourhoods; extreme heat and cold endured by the most vulnerable; and a lack of protection in the face of biodiversity loss. Moreover, climate change and species loss is closely linked with the context in which pandemics flourish and therefore the vulnerability of humankind.

In a world where collapse is possible, prevention must be front and centre when it comes to devising and implementing public policies

The Covid-19 crisis is evidence that collapse on a global scale is possible. It has become clear that we are intricately connected at a global level, beyond the limits of our immediate communities and countries. The pandemic has brought about an irreversible change of outlook. For decades, resource allocation has been oriented towards increasing market efficiency; basic rights such as healthcare have been commodified; competitiveness has taken precedence over cooperation. In a world where collapse is possible, prevention must be front and centre when it comes to devising and implementing public policies aimed at combatting climate change and building resilience. Rugged individualism will no longer wash.

The push to ensure that public interests, the decommodification of fundamental rights, and cooperation prevail demands a new eco-social agenda that aims to be hegemonic. This agenda should focus on three key aspects: biodiversity, the local, and energy transition.

Protecting biodiversity

In a post-Covid world, policy that protects and promotes biodiversity must become a priority. The ongoing mass destruction of species has until now been low down governments’ agendas. Today, biodiversity loss and health can be clearly linked. As part of this planet, humanity’s greatest guarantee of survival is the preservation of ecosystem services which provide essential benefits for human health.

To give one example: a debate in Barcelona in recent years has centred around the possible expansion of the airport and its impact on nearby protected areas, in particular the Llobregat Delta. The expansion threatened to affect a reservoir of biodiversity in this area, and completely overlooked the importance of nearby agricultural land. Today, the best strategy for any metropolitan area is to have spaces dedicated to the protection of biodiversity and farmland to encourage local production.

Valuing the local

This leads us to the second vital component of a new eco-social agenda: the local. This can be broken down into two fundamental aspects. The first involves the care economy, and increasing the value – both in social and economic terms – attached to the everyday labour of caring for others which is so often carried out by women. The pandemic has laid bare how care work – often poorly paid or simply unpaid – forms the foundations of life. Recognising the value of this work and reassessing salaries to acknowledge what market logic is yet to comprehend is a key part of an eco-social strategy.

Globalised, hyper-connected economies have feet of clay; this crisis has evidenced the need for a rethink.

The second aspect relates to localised supply and value chains. The health crisis has exposed the vulnerability of societies dependent on goods that, despite being relatively simple to produce, are only manufactured thousands of miles away. The fact that face masks had to be shipped to Europe from China highlights the fragility of current models of production and consumption. The trend that began in the 1980s in countries such as the United Kingdom of phasing out domestic agriculture to replace it with cheaper products grown elsewhere ceases to make sense.

Globalised, hyper-connected economies have feet of clay; this crisis has evidenced the need for a rethink. Spain’s service industry will suffer enormously in a world in which tourism holds less weight, and the country must be able to counteract this dependency by tilting its economy towards more local production chains that can internalise the cost of transporting goods.

Energy as a vehicle for change

The third pillar of the eco-social agenda is energy. Not only because energy is a way to tackle the challenge of climate change, but because it is a starting point from which to rethink the production model. Throughout history, energy has been a means to gain power and control. Today, there is no reason why control over energy sources should remain in the hands of a few corporations instead of being more widely distributed. Moving towards a new energy model would reduce Spain’s energy dependence, which, at 74 per cent, stands well above the EU average (60 per cent). In Catalonia, the figure reaches 90 per cent due to the low penetration of renewable energies.

Today, unlike after the 2008 financial crisis, the cheapest energy by far comes from renewable sources. In the case of solar power, prices have dropped drastically in recent years. A new energy model based on decarbonisation could also help redistribute wealth and create a production and industrial framework with savings, efficiency, renewable generation, and demand management.

There can be no technocratic illusion: the social model must change, and sustainability will not be achieved without political friction.

In many ways, this new energy agenda is about changing habits. The best kind of energy is energy saved, and now is the moment to double down on saving and efficiency policies to ensure that positive changes linked to reduced energy consumption that have emerged during the pandemic are maintained, for example remote working. Energy transition will hinge on the transformation of mobility, with greater emphasis on working from home, walking, cycling, public transport and ride sharing – in that order. This means moving from a culture of vehicle ownership to a culture of shared services. Air quality as a primary public health issue affecting cities today only makes this shift more urgent. The urban agenda is one of the most complex in the political arena, but nothing is more important when it comes improving quality of life and instigating a real energy transition.

