The Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung in Poland: Small but Strong - European Integration

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Malgorzata Kopka
Copyright: Tomasz Kawka

June 23, 2011

The Regional Office Central Europe in Warsaw of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung (hbs) was opened in 2002, in the midst of the final phase of accession talks between the EU and the ten accession candidates, most of which hailed from central and eastern Europe. The office’s first tasks focused on the co-ordination of the activities for EU accession from a gender perspective.

Since then its range of tasks has expanded rapidly. Although gender-related topics continue to play a major role, the office’s activities now extend not only to discussions between the “new” and “old” EU countries on the topics of integrating and deepening the EU, but also to various projects designed to advance the social policy debate along “green” topics within central and eastern Europe. These include building civil society and green networks, the promotion of human rights and sustainable development as well as the discussion about an expanded security concept in the context of the international security debate.

The Warsaw office works with the Regional Office in Prague to co-ordinate the activities of the hbs in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. It will also participate in developing and realising a programme for Belarus in the time to come.

Women were the first concerns

The Warsaw office emerged from the Co-ordination Unit for Women’s Projects in the region of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The main task of our work at that time was to strengthen the women’s movements in the central European countries and, through these efforts, to contribute to the sustainable improvement of the social situation of women in this region. In addition, the idea was to use the changes in social policy resulting from the mandatory adjustment of policies to EU standards as much as possible to formulate and implement women’s policy demands in the central European countries.

Women’s organisations and initiatives initially hoped that the adoption processes necessary because of the EU accession requirements would result in a positive impetus for the improvement of the economic, political and social status of women in the central European countries, but they were disappointed. The requirements of the European Union regarding the situation of women played a rather minor role in the negotiation processes. The inadequate information policies of the European Union and the candidate countries may also have caused some of the opportunities to formulate women’s policy demands to pass unnoticed and unused. This was the point of departure for our activities for both a specialised audience and the general public. We wanted to inform them about the women’s policy strategy of the European Union (“gender mainstreaming”), the way it has been implemented in practice to date and about the chances and opportunities offered by the consistent application of this strategy to women as a social group today and in the future. Another important objective for us was to intensify the discussion between women’s organisations and political decision-makers from the accession countries and from the European Union about the possibilities for improving the situation of women. 
The goals and tasks of the Warsaw office were realised primarily in the framework of co-operation with long-standing partners of the hbs, feminist projects from Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. These include the PSF Women’s Centre of Warsaw, the Fundacja Kobieca eFKa (Women’s Foundation eFka) of Cracow, Nadace Gender Studies (Gender Studies Foundation) of Prague and the ASPEKT Interest Association of Women –  an Education and Information Centre for Women in Bratislava.
Since 2000 the activities of the previously independent projects have been pooled in the framework of the regional programme “Women’s Policy and Empowerment for Women in the Countries of Central Europe” and expanded with activities on the topics “Equal Opportunity” and “Counteracting Violence against Women” spanning across all of the projects.

The Warsaw office took on the task of co-ordinating joint activities by the projects with the goal of intensifying the exchange of experiences among the various women’s policy organisations in the individual countries and supporting the development of joint lobbying work to realise women’s policy interests.

An additional instrument was the annual “Small Grant Competition”, in the framework of which the hbs supported projects by women’s, environmental and human rights organisations that combated discrimination against women and encouraged the participation of women in political and social life. In the period 2002–2005 a total of 23 projects from Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia were sponsored with a total of more than 80.000 euros.

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Małgorzata Kopka graduated in German Studies at Wrocław University. She has been involved in civic education for many years, works internationally as a multi-cultural education trainer and has translated and edited numerous publications. She coordinates the European Programme at the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung in Warsaw.