Poland’s Abortion Ban Protests, Interview with Zula Rabikowska

By Laura James

On 22 October 2020, the Constitutional Tribunal in Poland ruled that abortion on the grounds of fetal abnormality was unconstitutional, further restricting Poland’s already stringent abortion laws (Thebmjopinion). This abortion ban caused outrage among Polish people and resulted in mass protests in the streets. Zula Rabikowska, a Polish-British documentary photographer and videographer, currently based in Karków, attended these protests as they unfolded in order to document the events but also to stand in solidarity with Polish women and help secure the basic human right of safe abortion healthcare. 

In what follows, Zula talks about the current situation regarding the abortion ban, shares her lived experiences of the protests and explains how the Polish people are fighting for their human rights, freedom of speech and going against the tyrannical government currently in power.

What was your motivation for documenting the protests? 

That’s an interesting question. I think it was multi-layered to be honest. I felt a sense of responsibility on a personal level as a female identifying individual who is Polish. Having recently moved back to Poland after living in the UK for 20 years I almost felt like this is something I have to do to show solidarity with other women in Poland, but also for myself and for my own rights to abortion health care. I believe it is a fundamental human right that unfortunately the Polish government does not share. 

So, that was the first layer of my motivation. The second element was that I wanted to be there as a documentary photographer and I was really frustrated to see just how many male photographers were present but there was only 1 or 2 women (In Kraków). From my general understanding, and from having had conversations with other photographers who have covered other areas in Poland, there was a general consensus that this is something that is being covered by male photojournalists. I felt a double sense of frustration as a participant and also as a photographer as I felt like female photographers should have been given more of a voice in this and get their perspectives heard and seen.

What was the atmosphere like at the protests? 

In the winter months it was relentless, it was all the time. It wasn’t just protests which were happening, there were pickets, road closures, transport strikes. The tension in the atmosphere was really tangible, you could see in the streets and you could feel it just walking around. The protests have a symbol of the red thunderbolt and you would see this in bakeries for example, people would have the red thunderbolt in their car windows, on their jackets, on their phones, on their faces, on their masks. It was very much a movement that to this day is still going on. The other day, I was checking out a local a tattoo parlour and there are artists who specialise in the thunderbolt, due to a demand for people to have this tattooed on the body. 

This is something that has really affected the Polish society and it quickly became not just about abortion, it became about the oppression from the very right-wing government here. Some of the protests I was going along to were about pedophilia in the Catholic Church. People just took to the streets to show how fed up they were with the current tyrannical government.  

What was the main message the protesters wanted to convey? 

I think the main message was to show the government, and internationally, that people disagree with this ban. Poland isn’t this homophobic, homogenous, Catholic, conservative country that the government would like everyone to believe. This is the message that appears in the state-owned media in Poland, it is pure propaganda and it’s quite frightening how the message is portrayed. Alongside this, the way they portrayed the protests and protesters in the state news was horrific. It didn’t really show this message of abortion health care and the need for women and for people to have a say about their rights. 

The baseline message was that people wanted to express their discontent for this ban and their need to have safe access to abortion. The second message would be this wave of being fed up and ready for a change of government.

You said that the protests are still happening today, is it in such a large capacity as back in winter? 

Yes and no. Before in Kraków, every other evening there would be thousands of protesters taking to the streets, and I haven’t seen it happening as much right now. But that is not to say that protests on a smaller scale aren’t happening. 

This weekend it was actually 11 years ago that a plane crashed in Poland and 93 right wing politicians died. So, the current president that we have now, his twin brother and mother died in that plane crash. As a result people took to the streets and to the main market square in Kraków to protest against the government, so this kind of discontent is very much present. In addition, on 1st May Poland observed International Labour Day, which is traditionally a day to celebrate labourers and the working classes, and lots of people demonstrated with the thunderbolt symbol on this day. I went along on 18th April to Wawel Castle in Kraków as Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the Law and Justice party, came to the city. On this day the politicians were greeted by a small crowd of protesters holding up banners and with their faces in red thunderbolts. The way the large-scale protests were happening in January, October and November and even in December have changed, but it doesn’t mean that people aren’t still striking.

Did you feel safe documenting the demonstrations? 