The energy agenda also presents an opportunity for depopulated parts of rural Spain (read more the rural-urban divide in Spain) known as España vaciada (“emptied Spain”). These regions have the potential to offer more than beautiful scenery – they can also offer economic activity, production, and industry. Electricity generation stimulates employment, which in turn brings increased investment in the region and development. The expansion of renewable energy should be carried out in a progressive way, with generation models that reward investments made by local energy communities. At a time when the service industry is at risk of regressing dramatically, the energy agenda can be part of a move towards the re-industrialisation of Spain.

However, we must be aware of the limitations posed by the scarcity of the rare minerals needed to manufacture these technologies, as well as the limits to growth on a finite planet. There can be no technocratic illusion: the social model must change, and sustainability will not be achieved without political friction. A new energy model alone is not enough, though it would represent a significant breakthrough.

A global agenda, a European proposal

Every global challenge requires a degree of global governance, and there is much work to be done in this respect. Under the Trump administration the US was out of the picture, resulting in a lack of global leadership. Meanwhile, the EU has failed to make an appearance. The election of President Joe Biden may be more conducive to an environmental agenda but the number of voters who remained loyal to Trump shows that his administration was the political expression of a social bloc that is alive and kicking.

This century will be the century of climate change, where all conflicts will centre around the conflict between capital and biosphere.

Despite such a gloomy outlook, the emergence of regional and continental leaders capable of establishing a more definitive agenda is of prime importance. The EU has the potential to be such a leader. High levels of energy dependence in Europe force the EU institutions to devise much more decisive policy than in other regions. In turn, the need to find new sectors for development makes the environmental agenda – and energy in particular – a determining factor in changing the production model.

After 2008, the European Union was caught up in its Calvinist austerity policies. In the wake of the current crisis, austerity policies may still make a return, a possibility which applies to Southern Europe as well as Central and Northern Europe. Moving forward, greenwashed solutions pose another threat. The challenge will be to ensure that investment is channeled into the recovery of public interests and social cohesion, responding to both present and future needs – in other words, following a green logic. Reviving Europe’s economy demands an economic plan that works towards socio-ecological transformation.

The path ahead presents risks but also opportunities. To take advantage of these, the Greens will need the support of forces not yet on board and to build hegemony. Tackling climate change will necessarily involve acting not alone but with others. The way out is collective; that is to say, political. The environmental transition will filter through the entire social structure, from the collective imagination to legislation, through every budget of different administrations.

This century will be the century of climate change, where all conflicts will centre around the conflict between capital and biosphere. The question is no longer whether this will alter the foundations upon which policies and politics have been built, but when. The impacts of climate change will be felt widely and deeply, exacerbating tensions across a broad range of issues from migration to wealth distribution to gender inequalities. It remains to be seen whether the political agenda and emerging proposals will be up to the challenge, or whether they will blindly continue down a path of self-destruction. A modern, democratic society is one that knows how to anticipate future problems. A weak society is one that drags its feet before a challenge. For Catalonia and many other places in Europe that are particularly vulnerable to climate impacts, there is much at stake.

Transición justa: ¿repensar lo obvio?

Desde 2019, España se ha adelantado con el lanzamiento de una Estrategia de Transición Justa para proteger a sus históricas regiones mineras del carbón de los impactos de la descarbonización. Rosa Martínez examina la asimilación de la transición justa en las políticas públicas y en qué situación se encuentran hoy las regiones afectadas. Los avances son alentadores, pero la aceleración de los procesos de digitalización y automatización hacen que sea hora de poner al día el concepto de transición justa para que pueda ofrecer soluciones de futuro en un mundo en el que el empleo es cada vez más precario.

En 2015, cuando aún el Acuerdo de Paris no se había ratificado, la Organización Internacional del Trabajo publicó “Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all”. Sin embargo, el concepto llevaba cierto tiempo presente en los discursos de los partidos verdes y activistas ecologistas, ya que les permitía dar una respuesta a los detractores de la transición ecológica por su impacto en el empleo, a la vez que reforzaba la justicia social como una de las banderas verdes.

