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Anna Bojanowska-Sosnowska – social policy researcher, vice president of the Ambitna Polska Foundation

Women constitute 63 percent of university graduates. We have ambitions, professional plans. And then it turns out that 34 percent of us are professionally inactive. Why?

We start families. A child is born and this is the moment when we most often disappear from the labour market, if we ever even appeared on it.

Well, but how is this decision made? I check the pregnancy test and say “honey, I think I want to stay at home”? 

We should be careful with the words: “I want”. Often, “I need” or “I should” is more appropriate. In many cases, there is still a necessity behind the decision to leave the labour market. Especially when caring for a dependent person. These are not just small children, but also adolescents or adult children with disabilities, ageing parents and in-laws.

In addition, you are looking at this from the position of a resident of Warsaw. It is difficult for a woman to start work after having a child, if, for example, she lives in the countryside and can only leave her toddler at her neighbour's or mother's, and there is no kindergarten or nursery within several kilometres.

Our environment also affects our choices. The behaviour of our friends and neighbours. Also the model of the family in which we grew up. If we grew up and live in an environment in which it is natural that women take care of the children at home, and in addition we find a husband or partner who also grew up in such a model, it is difficult to break out of it. I would like to remind you that there are still social groups in which a working woman is evidence of her husband's ineptitude.

Many of us had working mothers.

Sometimes, however, women say “I was running around the yard with a key around my neck” because my mother didn't have time for me, instead she spent all her sweat and blood, and she didn't have a career anyway. That is why I want to do it differently, I want to stay at home, not to struggle, to give my children what I did not have.

I will make it clear – I do not judge it. We can stay at home, we can go back to work. However, there are consequences behind each of these decisions that we must be aware of.

Wait, but what about independence, a career? Where is the generation raised on “Sex and the City”?

Mhmm... you mean the cult series in which one of the heroines from the beginning says that marriage is her priority, and then she leaves work to start a family. And the other, despite having a babysitter and a supportive husband, blames herself for neglecting motherhood, and eventually changes her job to be able to be at home more often. Well, that would explain a lot (laughs).

And back to hard ground: I get the impression that the generation of today's 20- and 30-year-olds is disappointed.

The models promoted by the media are extremely demanding. Mass culture gives us pictures of perfect women who go running before the family gets up, then serve a healthy breakfast, drive and pick up children from school, cook dinner, at the same time work professionally, eat business lunches, make presentations, go to conferences, all while caring for her husband's sexual needs and preparing children for the school knowledge competition with a smile on their lips. It doesn't work that way in real life. Something has to be given up or be imperfect.

In addition, work has now become a synonym for a career. And let's not fool ourselves, for many of us it is simply a daily duty that we have to face. You have to go to work to earn your living and it is not always our dreams and ambitions, but often a repetitive, boring activity.

It's great to have a job that is also a passion, but this is often a luxury. And the word string “work, career, success” will not always fit everyone. It is very frustrating especially when you live in a small town or have low qualifications. This is confirmed by the observation that the worst-educated women from cities with 20,000 to 100,000 residents most often leave the labour market. As in this popular cartoon with the woman at the supermarket checkout. A manager standing next to her says: “Ms Jolanta, either the child or the career”. And yet, these little jobs must also be done for the system to function, and there is nothing wrong or offensive about it.

Does the 500 plus programme help in making such decisions?

This benefit initially caused an upward trend and activated women to enter the market. But the analysis of the Institute of Structural Research shows that the professional activity of mothers compared to childless women decreased. So ultimately 500 plus began to demotivate.

But I would rather wonder what work these women gave up if they renounced their insurance, and in many cases their pensions for 500 or 1000 zlotys a month? For me, this is proof of the poor quality of work in Poland. 

A 25-year-old, with an elementary or secondary education, sitting in a park with her child in a pram. What does she not know quitting her job to take care of her toddler?

That the consequences could last for another half a century. Regardless of who we are in a relationship with and how long our relationship lasts, we are often left with starvation pensions. Every now and then the media sensationally report that the lowest pension that the Social Insurance Company pays is less than 10 groszy.

Such a woman will someday be completely dependent on her partner, husband or parents' help, on social benefits or on her children. When making such a decision, we often rely 100% on our partner, that we will be with him for the rest of our lives, that he will treat us well, that he will never remind us that we have not worked professionally. This is very risky. We all know a story of people living together up to the age of a hundred, in respect and love.  But there are equally many stories in which they “did not live happily ever after”.

Because we can divorce.

And studies show that divorce most often leads to the impoverishment of the woman. Among other things, the children also usually stay with their mother, which is a burden for her. When it comes to returning to the labour market, it can also be more difficult. It is not only due to the fact that in the event of a child's illness or a visit to the doctor, everything rests on her shoulders. We should call a spade a spade – employers often frown on single mothers or divorcees with children. Such women are also the most vulnerable to blackmail. They can be offered lower wages, worse conditions, threatened with dismissal if, for example, they do not take overtime.

When getting married you do not think about parting ways.

It's completely natural and healthy, but without thinking about our economic situation in the long run, it may turn out that we will end up on the street with an eviction notice. Because the flat belonged to the husband, he bought it before the wedding and it only ever belonged to him.

