Tackling gender inequalities at universities in Poland. Part 2

The implementation of gender equality policies at Polish universities takes place both at the level of legislation and at the level of activity of specific institutional bodies.

Read the second part of the analysis carried out by Patryk Sierpowski from the ACT team in Kraków. In this entry, they focus on how the principles of gender equality in Polish HEIs are being implemented in the legislative conditions they described earlier.

The main dimension of analysis on which I would like to base this text is institutional bodies at Polish universities. They are often the only legal way to indirectly implement gender equality or at least protect basic gender justice principles. This is the case of ethics committees and antimobbing committees. The former (established in Kozminski University, Poznań University of Medical Sciences, Wrocław Medical University, and Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań) provide sometimes the only way to deal with discriminatory practices but, as I have written in the previous article, they are based in Codes of Ethics and their vague content concerning gender equality. The analysis of antimobbing committees, which have been established in 12 organizations, shows that they are often appointed ad hoc, involving random groups of people who work in them only for one case. This way of appointment and functioning does not allow the members to gather professional knowledge from law, psychology or achieve any preparation to work with emotionally and socially difficult experiences. However, there are some good practices in this regard that indisputably are exceptions among Polish HEIs. The Antimobbing Committee at the University of Łódź includes two lawyers, two psychologists and two representatives of trade unions. The Poznań University of Economics and Business appoints two persons from trade unions as members of the committee, whereas only the Medical University of Warsaw offers remuneration for performing duties in this committee. Bodies that are more directly dedicated to gender issues are spokespersons and rector’s proxies. Spokespersons work mainly on ad hoc issues such as the violation of the rights. They are not exclusively called upon to deal with gender equality, however, considering the violations of rights related to gender identity falls into their competence. The official names of the office are different: AGH University of Science and Technology has the Spokesperson of Student’s Rights, University of Warsaw – the Ombudsman, Gdańsk University of Technology – the Spokesperson of Academic Rights and Values, SGH Warsaw School of Economics – the Spokesperson of Ethics, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń – the Spokesperson of Security, Warsaw University of Technology – the Spokesperson of Trust. The last case, spokespersons at Warsaw University of Technology, is worth analyzing because they work on multiple levels regarding the administrative area or social group – each faculty has its own spokesperson who conducts issues regarding their administration area. Moreover, there are spokespersons for workers of central administration, workers of non-faculty units, students and Ph.D. students.

The second important body is the Rector’s proxy dealing with gender issues. The proxies in particular universities have as well different names: it is the Rector's Proxy for Student Safety and Security at Jagiellonian University, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń and Wrocław University; the Rector’s Proxy for Social Responsibility at Wrocław University; the Rector’s Proxy for Prevention of Discrimination at Wrocław University of Science and Technology, University of Gdańsk, and Poznań University of Medical Sciences. Despite using various names, their responsibilities include monitoring and reacting to discriminatory cases, promoting equality and preparing appropriate solutions to their universities. An interesting example is Wrocław University of Science and Technology. The proxy there cooperates with city institutions what presents a more holistic attitude to the University’s policies, by rooting them in a broader, in this case urban, institutional context. Only Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Gdańsk University of Technology and Poznań University of Economics and Business have proxies for equal treatment (at the Poznań University of Economics and Business the name of the position in the legal act was expressed in a female form, adapting it to the gender of the person occupying the post, which does not happen in any case in Poland) and the proxy for gender equality works solely in Department of Physics, Astronomy, and Applied Computer Science Jagiellonian University. However, this position is only the Dean’s proxy. In addition to abovementioned proxies dealing with the issue of equality, two other bodies focusing on this area are present at two Polish universities - Equal Opportunity Chief Specialist at the University of Warsaw (mentioned later in the article) and Security and Equal Treatment Department - Safe Jagiellonian University established in December 2019.

There are also a few good practices at Polish universities present. Firstly, there are some examples of measures implemented for removing barriers to female (male and non-binary/queer) career progression. The Poznań University of Economics and Business prepared the RETURN program, which is a grant program with funding up to 15 000 zł (ok. 3600 euro) for persons who have returned from parental leave. It is a way of co-funding externally financed projects. As the website informs, „until the academic year 2017/18 there have been five editions of the call and five beneficiaries”[1]. Another solution is carried out at the Medical University of Warsaw. It is the only university that prepared the Rules of Employees’ Recruitment. They concern the non-discrimination of candidates and treat the gender balance of staff as a goal to gain by using gender-balanced recruitment commissions. Such a solution is highlighted also in HR Excellence in Research but the majority of universities declares that they concern merit issues and gender balance in commissions is not a key objective for them.

Another kind of good practices are connected with engaging the external environment, in this case, feminist NGOs. First concerns networking of the Women’s Rights Centre with Kozminski University. It is a corporate social responsibility (CSR) activity of the university though it seems to be a part of the neoliberal and career-centered policy – the cooperation takes place in frames of Career Services Office and concerns actions of career guidance (but there was not enough data to point the details of these activities). Much more noteworthy is the cooperation of the Jagiellonian University with the Autonomy Foundation, a feminist organization from Kraków. Since 2012, they have been co-organizing the campaign "16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence" every year. During these years, the campaign has focused i.e. on conscious consent to sexual intercourse, self-defense workshops or harassment experiences at universities.

The university that involves the most nondiscriminatory and holistic approach to the issue of gender equality is the University of Warsaw. It has already undertaken several activities to advance gender equality. Firstly, the Gender Equality Plan is being prepared (and should be published soon) by the Equal Opportunity Chief Specialist. The design of the GEP was preceded by the assessment of the gender equality status at the University. Secondly, nondiscrimination pieces of training for employees are offered, a nursery for children of employees and Ph.D. students and a kindergarten for children of employees are available. Thirdly, Równoważni (We are all equal) was developed as a distinct project used to provide knowledge about discrimination (mainly regarding Academia) and the possible ways to tackle it. We are all equal website contains, among other, complex pieces of information for people experiencing discrimination at University, a list of NGOs that work in these issues or online course about discrimination and equality. The University of Warsaw is also one of two (with Adam Mickiewicz University Poznań) Polish universities that conduct postgraduates Gender Studies.[2]

As in my earlier analysis of the legislative environment, the dimension of institutional bodies points to a significant fragmentation of solutions - they do not represent a comprehensive strategy for gender equality, but rather atomised and differentiated solutions working rather ad hoc. The work of individual bodies does not form part of a coherent plan for the implementation of policies (even if they are more broadly regarded as anti-discrimination policies) that could provide a comprehensive institutional environment, focused on and accessible to people's diverse needs independently of their intersectional positioning. A way of such coordination could be the implementation of properly prepared Gender Equality Plans, promoted by our project ActOnGender, but still absent in Polish HEIs.


[1] Source: http://ue.poznan.pl/pl/research,c4135/internal-grant-programs,a73874.html [access: 1st March 2020].

[2] There is also a third example of gender Studies programme (however, not postgraduate but graduate one) - Eramus Mundus Masters's Degree in Women's and Gender Studies (GEMMA) at University of Łódź.