De concepto político a política pública

En España, la transición justa toma forma de política pública unos meses antes de la entrada en vigor de la Decisión 2010/787/UE que establecía el fin de las ayudas a la minería del carbón y por tanto el cierre de las explotaciones que no pudieran mantenerse sin estas ayudas. El Partido Socialista, que llega al poder en junio de 2018 gracias una moción de censura, se encuentra una situación políticamente complicada, ya que las zonas más afectadas son tradicionalmente de voto socialista.

La respuesta desde el Ministerio de Transición Ecológica fue crear un Plan Urgente de Transición Justa (2019-2021) para las comarcas afectadas por el cierre de la minería y de 5 centrales térmicas, anunciados entre 2018 y 2019 como consecuencia de la combinación de una serie de factores técnicos, regulatorios y económicos.

Meses después, en febrero de 2019, se incluye la Estrategia de Transición Justa como uno de los pilares del Marco Estratégico de Energía y Clima. Introducir la perspectiva social en la política climática y la transición energética, es una novedad política, que más tarde adoptará también la Comisión Europea en el European Green Deal con su Mecanismo de Transición Justa lanzado en enero de 2020.

Si en su momento el ejemplo paradigmático de salvar empresas y no a los trabajadores fue la minería, la historia se repite con la industria de la automoción.

¿Dónde estamos ahora mismo? Por el momento, sólo se han puesto en marcha procesos en las zonas afectadas por el cierre de la minería del carbón y las térmicas a través de la firma de Convenios con las administraciones locales, 13 hasta la fecha, cuyo objetivo es el mantenimiento del empleo afectado. El pasado mes de noviembre se hizo público un pequeño informe de actualización de las acciones llevadas a cabo, que da idea de la complejidad del reto al que se quiere hacer frente.

De lo hecho hasta ahora, cabe destacar el buen diseño de la estrategia, en términos de política pública. Incluye una metodología rigurosa, objetivos medibles y unos procesos minuciosos que incluyen como elementos innovadores la dimensión participativa y la perspectiva de género. No hay financiación comprometida para cada Convenio, sino que es tarea del Instituto de Transición Justa canalizar los recursos necesarios para cada proyecto a través de líneas de ayudas existentes. En este sentido, los fondos europeos disponibles a través del Mecanismo de Transición Justa y el de Recuperación y Resiliencia (Next Generation EU) serán fundamentales.

Hay que resaltar igualmente, que, en las líneas de impulso de la transición ecológica como la hoja de ruta del hidrógeno verde, las ayudas a la instalación de plantas de energías renovables o los programas de empleo verde incluyen criterios de prioridad para los proyectos situados en las zonas con convenios de transición justa.

Asturias: 30 años de espera

Pero ¿cómo se perciben todos estos esfuerzos en los territorios afectados? En primer lugar, hay que tener en cuenta, que desde que se inició el proceso de reestructuración de la minería en los años 90, la mayoría de estos territorios han recibido cuantiosos fondos que no han conseguido crear una alternativa económica. La labor iniciada por el Instituto de Transición Justa tiene que enfrentarse a la falta de previsión y estrategia de las últimas décadas, que ha dejado entre la población una notable falta confianza en cualquier proceso que les prometa un futuro alternativo al carbón. 

Alguien que sigue muy de cerca los procesos de transición justa puestos en marcha en Asturias los define como lentos, con abundancia de acuerdos, mesas de negociación y grupos de trabajo, pero sin un liderazgo visible que aglutine y compile los esfuerzos de los diferentes niveles de decisión implicados para crear una estrategia de medio o largo plazo.

También señala que los actores locales tienden a pensar en la urgencia del corto plazo, bien en términos de inversiones directas o en proyectos llamativos sin mucho recorrido. Cree que hay una falta de seguimiento de lo hecho por parte del Ministerio, aunque lo que aflora en realidad es mucha frustración y el sentimiento de abandono vivido en los últimos 30 años. Aun así, no podemos olvidar que las circunstancias no han sido nada favorables para el desarrollo los convenios de transición justa en las comarcas mineras firmados en 2019: un año de gobierno en funciones y otro año de pandemia mundial.