And not all divorces are full of respect and harmony. Sometimes, when dividing up property, you have to have proof that you also made purchases, paid for tiles, which you cannot tear off the wall, or financed custom-made kitchen furniture in the flat that was not yours. Anyway, you don't have to get married to live and build a house together, for example, on your partner's plot, or to renovate “our flat”, which is not ours in the notarial deed.

Then, when parting, a personal invoice or confirmation of payment from a personal account is useful. So security is useful. So as to not start all over again with a suitcase of clothes and personal effects.

We usually assume that it is all ours, shared.

But it is not. For example, royalties, gifts and bequests relate to a specific person,  unless it is clearly stated that someone is offering something to both spouses. Property separation can be established even during marriage. Then, what was brought is my personal property and when, for example, my spouse falls into debt without my knowledge, the bailiff should not take it away from me. You can also agree on the amount of personal expenses in your marriage. Because, when he makes money and I don't, he can buy what he wants and for as much he wants, and I should not interfere.  Men, just like women, should know the consequences of joint marital property. If we are in one and our working husband decides to buy a yacht without his wife’s knowledge, he can go to court. 

More often, the court comes to us because my husband had a company and it went bankrupt. I didn't know anything, the woman says.

This is a fairly common reaction. We fall in love, we have butterflies in our stomachs, we want to build a future together and sometimes it is difficult for us to drop the bomb: hey, let's talk about your company's financial situation or your loans! We don't talk because we don't want to be seen as materialists or, in more contemporary words, as “gold diggers”. But without asking, we risk, because often in the event of bankruptcy even the car that turns out to be company property, goes up for auction. There is also the problem of treasury debts, which burden the whole household, even when you have never crossed the threshold of your husband's company.

We also have to take this perspective into account when we give up our job to do housework. We should be aware of who owns the flat in which we live. For example, whether it is owned by my parents-in-law. What happens if the family business fails, what is its legal form, what if I invest my money in his company and what will the consequences be in the event of divorce, whether I will inherit debts in the event of the sudden death of my husband.

We should not be afraid to seek the advice of a lawyer. It costs about 100-150 zlotys.

Let's return to our park bench perspective. What else are we missing?

All the misfortunes, illness, disability or premature death of a partner or husband. The main source of income disappears, and we must support ourselves with a survivor's or sickness pension, or other benefits.  

From March 1st, the lowest family allowance is 1.2 thousand zlotys gross. However, the statistical widow can go to work.

There is no statistical widow. Women in big cities have other possibilities than those in rural areas. In a smaller town there may not be any occupation for her, because the so-called cleaning ladies are employed only in the commune office and the health centre, and then you have to look for work in the city. The question is whether you have a car and a driving licence. On the other hand, we have seasonal jobs in rural areas. In addition to education, health, age, the local specificity, the unemployment rate in the region and coincidence often decide etc. You can keep on listing these factors and variables.

And if our heroine never worked?

Her return to the market after a dozen or several dozen years will be astronomically difficult. First of all, your education may need to be refreshed. Second, how do you document qualifications? We are creative because we sewed costumes for the carnival? Such interviews are not easy. And before the interview takes place, it is necessary to determine what work a woman could take, what skills she has, what industry she fits. This can be extremely difficult and often requires the support of an adviser.

It turns out that it never pays not to work.

If we can, we should work just for the comfort of being sure that if something happens to our partner, then we are either able to take responsibility for part of the finances or earn our pension.

This is why economic education is so important, showing that money is not a virtual creation. You do specific work for a specific remuneration. You don’t work, you don’t have one. Then your husband or partner can support you, but this has a lot of consequences.

Women, because of biology and clichés, actually drop out of the market more often, but this does not release them from any responsibility for their lives. You should remember that when buying a shared car, you should be included in the contract. That if you participate in renovation costs, you should have invoices for it. You have to pay attention to whether you are registered, what your rights to the flat are. And definitely in which bank the family accounts and deposits are, what loans and property you have, just in case.

Why don't we talk about it in our relationships?

Because we don't talk about money at all. Financial education is poor. This can be seen in the example of young people. They have a special problem with finances, they are surrounded by a culture of continuous consumption of new goods that they should immediately have. They hear everywhere – take zero percent instalments, buy now, give back later. Without proper preparation, they may get caught up in their financial freedom and instead of using money, they will spend it without any plan. The real difficulties will start when they try to reconcile money and relationships.

Poles aged 18-24 are in record debt. About 150,000 people in this group have unpaid liabilities. And the most disturbing thing is that almost 70 percent of debts are consumer loans, while housing loans account for 1%.

So before we say “yes” to the ring, we should say “yes” to money.

No! Before thinking about getting married, we should first think what we want and what the consequences are. Marriage should not be treated as transferring responsibility for existence to one of the partners. It is a relationship of two adults who should organise it in their own way with full awareness of doing so.

We need to learn that talking about money needs to be done when our relationship begins to get serious. Should we set up separate, joint or mixed accounts? Then who is authorised to access which? If we buy something, do we share it equally? Or maybe you pay the rent, then I do the shopping? The less is understated, the less awkwardness and resentment. It may not be romantic, but being in a relationship with someone just because we can't afford to leave or have an independent life is even less romantic.

“Tenderness and freedom. Let's build balanced relationships” is a campaign run by Kulczyk Foundation along with “Wysokie Obcasy” and “Gazeta Wyborcza Foundation”.

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