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Protest against compulsory medical exams of Polish women workers

13 comments

Harri Sutherland-Kay
WVoN co-editor

A group of Polish women have launched a petition to protest against the announcement by Ewa Kopacz, Polish Minister for Health, that the government may make gynaecological and breast screenings compulsory for working women.

Compulsory smear tests and other intimate, invasive procedures are to be written into a bill which states that without undergoing periodic examinations, women will be refused permission to work.

According to this policy, smear tests would be performed on women between the ages of 25-59 and breast screenings on women between 50-69.

The bi-annual tests, if implemented, are supposedly to check for cancerous growth, but quite what that has to do with being allowed to work I just don’t know.

The petition, on behalf of all working women in Poland, declares that the policy would only serve to undermine women’s autonomy and dignity.

The policy would constitutionally violate the principles of a democratic and lawful state, not to mention basic human rights.

It would increase gender discrimination in the workplace and put a great deal of strain on the perception of public and private equalities. Men will not have to undergo any medical procedures in order to have the right to work.

And it also impacts on the individual’s basic freedom. In accordance with the Constitution of Poland: ”Everyone is assured personal inviolability and personal freedom”.

Any intimate intrusion of the body without the person’s consent, even for medical reasons, is rape.

The only instance when medical procedures are performed without consent is when the individual concerned is under the age of consent or unable to consciously give their consent.

This calls into question the political perception of women. It appears that the Polish Ministry of Health perceive half of the population to be incapacitated, unreasonable and incapable of making their own decisions, purely because of their gender.

It would morally, ethically and literally blur the boundaries between public and private lives and decisions. The intimate concerns of the individual would be forced onto pieces of bureaucratic paper, owned and controlled by the state.

I would not be surprised if this increases anxiety and, most probably, mental ill-health.

The petition draws parallels between forced medical examinations and totalitarian states, as they were a common and brutal feature of Nazi rule in Germany.

The policy is an ill-advised one-dimensional assault on women’s health.

A far more effective way of improving the health of women would be to publicly raise awareness of health issues, including male and female specific cancers, encouraging people to consult with doctors of their own accord.

Please sign the petition here and help the working women of Poland to retain their medical autonomy.

  1. Filip says:

    1) the tests results would not be shared with the employer
    2) I do not see how access to free healthcare tests for women only is a gender discrimination issue from women’s point of view?
    3) the intention of the bill is to make sure more women are tested for diseases that are curable when discovered early
    4) I wish men in this country had access to free screening

    • The policy isn’t advocating for free healthcare and screenings for women, it’s removing the autonomy of women by forcing them to undergo invasive medical procedures in order to have permission to work. This is a completely different matter.

      I think both men and women should have access to free healthcare which they then make use of themselves, with their full knowledge, consent whilst getting on with their lives, rather than women being told that without visiting a doctor they don’t have the right to earn a living.

    • Filip, I’m not sure if you’re aware of this but during the Victorian era in England we had something called the “Contagious Diseases Act”. This act empowered the police to seize suspected sex workers and force them to undergo invasive checks for venereal diseases.

      The act served two purposes. The first was to attempt to cut down the spread of sexual diseases. The second was to reinforce the idea that in matters of sex, all guilt, disease and sin lay with women.

      The “Contagious Diseases Act” was not intended to act as free healthcare, nor was it ever intended to be beneficial towards woman. It was intended to debase them and empower men at a time when women were beginning to develop a political voice.

      This is not free healthcare. This is an attempt to embarrass and shame women. This is an attempt to reinforce the old idea that sexual sin lies with the woman and only with the woman and never with the man. It is compulsory, but only for those who work. How many legal jobs require a second individual to come into contact with a woman’s, or a man’s for that matter, genitalia?

      This is discrimination Filip, it’s discrimination designed to degrade and humiliate. I’m not sure where you work, but I work on a till. I’m a Sales Assistant. I earn minimum wage or thereabouts. It’s not a skilled job and it’s only part time because my company can’t afford any more cash. My wage is about £6 more than I would earn on the dole. In exchange for that wage I have to perform a lot of menial tasks, take abuse from customers and give up my weekends. The reason why I haven’t quit is because it’s liberating, it’s actually liberating to be able to go out and work and earn a wage and spend a wage and know that I’ve earned a wage.

      If somebody told me that in order to continue to enjoy that liberty, I and the other men, but not the women, had to go to the doctors twice a year, sit in a waiting room and then stand there while a nurse shoved a cotton swab into my uretha, I wouldn’t find that liberating.

      I wouldn’t want those details shared with my employer, you’re right, that is invasive, but so’s the idea of bringing my sexual health into question. So is forcing a foreign object into my body without my consent (and it is without my consent because my consent has been forced through the threat of unemployment) , so is forcing me to walk out of there and look my family, my friends, my colleagues, strangers in the eye and see them wonder if I am clean.

      Everybody should have access to free healthcare, but the thing about free healthcare is that if you’re not a risk to those around you, it’s up to you whether you take advantage of it. The thing about the free healthcare is that it exists independently of your work life and your private life. The thing about free healthcare is that it should apply to men and women and empower them, not limit them.

      This is something much, much less than free healthcare I’m afraid.