Los procesos de transición justa no pueden quedar al margen de otros grandes debates que se están abriendo en torno al futuro del trabajo.

Igualmente, merece la pena detenerse en los diferentes puntos de partida de los territorios. Sigamos con Asturias, dónde las realidades son muy distintas según de la comarca de la que hablemos. Por una parte, está la zona suroccidental: una zona montañosa, mal comunicada, con poca población y dispersa, donde la explotación del carbón estaba en manos de pequeñas empresas privadas. Con carencias muy importantes en servicios públicos (algunos pueblos tienen hasta dos horas hasta el hospital comarcal más cercano), no parece un sitio atractivo para invertir, ¿qué tipo de transición se puede hacer en un lugar, que aún con minería, tenía problemas para mantener su población?

La situación es diferente en las Cuencas del Nalón y del Caudal, las grandes comarcas mineras de España, referentes políticos por sus huelgas y su lucha antifranquista. Bien comunicadas, han podido mantener parte de la población que se desplaza a diario a los cercanos núcleos económicos de la región, Oviedo, Gijón y Avilés. En estas zonas existe un cierto tejido industrial que, aunque también lleva años en declive, ha dejado infraestructuras y un saber hacer que pueden ser de utilidad para futuros proyectos industriales. Y ahí está HUNOSA, la gran empresa pública de explotación de carbón, que debería jugar un papel primordial en este proceso de transformación del modelo productivo asturiano. Sin embargo, bien sea por inercias y maneras de funcionar del pasado, bien por la falta de visión estratégica de sus directivos, HUNOSA con 800 empleados, sigue jugando al ratón y al gato con el futuro de las Cuencas.

Las transiciones nunca son fáciles. Cualquier análisis no puede dejar de lado lo traumático que es tener que reinventarse a contrarreloj cuando siempre hubo un medio de vida asegurado. Y ahora con el mundo transformándose a toda velocidad, muchos se preguntan por qué no se aprovecharon los últimos 30 años. La pregunta es inevitable ¿y si llegamos tarde para una transición justa basada en el empleo en algunos territorios, a pesar de los esfuerzos que se están realizando en los últimos dos años?

Nuevos términos para una transición justa en el siglo XXI

Más allá del carbón, las térmicas y las nucleares; la transición energética y ecológica van a tener impactos en otros sectores, también bastante territorializados, como son la automoción, la aeronáutica o la petroquímica. ¿Nos vale lo aprendido en ciertos sectores y territorios? Algunas cosas sí, otras se están pueden quedarse rápidamente desfasadas.

Es evidente que la cohesión social y el principio de no dejar a nadie atrás (Agenda 2030) nos obligan a dar alternativas a los procesos de transformación económica que tienen impacto en el empleo y en el medio de vida de los territorios. Ahora bien, durante muchos años el objetivo ha sido mantener a las empresas a toda costa, frente a mantener a las personas. Políticamente, se ha priorizado el mantenimiento de los empleos, aunque fuera ruinoso para las cuentas públicas y se supiera que el futuro estaba en otro lado. Por el contrario, se ha puesto mucha menos atención en mantener la vida digna de las personas afectadas, mientras llegaban las alternativas. Si en su momento el ejemplo paradigmático de salvar empresas y no a los trabajadores fue la minería, la historia se repite con la industria de la automoción.

Otra cuestión sobre la que tomar nota es la perspectiva de género, incluida en la Estrategia de Transición Justa y que busca asegurar que las nuevas oportunidades laborales sean igualitarias. No dejar fuera de las nuevas oportunidades a las mujeres exige voluntad política y la participación de varias áreas políticas (reparto de cuidados, servicios públicos, formación, empleo…)

Sin embargo, lo que parece más necesario es ampliar el concepto de transición justa más allá de la transformación verde. El otro vector de transformación productiva, la digitalización, va a tener igualmente un gran impacto en el empleo, sobre todo en sectores/trabajos con mano de obra menos cualificada. Aunque sus efectos vayan a estar más dispersos en el territorio y las sociedades ¿no deberíamos pensar cómo vamos a conseguir no dejar atrás a los millones de personas que se van a ver afectadas por la robotización de la producción y los servicios?

