Historical story

Why were there no women at the Round Table?

Last updated:2022-07-25

The Round Table was for men. The ladies were from answering the phone and editing the newsletters. Although their merits were often greater, only their mustached colleagues collected the laurels of victory. Why were women excluded from the deliberations? Did "Solidarity" betray half of its members?

On February 6, 1989, the Round Table talks began at the Governor's Palace in Warsaw. The talks took place in three main teams, ten sub-teams and twelve working groups.

In total, several hundred people passed through them. They included ministers, professors, generals, farmers, workers, trade unionists, journalists and representatives of many other professions - a full cross-section of society.

But the overwhelming majority of them were men. There were only two women among the fifty-eight participants in the plenary session. Out of the more than seven hundred people who took part in the deliberations in total, there were only fifty-five women.

By delegation case

When making up the delegations for future talks, neither the Solidarity nor the government sides were eager to include women in them. Initially, there was none in the opposition team! When one of the Solidarity participants died after a few weeks of deliberation, there was a need to fill the vacancy.

By chance, this place was taken by a woman. Barbara Labuda, an energetic activist of "Solidarity" from Wrocław, asked Władysław Frasyniuk to submit Grażyna Staniszewska from Podbeskidzie to the abandoned place.

Initially, the Solidarity party did not intend to delegate a single woman to the plenary table. When, after a few weeks of deliberation, one of the Solidarity participants died, Barbara Labuda (on the left, author:Dziennik Dolnośląski, license:CC BY-SA 3.0) proposed Władysław Frasyniuk (on the right, author:Henryk Prykiel, license:CC BY-SA 3.0) to report Grażyna Staniszewska for the vacant place.

- Listen, report Grażyna. First, she was in the economic table, second, the woman - symbolic. Women did so much during martial law and you have never seen them - quotes the words of Labuda Marta Dzido in her recently published book "Women of Solidarity".

Frasyniuk decided that it was a good idea, and so the only woman went to the opposition delegation to the plenary session. Staniszewska, a Polish teacher by education, worked in a community center in Bielsko-Biała and was active in the local "Solidarity". With time, she was promoted from a rank-and-file activist to the clandestine head of the region and joined the underground National Executive Committee of NSZZ "Solidarność".

Pink jacket

It was she, together with Lech Wałęsa, who gave a speech at the end of the session. Marta Dzido writes about it in her book "Women of Solidarity":

Grażyna Staniszewska is afraid at first that she will not be able to cope, but in the end she puts on a pink jacket and gives a speech which begins like this:“I sat down to the Round Table without conviction. Too much divided its participants.

(...) However, I am convinced that there is no other way for us, no other option than a compromise. Because what is left for us? Violence?". He concludes with the words:"Solidarity must be effective, smarter than ever, so that it can defend people against exploitation, so that it is finally possible to live normally in Poland" .

From right-wing scouting to PRON

The second woman-participant of the plenary session is a representative of the government side, professor Anna Przecławska from the Faculty of Education at the University of Warsaw. She was a member of the Consultative Council under the Chairman of the Council of State, General Wojciech Jaruzelski.

Until 1986, Anna Przecławska was a member of the Presidium of the Executive Committee of the National Council of the Patriotic Movement for National Renaissance. It was PRON who delegated her to participate in the roundtable sessions.

Grażyna Staniszewska at the Presidential Palace in 2014 (author:Michał Józefaciuk, license:CC BY-SA 3.0).

Interestingly, professor Przecławska had a beautiful war card behind her. During the occupation, as a teenager, she participated in the resistance movement , and from 1942 it belonged to the right-wing Polish Scouting. During the Warsaw Uprising she was a nurse and liaison officer in Kompania Harcerska of the "Gustaw" Battalion. Her mother, Halina Sadkowska (1895-1961), was the head of the Polish Scouting before the war.

