98 days of war – The situation in Poland

By the time this article is published, the war in Ukraine has been ongoing for 98 days. At WAVE, we want to use this Thursday to amplify our members’ voices from the frontlines and share their stories with you. How have they been coping and what can you do to support them? Today, we want to introduce the work of our Polish member Autonomia.

About Autonomia

The Autonomia Foundation is a non-governmental women’s rights organization in Poland founded in 2007. Autonomia focuses on building a strong and resilient society, able to stand up to human rights violations, discrimination, and violence based on gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, level of ability, ethnic or national origin, migration and/or refugee experience, nationality, etc. Intersectionality and accessibility are key elements of their work.

Their activities concentrate on the primary prevention of violence and empowerment of girls* and women* by raising awareness and providing anti-discrimination, WenDo – feminist self-defense, and human rights education. Our colleagues at Autonomia work with children, teenagers, young adults and adults, focusing mainly on girls* and women* (people with the experience of being socialized and living in a female-gendered role).

Inclusive support for refugees and dissidents

As of now, more than 3.5 million refugees from Ukraine have fled to Poland, making it the country with the largest influx (in total numbers) of Ukrainian refugees[1]. Our colleagues at Autonomia, similar to other WAVE member organizations in neighboring countries to Ukraine, quickly adapted their work to the current situation, providing the best possible support for women, people of the LGBTQ+ community and other minorities fleeing the war in Ukraine. One of their current projects aims to prevent and counteract gender-based violence through empowerment activities addressed to girls*, teenagers* and women* with migration and refugee experiences – primarily those who had to seek refuge in Poland due to repressions of authoritarian governments and warfare. Such activities were needed even before the invasion of Ukraine; as a result, millions of people – mainly women – were forced to flee and seek safe shelter.

Preventing violence through empowerment

As part of their project activities, our colleagues aim to create a training course for teachers, trainers and pedagogues who speak Ukrainian or Russian. The program will be based on the established training for trainers of WenDo – a feminist method of violence prevention through building capacity to prevent, recognize and respond to violence. In contrast to crisis responses to violence against women, the approach concentrates more on prevention by providing information about gender-based violence, assertiveness training, physical techniques, mental training, and creating a context for discussions and reflections. One of the ongoing training for WenDo trainers is attended by a woman living in Kyiv who is already conducting anti-violence classes and information activities in the field of violence prevention with the support of Autonomia. Autonomia plans to expand these activities to establish permanent cooperation with local institutions and organizations in Ukraine.

Next to providing empowerment and violence prevention trainings, the Autonomia Foundation has launched a Solidarity Feminist Center (FCS) in Krakow. This is a space and community for dialogue and discussion, mutual development, building resilience and the ability to stand in solidarity against oppression, discrimination and violence on the basis of gender and other grounds. FCS is a safe space that is run by feminist activists – refugees from Belarus, Ukraine and it is to be hoped that in the future also from Russia. In addition, the team is supported by Polish activists. In accordance with the message – nothing about us without us – our colleagues at Autonomia assume that it is people with migration and refugee experience who know best how to work with others in a similar situation. FCS aims to use its vast resources for the benefit of all the communities targeted. That is why FCS started fundraising to be able to finance the activists’ employment. What does FSC do? They organise mutual support group meetings, bodywork workshops, meetings, discussions and screenings on women’s rights, and WenDo feminist self-defense workshops.

If you want to support the activities of our member organizations such as Autonomia, please donate to our fundraising drive: https://www.betterplace.at/support-womens-human-rights-defenders-in-ukraine.

[1] https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/ukraine/location?secret=unhcrrestricted

Photo by Zoe on Unsplash