Esto nos lleva a otra cuestión aún más importante: si todas las previsiones apuntan a que el proceso de digitalización resultará en una destrucción neta de empleo, ¿no resultaría más lógico empezar a diseñar otros modelos complementarios de transición justa que no se basen única y exclusivamente en la creación y mantenimiento del empleo?

Si los verdes pusieron encima de la mesa el concepto de transición justa, deberían ser los primeros en proponer un nuevo paradigma para esta.

Los procesos de transición justa no pueden quedar al margen de otros grandes debates que se están abriendo en torno al futuro del trabajo. Si, en general, deberíamos repensar las políticas de protección social de cara a un escenario en el que el empleo será un bien escaso, en los planes de transición justa debería ser el elemento nuclear por dos razones. La primera, porque los procesos que afectan al empleo requieren soluciones de urgencia para asegurar los medios de vida de las personas afectadas, ya que la necesidad del corto plazo no debería condicionar la estrategia del medio-largo plazo. Y, la segunda razón es que hacer promesas de bienestar basadas exclusivamente en la creación de empleos quizá no sea posible el siglo XXI, a la vista de la naturaleza y velocidad de las transformaciones que estamos viviendo

Si los verdes pusieron encima de la mesa el concepto de transición justa, deberían ser los primeros en proponer un nuevo paradigma para esta. En primer lugar, hay que conectarlo con otros debates profundamente vinculados a la transición ecológica más allá de la energía y el clima: el reparto de trabajo, la reducción de los niveles de producción y consumo, los límites materiales de la transición energética y la digitalización o la Renta Básica Universal. Y, en segundo lugar, hay que desarrollar nuevos imaginarios que sean capaces de proyectar la idea de “prosperidad con menos empleo”.

Aun es impensable políticamente reconocer que va a ser muy difícil volver a los niveles de empleo anteriores, pero tampoco podemos obviar que la creación de un sistema productivo basado en empleos limpios, cualificados y de alto valor añadido, es un proceso largo y tan incierto como el mundo en que vivimos.


La transición verde y digital son ya una realidad, avanzamos hacia la descarbonización y digitalización. Los fondos Next Generation EU serán un acelerador de estos procesos y de sus impactos, los positivos y los negativos.

Es por ello, que más que nunca es necesario aterrizar el discurso de la transición justa en políticas públicas rigurosas, medibles y evaluables. En este sentido, en España se ha hecho un buen trabajo con una estrategia de medio-largo plazo bien diseñada.

Los procesos ya en marcha en los territorios afectados por el cierre de las minas del carbón y las centrales térmicas nos permiten tomar el pulso al estado de ánimo de la población afectada, definido por la impaciencia y el escepticismo consecuencia de 30 años de falta de previsión. Igualmente, estos procesos nos muestran lo importante que es tener en cuenta el punto de partida de cada territorio: no puede haber dos procesos iguales y lo que va a marcar la diferencia es el diseño casi artesanal y a medida de las alternativas económicas.

Por último, aunque el objetivo del mantenimiento del empleo sea necesario y totalmente legítimo, la velocidad de las transformaciones que estamos viviendo nos obliga a repensar el marco discursivo de la transición justa.  La complejidad de nuestro mundo debería llevarnos a levantar la mirada hacia otros debates abiertos como el futuro del empleo o la Renta Básica Universal. La transición ecológica es mucho más que la mera descarbonización de la economía. Habrá unos impactos sociales, culturales y relacionales que merecen ser incluidos en el concepto de no dejar a nadie atrás que define la Transición Justa.

Just Transition: Time for a Rethink?

Since 2019, Spain has been ahead of the curve with the launch of a Just Transition Strategy to protect its historic coal mining regions from the impacts of decarbonisation. Rosa Martínez examines the uptake of just transition in public policy and where Spain’s affected regions find themselves today. Progress is encouraging, but accelerating processes of digitalisation and automation mean that it is time to bring the notion of just transition up to speed so it can offer future-proof solutions in a world where employment is increasingly precarious.

In 2015, before the Paris Agreement had been ratified, the International Labour Organization published its Guidelines for a Just Transition Towards Environmentally Sustainable Economies and Societies for All. The concept of just transition, however, was already well established among Green parties and environmental activists. It offered a response to critiques of the ecological transition based on its impact on employment, and also reinforced social justice as a core green value.

