Poland’s women leaders – not forgotten

Jan Grabski writes from Poland about some of the country’s most high profile women leaders who were lost in the plane crash last week.

The tragic plane crash that killed the Polish president Lech Kaczyński and 95 other prominent Polish leaders included several women who defined for many what it meant to be a successful woman in politics. They were leaders for all Poles, whose input into the rebuilding of the nation over the last 20 years cannot be underestimated. They will be missed.

Maria Kaczyńska, the First Lady

An economist, Maria Kaczyńska gave up a professional career to build the family, while her husband worked full time on the rebuilding of Poland. As the First Lady, she shone a bright light of independence, often publicly disagreeing with her right wing husband and his party over issues important for women, like in-vitro fertilization, which she supported, and by speaking out against a right wing move to forbid abortion in all forms through the constitution. Her powerful stance was in contrast to her soft spoken nature.

Jolanta Szymanek-Deresz, Member of Parliament and former Presidential Secretary of State

While most shine in one category, like career, family, or moral values, Ms Szymanek-Deresz was a leader in more ways than one. In 2006, she was recognized to be among 12 of the best MPs in a ranking by “Polityka” a politics magazine. She was recognized for her diligence, knowledge, competence, and political style. She was the initiator and member of the Polish Women’s Congress, a society promoting the role of women in Poland.

She was a politician and an attorney, who fought hard for her causes. She was known for her professionalism and resistance to resorting to personal attacks in her work.

Her successful career, first as the one who organized the previous President’s successful election campaign, then as his Secretary of State, and finally as an MP, always left room for the family, which was the most important thing to her. She was known as an optimist, both in front of the cameras, and as a private person.

Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Social Policy (2004-2006), Member of Parliament

An accomplished equal rights advocate, Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka was instrumental in pushing through Parliament several initiatives that were key to aiding the poor and women. She believed that equality of women is a fundamental value of a modern democracy and state.

From 2001-2004, Ms Jaruga-Nowacka was charged with promoting equality between the status of women and men. As part of her role, she successfully introduced several important laws against violence in the home, and against mobbing in the workplace.

For her work in promoting women’s rights, she was among the 1000 women nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Thanks to Ms Jaruga-Nowacka, Poland ratified the Revised European Social Charter.

Krystyna Bochenek, Senator and Deputy Speaker of the Senate

Best known as the organizer of the National Spelling Bee – a difficult competition, and a unique celebration of the Polish language – Krystyna Bochenek started her career as a radio journalist where she focused on the promotion of the Polish language. She was also a co-creator of the National Blood Donation initiative, which partnered with several non-profit organizations including for those living with disabilities.

At the time of the crash, Krystyna Bochenek was the Deputy Speaker of the Senate in which she was a member of the Culture and Media commission. She was not politically affiliated.

Grażyna Gęsicka, Member of Parliament and leader of the Opposition Parliamentary Club (Law and Justice Party)

A politician ever since the first days of post-communist Poland, Grażyna Gęsicka participated in the Round Table negotiations, which brought about the fall of communism in Poland in 1989. Throughout her career, she held numerous government positions in the area of employment and social policy. In 2005, she became the Minister of Regional Development.

She was the author and co-author of over 10 books and over 30 dissertations for local and international publications.