Leading heroes of the negotiations

Ladies were slightly better represented in the meetings of individual "tables and sub-tables". In total thirty-two women on the opposition side and twenty-three on the government-coalition side participated in the deliberations j. Among the former there were, among others, Janina Zakrzewska, Grażyna Gęsicka, Anna Radziwiłł and Zofia Kuratowska.

Janina Jankowska, Helena Łuczywo and Ludwika Wujec also played an important role in the deliberations. The first two participated in talks on the opposition's free access to the mass media and the legalization of underground magazines. In turn, Tadeusz Mazowiecki's assistant, Ludwik Wujec, was responsible for organizing the secretariat and press office of the opposition party.

In both of these places, there were women who received clients, answered phone calls, typed, etc. These activities - as stated in one of the occasional texts - supported the "leading heroes of the negotiations".

The guys are the most important

Because it was the men who played the main roles at the Round Table. Besides, not only there. Fighting for workers' and civil rights "Solidarity" was controlled by men and deaf to the needs of women . Although about half of its ten million members were women, they have never been represented in government in large numbers.

At the beginning of 1981, in the elections to the First National Congress of the Union, ladies constituted only 7.8 percent of all delegates. There was only one woman in eighteen people in the Presidium of the National Committee, and only one woman in eighty-two in the National Committee.

In July 1981, Anna Walentynowicz was removed from the authorities of "Solidarity" on the charge of "unworthy representation of the union" . Fearing her charisma and authority, Lech Wałęsa led to her complete marginalization.

There must be a male

Marta Dzido in the book entitled "Women of Solidarity" quotes many statements by the activists of "Solidarity" which testify to the marginalization of the role of women in the union.

Anna Walentynowicz asked to take over the leadership of the strike in the Gdańsk Shipyard: The importance of the case will decrease, as the woman will be at the head . There must be a man. Barbara Labuda: The role of women is not only diminished. It is razed to the ground! Some of my colleagues did not even do a third of what I or other activists did, but they are the ones who get the orders and are the heroes. Olga Krzyżanowska: The men said: "Come on with those girlish things. They are more important " .

Apparently, on the wall of the shipyard there was a banner with the inscription "Women, do not disturb us, we are fighting for Poland." (source:http://ecs.gda.pl/, license:CC BY-SA 3.0 PL).

On one of the banners hung on the wall of the Gdańsk Shipyard in August 1980, the strikers wrote: Women, do not disturb us, we are fighting for Poland!

Yet women played a huge role in how the relationship worked. They wrote articles, edited and published newspapers, prepared and transferred leaflets, kept in touch. When martial law came and the men were interned, they took on their shoulders organizing the union's operation, and in some places even directing it underground.

Women no, priests yes

However, since the role of women in opposition activities was not noticed on a daily basis, even less did no one consider them as possible participants in talks with the authorities at the Round Table. Such an important matter could not be placed in such uncertain hands. Let us give the floor to Barbara Labuda, quoted in "Women of Solidarity":

" I really wanted to be at the Round Table. I talked to Jacek Kuroń about it that I have ideas. But the effect was that I did not take part in the deliberations, I only wrote the newsletter in which I described these conversations… ”

It was not better on the side of the authorities. Despite the officially declared equal rights and care for the fair sex, the life of women in the People's Republic of Poland was a series of torments and humiliations. Their participation in the various bodies to which they were invited was evidently apparent. This was also the case with the participation of prof. Przecławska in the roundtable sessions.

So there was no real place for women at the Round Table, but there were as many as three representatives of the Church ...


When, on Saturday in August 1980, the workers, satisfied with the pay rise, ended the strike and wanted to leave the Gdańsk Shipyard, they closed the gates, thus starting a solidarity strike. The best years of their lives were ahead of them. Young women who chose rebellion instead of peace and stability.

Attempts were made to destroy their marriages. They were scared that if they did not cooperate with the security services, their children would end up in an orphanage, or they would face an unfortunate accident. It was proposed to leave the country in exchange for ceasing activities harmful to the system. They haven't stopped.