  2. Jackie says:

    thank you for bringing this issue to our attention Harri, and thank you Simon for your response to Filip, pointing out that this is not about a benevolent state providing access to free healthcare for women, but very much about state control of women’s bodies. I agree with Simon’s analogy re the Contagious Diseases Acts, which embodied the idea that women’s bodies were polluting, dangerous to men, and a threat to public health. Feminists like Josephine Butler fought these Acts and the ideology that underpinned them tooth and nail, and I hope contemporary feminists will fight this assault on women in Poland.

  3. Claire says:

    I wouldn’t call compulsory cancer screening a rape. That’s rather disrespectful to people who have actually been raped. Although I see why you say it.

    The simple answer is that the Poles need greater awareness of male cancers. Prostate cancer is a serious problem for men. Why are they not having screenings too?

    What about screenings for bowel cancer? Skin cancer?

    Either everyone has compulsory screenings or nobody has compulsory screenings. Don’t make it just women. That’s discrimination on both sides.

    • Thank you for your responses. Simon, I have very little knowledge of The Contagious Diseases Act, very interesting.

      Claire, although I appreciate that tact and respect need to be employed when talking about rape, in this instance I do not think I was being disrespectful in using the term. This is because it draws the attention violently to the issue of consent which, in this instance is not only appropriate but necessary.

      As you say, it is completely nonsensical to enforce this policy when it is not only discriminatory, but revolves around female cancers. There should be a much broader campaign about health, pinpointing gender specific cancers and setting up drop-in clinics to get information and access to testing.

    • Amanda says:

      I am a rape survivor and “I” would call a compulsory genital examination Rape with out a seconds hesitation. If someone holds a gun to my head and says Let me put objects and my fingers or penis inside of you or I will kill you its rape. If someone says let me put objects and my fingers inside you or you cant work in order to survive then its Rape. If someone says let me put objects and my fingers inside you or you cant have your birth control and have to risk an unwanted pregnancy then its Rape. Plain and simple. Coercion is coercion and pretending a concern for the victim or some grand societal purpose or donning a white coat doesn’t change the facts or lessen the offense.

  4. The author of this petition says:

    Hello!
    I am the author of this petition. I am almost sure that Filip is a Pole. Only Polish people have such absurd explication and do not understand what means freedom of one’s decisions. Especially Polish gynaecologicsts – in Poland gynaecological abuses are commonplace. We say, that the Polish Gynaecological Society should be called the Society of Polish Misogynists.You should know that the Polish Minister of Health Ewa Kopacz a few yeras ago has inhibited giving anesthesia during childbirths. In Polish hospitals there are commonplace instances of scraping uterus after miscarriage without anesthesia !!!! There are also many women whom sutured crutch after childbirth without anesthesia Polish doctors are condescending towards women and treat them as silly creatures. I am really sick about living in Poland.

    • Jackie says:

      To the author of the petition

      What you describe happening to women in Poland is truly horrific. Do you think this is linked to women’s position in Polish society? Is there a big problem of discrimination against women in Poland?

      • The author of this petition says:

        Dear Jackie! In Poland we have catholic domination as in Latin America (Venezuela, Chile …) is. The Roman Catholic Religion is very patriarchal and conservative in which women are not important. Most of Polish society are also conservative and accept patriarchal treating of women. Women in Poland have no right to safe abortion because the Catholic Church has prohibited it. Right now in the Polish Parliament there is a bill of total abortion ban and deputies are going to vote for establish this bill or not. This is a link to this information: http://www.tvn24.pl/0,1699532,0,1,calkowity-zakaz-aborcji-poparlo-pol-miliona-polakow,wiadomosc.html As You see, my report about the situation of Polish women is true. This bill is initiated by… Polish citizens. In Poland we have plenty of religious fanatics who demand so that women afer rape were forced to bear child of their aggressors. And women whose pregnant threats their health or even life should also be forced to bear according to Polish Catholics. In Poland women are required to be reproductive slaves without ability to make any decision about their own body. Here is a link to one of these fanatics http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VX9AUziqzSQ His face is very hateful as You see – he is a leader of proponents of total abortion ban. Here is also a link to the article about ban of giving anesthesia during childbirths. http://www.fakt.pl/Kopacz-Kobiety-maja-rodzic-w-bolu-,artykuly,91660,1.html On the photo You can see the Polish Minister of Health who had decided about it.

        • Jackie says:

          Hi again
          I should have realised about the oppression of women by the Catholic church in Poland. Unfortunately I was unable to translate the links into English, but I fully understand and support your argument and campaign. I hope that more awareness of these issues will be raised through WVON, and more people will protest against the treatment of women in Poland. Raising consciousness of women themselves is really important too. Please keep us informed of these issues through this site.

          very good luck and good wishes to you.
          Jackie

  5. Teresa Lewis says:

    This obsession with women’s parts is absolutely disgusting. Why aren’t the men being forced to undergo prostrate checks to get a job. A medical examination for prospective employers should be relevant to the requirements of the job and include maybe chest x-rays, blood and urine tests and listening to the heart and breathing through a stethoscope for both genders. Cervical and breast cancer is rare in a woman of working age.

  6. Mary Diwell says:

    This has the stink of the Catholic church about it.

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