From political concept to public policy

In Spain, just transition worked its way into public policy months before the EU decision to end financial aid for the coal mining industry took effect, forcing the closure of mines unable to operate without support. The Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), which came to power in 2018 after a vote of no confidence ousted the conservative People’s Party (PP), found themselves in a politically delicate situation, given that the most affected areas were made up of socialist voters. The response from the Ministry of Ecological Transition was to create a Just Transition Urgent Action Plan (2019-2021) for the regions impacted by the closure of the mines and five thermal power plants.

Months later, in February 2019, the Just Transition Strategy featured as one of the pillars of the government’s Strategic Energy and Climate Framework. The introduction of a social angle in climate policy and the energy transition was a first for politics and would later be adopted by the European Commission in the European Green Deal with its Just Transition Mechanism launched in January 2020.

Where are we now? So far, processes have only been implemented in areas affected by the closure of coal mines and thermal power plants through agreements with local administrations – 13 signed to date – with the aim of protecting jobs. In November 2020, a brief progress report was published, detailing the actions carried out to date and giving a sense of the complexity of the challenge undertaken.

If in its day the mining industry was the prime example of putting businesses over workers, now history is repeating itself with the car-manufacturing industry.

Looking at what has been achieved so far, it is worth emphasising how well designed the Just Transition Strategy is in terms of public policy. It has a rigorous methodology, measurable objectives, and thorough processes that incorporate innovative features such as a participatory dimension and gender perspective. There is no dedicated funding for each agreement reached with local administrations; rather, it is the job of the Institute for Just Transition to gather the necessary resources for each project through existing avenues of financial aid. Any European funds available through the Just Transition Mechanism and the Recovery and Resilience Facility (the centrepiece of the EU’s pandemic recovery fund, Next Generation EU) will thus be fundamental. It is also worth noting that grants for the installation of renewable energy plants and green employment programmes include priority criteria for projects located in areas with just transition agreements in place.

Asturias: A 30-year wait

How are these efforts in the name of just transition being perceived in the affected areas? Firstly, it is worth bearing in mind the fact that, since the restructuring process for the mining sector began in the 1990s, most of these regions have failed to create an alternative economy even though they have received considerable funding. The work initiated in recent years by the Just Transition Institute has come up against the lack of foresight and strategy of recent decades which has eroded communities’ confidence in any process that promises them a future alternative to coal.

A journalist who has closely followed the just transition processes implemented in the region of Asturias described them as slow, characterised by plenty of agreements, negotiating tables and working groups but lacking in visible leadership to bring together the efforts of the different levels of decision-making involved with a view to devising a medium- to long-term strategy. They also pointed to the tendency of local stakeholders to think in the short term, whether it is in terms of direct investments or projects that are eye-catching yet ineffectual. The last 30 years has given rise to widespread feelings of frustration and abandonment among impacted communities in the region. Still, circumstances have not been at all favourable for moving forward with the just transition agreements signed in 2019: an acting government one year and a global pandemic the next.

Just transition processes should not be sidelined in wider ongoing debates about the future of work.

It is also worth considering where each area is starting from, as even within regions situations vary greatly. Look at southwestern Asturias, for instance: a mountainous region with poor connections and a sparse population, where the coal industry was run by small private businesses. With severe shortages in public services (some towns are nearly two hours away from the nearest regional hospital), the area does not attract investment. What kind of transition can take place somewhere that struggled to maintain a stable population even when the mining industry was active?

It is a different story in Nalón and Caudal, Spain’s great mining regions located in southwestern Asturias, which gained political notoriety for their strikes and anti-fascist rebellion during the Franco dictatorship. With strong transport links, they have managed to retain inhabitants that commute daily to the region’s financial hubs, Oviedo, Gijón and Avilés. In these areas there is a kind of industrial framework that, despite being on the decline, has left infrastructure and know-how that could be useful for future industrial projects. This is also the home of HUNOSA, the large public coal mining company with 800 employees, which should be playing a vital role in the transformation of Asturias’s production model but is failing to do so, whether due to inertia, outdated operations or lack of strategic vision on the part of its directors.