Once again, I was in Kraków, yet in Warsaw a lot of arrests of photojournalists were being made and this completely infringed freedom of speech in my opinion. This did happen in Kraków to an extent but obviously the protests weren’t as big as in Warsaw. Yet, there were a few occasions when I thought to myself should I be here? And that wasn’t because of the protesters, but the main threat came from the police who were kitted out with tear gas and shields, and really looked in full combat mode. When you are surrounded by 50 or 60 police it is really intimidating. But intimidation was definitely one of the tactics that they were going for with that presence. The other threat was that the police used the pandemic and used megaphones with the slogan ‘you shouldn’t be meeting in groups of more than 5 people’. They used this as an excuse to arrest people or fine them.

Within the community do you feel there is a sense of polarisation between supporters of the abortion ban and those who are protesting against it? 

I guess that is happening all around us these days. I could compare it to Brexit in the UK and we are seeing it right now with people being pro-vaccine and anti-vaccine. But I suppose within the liberal bubble that I live in in Kraków, I personally didn’t encounter anyone directly who was anti-abortion. But I have seen the countermovement of the right wing people come out to confront the protesters. I remember there was a group of nuns and priests who came out to the protests with huge speakers to drown out the protesters with religious songs and the police didn’t stop them. This is one of many examples of such actions.

As a Polish woman do you feel your human rights are being violated by this ban? 

Yes definitely 100%. It is a huge violation and is very upsetting that the government and parts of the society do not see it that way. 

Do you think the protests will continue until the ban is lifted? 

I think it is difficult to say to be honest. But this time people have explicitly been taking to the streets. People have been fired by their employers for protesting, so people have been losing their jobs because of this. Nevertheless, people are still willing to protest and to let the government and society know that this is not ok. 

At the same time, I think things will only change when we elect another government as the situation right now is really tyrannical, not just in terms of the abortion ban, but with the lack of freedom of speech, democracy and even the way the state news reports on what is factual and not factual is frightening. 

Will you continue to document the protests via photography? 

Yes definitely. But photography is only one of the tools I use, I also use multimedia and video to make sense of the world around me and if other people are finding it useful to help make sense of the world then great. So I have no intention of stopping at least for the near future. 

Zula Rabikowska

Laura James

All photographs ©Zula Rabikowska


Knowing You-2 is an encompassing Photography and Storytelling project for women of different backgrounds and faiths. During the project, women will learn how to develop and create a photo story, learn how to approach personal stories and visually translating emotions into images, how to develop photo stories from home.


Basic Photography

Learn how to research and develop ideas for a photo story

Learn approaches and methods in producing a photo-story

Learn how to develop their photo story

Learn how to visually translate personal stories, emotions and events into photographs

Learn how to work and develop photo-stories from home

Learn how to edit a photo story

The project will run on Zoom and is open to all women in White City, London.

The project is kindly supported by the National Lottery


West London zine produced by youth, run by the Photojournalism Hub and supported by W12together!

As the West London Zine project is drawing to a close, we look at the past weeks producing the local zine with west London youths with great joy and a sense of accomplishment.

Working through national lockdown, personal and collective challenges has not been an easy task, however the young participants have demonstrated great commitment, resilience and spurred creativity.
The project run with regular online sessions combined with those on field and one to one mentoring. Every two weeks, we published a new edition of the zine with content produced by the young participants. These included photo stories, articles, features, illustrations covering topics on the impact of Covid-19 on young people’s lives, the challenges that local businesses face as well as how they adapted their work to navigate the current difficult times. Photostories have poignantly exposed the solitude experienced by the elderly, students school experiences wearing face covering and social distancing and their hopes for a future post Covid-19 . The project has given the participants the experience of working on field developing reporting and photography skills, including interviewing, editing, writing, captioning, storytelling, proofreading, ethics. Working on field whilst receiving guidance has been a very positive experience according to the participants. Using a quote from one of the students: the thing that I enjoyed the most is being able to try something new. I learnt photography skills and journalism skills. I have also learnt interviewing skills. I would use it for my portfolio, CV and everyday skills to take photos.
Moreover, the experience of having their work published in an editorial has been very beneficial; it provided focus, self-esteem and improved confidence in their abilities.
For the Photojournalism Hub, the experience of running this project has been very positive. It achieves one of the main purposes of its mission; to provide opportunities to young people and those disadvantages with demonstrable CV of published work and reporting and photography skills equiping for better chance of entering further education, work experience and work placement.
Photojournalism Hub is very thankful for the kind support provided by W12together, which has enabled us to deliver this project and make a meaningful difference in the lives of the participants and our community.
To view some of the zines:


The Photojournalism Hub Knowing You project has received a Recognised award from the London Faith & Belief Community Award!

