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History of the Center for Women’s Rights

 

The idea to create the Center for Women’s Rights came about in late 1993 and early 1994, when founder Urszula Nowakowska was hosted by the Congress of theUnited States of America. The idea may have died at inception, as too many good ideas do, were it not for the support of the Marshall Foundation. Headed by Deborah Harding, the Eastern Europe outreach branch of the Marshall Foundation recognized the value of a Women’s Rights Center in Warsaw and trusted in Ms. Nowakowska, who up to that time had no experience in creating and maintaining a non-governmental organization (NGO). That trust, as well as the underlying merits of the proposed center, led the Marshall Foundation to sponsor the project through grants. That funding was immediately put to use in finding headquarters, hiring the first three employees, and seeing to the day-to-day operation of the young Center.Without the Marshall Foundation as its main sponsor, it is unlikely that the Center for Women’s Rights would have ever gotten off the ground.

 

The Center for Women’s Rights was officially registered and recognized on December 22, 1994. Work started that next January, with one of the first goals of the new organization being to reach out to legislators to enact laws that would ensure the equality of men and women in societal, political, and private spheres. It soon became apparent, however, that changing the laws would not guarantee changes to the actual situation in Poland. Equally important were and continue to be cultural and political changes at every level of government, concrete legal and psychological help for victims of domestic violence, and long-term solutions to ensure that all women can live without discrimination or abuse and take full advantage of their rights under the law.

The Center for Women’s Rights quickly evolved to broaden the scope of its mission and expand its sphere of influence. The Center took on more projects aimed at limiting the most serious problems affecting women, including violence against women, discrimination in the workplace, and diminished economic independence and security. The Center was able to bring more sponsors on board, finding others willing to work to improve conditions for women in Poland. Organizations like the Batory Foundation, Ford, and the Open Society Institute, along with others, came on board over the years. The Center was also one of the few organizations for women that obtained funding through the CIP Equal project “Work and a Worthwhile Life for Women Victims of Violence,” for which the Center served as an administrator. The Equal project was realized with the help of eleven partners, including the Women’s Penitentiary in Lubliniec and the Association of Employers of Warsaw and Mazovia. As the only organization of its kind in Poland, the Center also was awarded an institutional grant through the European Union’s DAPHNE Project. Thanks to support from the Levi Strauss Foundation, and later from FIO and Women’s Word Day of Prayer, the Center started a several year expansion project and began reaching out to women from smaller, rural communities. The Center has been able to gain the support of Warsaw community leaders, leading to exciting new outreach programs including the opening of specialized counseling clinics and a shelter for battered women.

Our mission is to promote equality between men and women in public and private life. Our actions are driven by the conviction that women’s rights are an integral, inalienable part of fundamental human rights and a cornerstone of a free society. We take it as a given that violence against women committed by any individual, social group or state is a violation of human rights. This violence can take on many forms - it includes physical violence, psychological and sexual abuse, and the oft-overlooked but devastating economic violence. We believe that, in order to have a truly democratic society, we cannot limit ourselves to freedoms in the public sphere and be content with formal guarantees of equality. We must ensure women and men an equal chance, and ensure a level playing field for everyone to realize their aspirations and meet their needs in the public sphere, the workplace, and in their private lives.

In the 18 years since its inception, the Center for Women’s Rights has undertaken many diverse, innovative projects both in Poland and abroad. We have worked with the Republic of Poland’s executive branch and senate, the European Union and its parliament. We founded and are active members of several international organizations, among which bears including our main international partner - Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE). Over the years, we have worked with distinguished organizations including: the Organization for Safety and Cooperation in Europe (OBWE); European Women’s Lobby; Women, Law and Development Internation; Network of East-West Women; and many others dealing with women’s rights. In Poland, our partners have been and will continue to be women’s organizations like the Federation for Women and Family Planning, the Women’s Information Center, the European Feminist Initiative, and the Center for Promoting Women. We work with groups who combat family violence, including societies of employers, local government institutions throughout Warsaw, cultural centers, women’s prisons, universities, and many, many other institutions and organizations.

 

More information about the goals and activities of the Center for Women’s Rights can be found by visiting our Web site. There you will find more detailed descriptions of our most important initiatives, including the ongoing series in our tribunal on violence against women, our Theatre Therapy for clients, and our legislative initiatives (both in-country and under the European Union umbrella). This information and more can be found by clicking on “Goals and Activities” on our Web site. Our site also features a timeline of significant events and activities from the first 18 years of the Center’s history. By perusing these materials and reading them, you can get an idea of what we’ve accomplished over the last 18 and of the diversity of our goals, accomplishments, and team.

We hope visitors to our Web site keep in mind that - despite the various calendars of events, information about political and social campaigns, conferences, workshops and lectures, legislative initiatives, videos, theater presentations, guidebooks and other printed materials, and reports - our most important accomplishment over the last 18 years has been the day-to-day work, the long hours of labor through day and night for victims of domestic violence. Our main focus has been providing support for those who seek it, whether they come in off the street or reach out to us by phone or e-mail. Over the years, we’ve led thousands of counseling sessions and legal consultations, spent countless hours in court on behalf of women, and helped our friends find shelter and work. Our employees and volunteers have also been involved in the precarious work of helping clients escape from their abusers, sometimes helping them flee with their children from dangerous situations at a moment’s notice. This “everyday” help for our clients has been and will continue to be our most important task. It influences everything we do - from working with government to educating women on their rights - and it will shape the future of our next 18 years and beyond.   History of the Center for Women’s Rights

