In 2002 two young feminists in Poland started Ponton, a group seeking to reshape the sexual and reproductive rights agenda. In Poland, where the Catholic Church exerts significant influence, young people struggle to access sexual health information, contraception, and safe and legal abortion. Since sexuality is a taboo subject, many parents are unwilling or unable to discuss it with their children, relying on the education system instead. Although 70% of Polish secondary schools offer classes in ‘Preparation for Family Life’, few teachers are adequately trained, the classes follow no set curriculum, and most instructors are priests and teachers with strong conservative and moral views. As a result teenage pregnancy in Poland is a serious problem.
Currently, Ponton’s fifteen volunteer educators aged 20 – 25 conduct school-based sexuality education, provide online counseling and address referrals via their website and telephone hotlines. ‘We get questions like “I took one of my mother’s birth control pills and then had sex. Is this bad for my health?” Questions like this illustrate how poorly informed they are about sexuality’, says Anka Grzywacz, one of the women of Ponton that teaches high school students on sexual behaviour and birth control.
Ponton’s volunteers provide more than just complete and accurate information. They also challenge restrictive norms on gender and youth sexuality that most Polish ‘family life’ education reinforces, and they support young women’s ownership of their sexuality and decision-making.
In 2011, Ponton took its advocacy a step further by publishing What does sex education really look like in Poland?, a ground-breaking research report that garnered much national and international media attention. Additionally, the group organised a national campaign to increase awareness of sexuality and sexual rights, highlighting the negative consequences of inadequate sex education. Ponton also co-founded a coalition of organisations working in education and sexuality, lobbying for the introduction of legally mandatory, comprehensive sexuality education into middle and secondary schools. In the future they want to branch out to other Polish cities.
Ponton received grants from Mama Cash in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2011.