Transitions are never easy. Any analysis should keep in mind how traumatic it is for communities to have to reinvent themselves against the clock when there has always been a guaranteed source of livelihood. With the world now rapidly changing, many residents of impacted communities are left wondering why they did not take advantage of the last 30 years. This raises the inevitable question: what if it is too late for a just transition based on employment in certain regions, despite all the efforts that have been made since 2019?

New terms for a 21st-century just transition

Beyond coal, thermal and nuclear power, the ecological and energy transitions will impact other sectors, such as the car-manufacturing, aviation and petrochemical industries. These impacts will also be split along regional lines and it is worth learning from experiences in other sectors and regions, though some aspects are becoming quickly outdated.

Clearly, it is in the interests of social cohesion and the commitment to leave none behind (central to the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development) to find alternatives to economic transformation processes that harm a given region’s employment and source of livelihood. Yet for many years, politics has aimed to protect businesses at all costs, rather than acting in the public’s best interests. The preservation of unsustainable jobs was prioritised, despite this being disastrous for public accounts. By contrast, far less attention has been paid to ensuring a dignified life for those affected by transition while they wait for alternatives to arrive. If in its day the mining industry was the prime example of putting businesses over workers, now history is repeating itself with the car-manufacturing industry.

Another issue worth noting is the gender perspective included in the Just Transition Strategy, which aims to ensure that new employment opportunities are equal. Guaranteeing women’s involvement in new opportunities requires political commitment and the participation of various policy areas that span the distribution of care-giving responsibilities, public services, training and employment.

However, it is crucial to extend the concept of just transition beyond green transformation. The other vector of productive transformation – digitalisation – will have a huge impact on employment, particularly in jobs and sectors requiring lower-skilled labour. Despite how its impacts will be spread across regions and societies, should we not consider how to avoid leaving behind the millions of people who will be affected by the automation of production and services? With forecasts indicating that digitalisation will lead to a net destruction of jobs, surely it would make sense to start designing other, complementary just transition models that are not based exclusively on the creation and preservation of jobs.

It was the Greens who first brought the concept of just transition to the table, so they should be the first to put forward a new paradigm.

Just transition processes should not be sidelined in wider ongoing debates about the future of work. If the increasingly precarious state of employment means we need to rethink social protection policies, this should form the basis of just transition plans for two reasons: first, because processes that affect employment require emergency solutions aimed at protecting the livelihoods of those affected, since short-term need should not determine medium- to long-term strategy. And second, because making promises about welfare based exclusively on job creation might no longer be possible in the 21st century, given the nature and speed of change today.

It was the Greens who first brought the concept of just transition to the table, so they should be the first to put forward a new paradigm. Primarily, it should be connected with other debates deeply linked to the ecological transition beyond energy and climate: the distribution of work, the reduction of production and consumption levels, the physical limits of the energy transition and digitalisation, and universal basic income. Secondly, it will be necessary to develop a new vision that aspires to the idea of “prosperity with fewer jobs”.

In politics there is a strong reluctance to recognise just how difficult it will be to return to previous employment levels. However, it is inescapable that the creation of a production system built on jobs that are green, skilled and of high-added-value will be a lengthy process and one as uncertain as the world we live in.

A transition that leaves none behind

The transition to a green and digital economy is already underway; we are moving towards decarbonisation and digitalisation. The Next Generation EU fund will speed up these processes and their impacts, both positive and negative. Now more than ever, the just transition conversation must be grounded in public policy that is rigorous, measurable and evaluable. Spain has done a good job in this respect with its well-designed, medium- to long-term just transition strategy.

The processes already in motion in regions affected by the closure of coal mines and thermal plants allow us to gauge the mood of the population, which is largely characterised by impatience and scepticism following 30 years of poor preparation. They also demonstrate the importance of recognising where each area is starting from: no two processes will be the same, and a tailor-made approach will make all the difference when it comes to designing economic alternatives.

Lastly, while preserving jobs is a necessary and entirely legitimate goal, the current rate of change demands a re-think of the discursive framework of just transition. Given the complexity of today’s world, it would be prudent to connect with other ongoing debates, such as the future of employment or universal basic income. The ecological transition is much more than a case of decarbonising the economy. There will be social, cultural and relational repercussions that must be accounted for in order to uphold the central tenet of just transition: to leave none behind.

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