I would like to express my thanks to everyone for their Nomination, the wonderful participants, the charity Near Neighbours, the London Faith & Belief and Her Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Greater London’s Council on Faith.
It is an honour that the Photojournalism Hub’s Knowing You project will be receiving a Certificate of Recognition from the Faith and Belief Forum and Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London’s Council on Faith on the 30th November at The Royal Society of Medicine.  

The Knowing You project is among the 40 selected projects ‘deemed exceptional’ by this year’ judges and the Faith & Belief Forum that have provided support, respite and are working to make London a city that is inclusive to everyone and continuing to do so despite the challenges posed by the current pandemic.

Knowing You photobook cover with an image of the participants meeting over Zoom during lockdown.

It has been a wonderful experience to engage with women of different faiths and backgrounds living in White City with the Knowing You photography project to inspire bonding and community cohesion whilst providing visual narrative and photojournalism teaching. The project supports participants to bond one another, promoting respect and acceptance and aims to dispel prejudice and barriers of ethnic, religious and racial discrimination by encouraging participants to get to know a fellow participant through developing a photo story of each other. The project has culminated in the production of a photo book, which will be soon shared to the wider public containing wonderful visual stories and testimonies of the powerful human connections. The project has been kindly supported by the charity Near Neighbours.

Staying Together

By Cinzia D’Ambrosi


We had a WhatsApp application to keep us informed of any project updates. Up to two weeks ago, we did not know that we would have relied heavily on technology to stay connected. And as the time went past, it became the only option to keep us connected.

The COVID-19 global outbreak has dramatically changed the lives of many and with it the way we communicate and interact ‘each other’s stories. Social distancing and isolation have left millions to largely interact via digital means.

I am glad that the Knowing You project, which began three months ago has provided a wonderful ground for women in west London to meet, get to know each other and develop a photography narrative on each other stories. This has led the participants to naturally want to continue with the project and navigate through the immediate challenges.

Moving from face to face engagement to working online will reflect this exceptional time of distancing, isolation and profound sadness.

“The project has brought women from different backgrounds and communities together through learning, dialogue and photography. It has been an incredible to see the complexity of people’s idea develop and take form. All this with Cinzia’s help, support and guidance. People have learned about far more than photograph during the project” – Katherine

Knowing You is kindly supported by the charity Near Neighbours.

Photo and Text: ©Cinzia D’Ambrosi

Recognising Women

By Laura James

Photojournalism is an industry that is still dominated by men. Suzanne Plunkett, award winning photojournalist, reaffirmed this fact during the Photojournalism Hub’s talk event last Monday. She recounted her impressive career and highlighted that she was always among only a handful of women photographers within a sea of men when working for agencies. Her lived experience can be reflected in the fact that ‘just 18% of the AOP’s accredited photographers and assistant photographers are women.’ (Steven: 2019). Along with the clear gender bias towards employing male photographers, she also touched on issues of sexism from managers in agencies, not being taken as seriously as her male counterparts and the lack of demand for stories that cover important female issues.

Talking about these issues was pertinently timed as International Women’s Day was to be celebrated just 6 days ahead of the talk. The theme of this year’s IWD was Each for Equal – aiming to help create a more equal world where women are always on the same platform as men. Suzanne, along with Chiara Ceolin and Quintina Valero (the two other speakers at the event) are certainly helping to create gender equality by doing such amazing work with women around the world and documenting their stories. They have worked on projects with victims of female genital mutilation, sex trafficking and female prison.

By having more amazing female photojournalists in the industry we are creating a levelled playing field and going against a male centric selection of stories in the media. We need to keep recognising the achievements of female photographers and those who are telling the stories of women to come closer to a world where gender discrimination is a thing of the past.


Knowing You – What it means to know someone

By Laura James

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We can learn someone’s name, age, job and where they live. We can ask about their interests, hobbies and how they spend their time. We can acquire many facts and details about them, but can we say we truly know that person?

I believe to really know another we need to go deeper than the surface level, delve beneath the trivia and touch upon one’s core. We must unearth the defining moments in a person’s life and understand what has shaped them. Ask about their deepest fears, their hardships and come to understand their dreams, passions and longings. When we discover the complex, messy and beautiful nuances of a person, we are beginning to know them.