The idea to create the Center for Women’s Rights came about in late 1993 and early 1994, when founder Urszula Nowakowska was hosted by the Congress of the United States of America. The idea may have died at inception, as too many good ideas do, were it not for the support of the Marshall Foundation. Headed by Deborah Harding, the Eastern Europe outreach branch of the Marshall Foundation recognized the value of a Women’s Rights Center in Warsaw and trusted in Ms. Nowakowska, who up to that time had no experience in creating and maintaining a non-governmental organization (NGO). That trust, as well as the underlying merits of the proposed center, led the Marshall Foundation to sponsor the project through grants. That funding was immediately put to use in finding headquarters, hiring the first three employees, and seeing to the day-to-day operation of the young Center.Without the Marshall Foundation as its main sponsor, it is unlikely that the Center for Women’s Rights would have ever gotten off the ground.

The Center for Women’s Rights was officially registered and recognized on December 22, 1994. Work started that next January, with one of the first goals of the new organization being to reach out to legislators to enact laws that would ensure the equality of men and women in societal, political, and private spheres. It soon became apparent, however, that changing the laws would not guarantee changes to the actual situation in Poland. Equally important were and continue to be cultural and political changes at every level of government, concrete legal and psychological help for victims of domestic violence, and long-term solutions to ensure that all women can live without discrimination or abuse and take full advantage of their rights under the law.

The Center for Women’s Rights quickly evolved to broaden the scope of its mission and expand its sphere of influence. The Center took on more projects aimed at limiting the most serious problems affecting women, including violence against women, discrimination in the workplace, and diminished economic independence and security. The Center was able to bring more sponsors on board, finding others willing to work to improve conditions for women in Poland. Organizations like the Batory Foundation, Ford, and the Open Society Institute, along with others, came on board over the years. The Center was also one of the few organizations for women that obtained funding through the CIP Equal project “Work and a Worthwhile Life for Women Victims of Violence,” for which the Center served as an administrator. The Equal project was realized with the help of eleven partners, including the Women’s Penitentiary in Lubliniec and the Association of Employers of Warsaw and Mazovia. As the only organization of its kind in Poland, the Center also was awarded an institutional grant through the European Union’s DAPHNE Project. Thanks to support from the Levi Strauss Foundation, and later from FIO and Women’s Word Day of Prayer, the Center started a several year expansion project and began reaching out to women from smaller, rural communities. The Center has been able to gain the support of Warsaw community leaders, leading to exciting new outreach programs including the opening of specialized counseling clinics and a shelter for battered women.

Our mission is to promote equality between men and women in public and private life. Our actions are driven by the conviction that women’s rights are an integral, inalienable part of fundamental human rights and a cornerstone of a free society. We take it as a given that violence against women committed by any individual, social group or state is a violation of human rights. This violence can take on many forms - it includes physical violence, psychological and sexual abuse, and the oft-overlooked but devastating economic violence. We believe that, in order to have a truly democratic society, we cannot limit ourselves to freedoms in the public sphere and be content with formal guarantees of equality. We must ensure women and men an equal chance, and ensure a level playing field for everyone to realize their aspirations and meet their needs in the public sphere, the workplace, and in their private lives.

In the 18 years since its inception, the Center for Women’s Rights has undertaken many diverse, innovative projects both in Poland and abroad. We have worked with the Republic of Poland’s executive branch and senate, the European Union and its parliament. We founded and are active members of several international organizations, among which bears including our main international partner - Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE). Over the years, we have worked with distinguished organizations including: the Organization for Safety and Cooperation in Europe (OBWE); European Women’s Lobby; Women, Law and Development Internation; Network of East-West Women; and many others dealing with women’s rights. In Poland, our partners have been and will continue to be women’s organizations like the Federation for Women and Family Planning, the Women’s Information Center, the European Feminist Initiative, and the Center for Promoting Women. We work with groups who combat family violence, including societies of employers, local government institutions throughout Warsaw, cultural centers, women’s prisons, universities, and many, many other institutions and organizations.

More information about the goals and activities of the Center for Women’s Rights can be found by visiting our Web site. There you will find more detailed descriptions of our most important initiatives, including the ongoing series in our tribunal on violence against women, our Theatre Therapy for clients, and our legislative initiatives (both in-country and under the European Union umbrella). This information and more can be found by clicking on “Goals and Activities” on our Web site. Our site also features a timeline of significant events and activities from the first 18 years of the Center’s history. By perusing these materials and reading them, you can get an idea of what we’ve accomplished over the last 18 and of the diversity of our goals, accomplishments, and team.

We hope visitors to our Web site keep in mind that - despite the various calendars of events, information about political and social campaigns, conferences, workshops and lectures, legislative initiatives, videos, theater presentations, guidebooks and other printed materials, and reports - our most important accomplishment over the last 18 years has been the day-to-day work, the long hours of labor through day and night for victims of domestic violence. Our main focus has been providing support for those who seek it, whether they come in off the street or reach out to us by phone or e-mail. Over the years, we’ve led thousands of counseling sessions and legal consultations, spent countless hours in court on behalf of women, and helped our friends find shelter and work. Our employees and volunteers have also been involved in the precarious work of helping clients escape from their abusers, sometimes helping them flee with their children from dangerous situations at a moment’s notice. This “everyday” help for our clients has been and will continue to be our most important task. It influences everything we do - from working with government to educating women on their rights - and it will shape the future of our next 18 years and beyond.