And this is what the Knowing You project is all about. It is about going beyond the small talk and making those connections. It’s asking us to break down barriers and cross unknown territory. It is bringing women from diverse backgrounds together and learning who they really are underneath the exterior glaze. Through the project I hope to truly get to know the other women participating and allow myself to be known to others. I am excited for the journey to unfold and to see how this manifests in the photographs taken.

KNOWING YOU – Reflections On The First Three Weeks

by Cinzia D’Ambrosi

Reflecting back on the last three weeks since the start of the ‘Knowing You’ project, I cannot say how inspiring and meaningful this is proving to be. The project brings together women from White City with different backgrounds, ethnicities and religious beliefs on the common ground of sharing their personal story to one another and develop a photo story of each other.

The aim of the project is to break down barriers and prejudices by creating the basis for bonding and cohesion through getting to know someone of different religious or ethnic background. Our sessions to date in one of the meeting rooms of Our Lady of Fatima Church in White City have explored interview techniques, story structures and photography. Women have shared their earliest memories and meaningful and defining moments and are reflecting, working together from those. And in these questions, inevitably the project has opened up much deeper layers, something that perhaps I did not envisage to be so strong; women have shared painful, joyful, hopeful experiences.

Being together, women shared, has awaken a safe space, a discovery of oneself through another. Who are we? Who am I? – one of the participants asks. Unapologetic, Bold, Beautiful– another participant describes how she tries to convey her perceptions of a fellow participant. ‘Knowing You’ is awakening, connecting and probing reflection on common experiences of being a woman, of dealing with representation of another woman’s story which brings to light aspects of oneself and of ourselves. Despite, the difference of background it seems to connect everyone on this important core. ‘Knowing You’ project is supported by the charity

Near Neighbours.

Photojournalism Nights 12th edition

28th April 2021 06:30pm utc Online

Photojournalist Hub twelve edition of the Photojournalism Nights presents an amazing line-up of photographers: Ben Marans David Sládek Mario Washington Ihieme .

© David Sladek
Thousands of pro-democracy protesters took to the streets on August 18, 2019 in Hong Kong. Despite the huge number of people, the crowd parted quickly to allow an ambulance to get through. © Ben Marans
© Mario W. Ihieme

The Photojournalism Nights is an event that promotes committed and courageous photojournalism and engages the public to social justice and human rights.

To join: HERE

Photojournalism Nights returns to White City!

The second edition of the Photojournalism Nights at Elephant West gallery was met with an engaged audience, inspirational and talented guest photographers presentations, keynotes by Emma Perfect, global head of diversity and inclusion at Soho House, media partner Photo Archive News, networking and conversations till late at night at the bar/lounge of eclectic Elephant West gallery and the opportunity to bring home one of the donated photographs from the photographers printed with the support of Genesis Imaging UK.

I could not ask for a better night to present and showcase powerful long form photojournalistic projects exposing, reflecting and questioning the current political climate through the notion of European identity and Belonging.  Presentations began with Claudia Leisinger with her project Europe Revisited documenting the lives of Roma families living in stark poverty in Serbia which questions the distribution of welfare and resources in Europe.  Followed by Pete Boyd, whose work looks at where and how young people think they belong: what it facilitates; how they define who is a member and who  not; how they signal their belonging; who they are allowed to be and  what they can express; what they consciously adopt and what others foist upon them; and what they have to do to survive it, then to Sukhy Hullait who for 100 days documented  in various cities in the UK, the opinions and feelings of people towards Brexit. Finally, we had the presentation of Quetzal Maucci, whose work looks at the lives of children of immigrants in the States and in the UK demonstrating the universality of those people caught in-between belonging. Four people won a photograph each from the raffle tickets and went home with on original print. This was made possible by the donation of the guest photographers and by Genesis Imaging which have supported this event.  There were a lot of questions at the Q&A and I am guessing much more later as people stayed behind till late conversing and getting to know each other.

The Photojournalism Nights are organised by the Photojournalism Hub to bring together photojournalists and share their work, discuss important social justice issues in order to engage in a meaningful way to important topics whilst support the photojournalists which often put their lives at risk in doing this.  The Photojournalism Nights are run bi-monthly at the Elephant West gallery and the next date will be announced shortly.  If you wish to follow our work click here.