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42. MaMa Foundation

Child care is important in Warsaw due to recent demographic trends. As a result of demographic changes, the number of children at kindergarten age has increased, while the number of those older than grammar school students has been low; the number of the elderly has increased as well. In addition, migration between districts can be observed. In some districts (Mokotów, Żoliborz and Wola), the population is decreasing (as a result of the inhabitants moving outside the city, leaving apartments of low quality), while in the suburbs – Białołęka, Ursus, Wawer, Wesoła, Ursynów or Wilanów – the population is growing. Warsaw and its surrounding area are an attractive region to settle – migration factors will be increasingly important in determination of the demand for education services in the capital city. The number of children at kindergarten age is growing constantly. The subsequent years will be those of a baby boom – it is estimated that in 2013 there will be 40,000 children at kindergarten age. In Warsaw, kindergarten education at private and public kindergartens and kindergarten departments at elementary school is provided for about 90 per cent of children, which is a very high rate in Poland (the national average is 37 per cent, which is the lowest indicator of popularisation of kindergarten education in the EU member states).

In contrast, at present, the public debate in Warsaw and in Poland often mentions the “social disadvantages” of the employment of women and of cultural changes, which are based on a shift from a collectivist to an individualised culture, in which individuals prefer to satisfy their own needs and not to perform their traditional family duties. Conservative participants of the debate stress that women fail to meet their traditionally defined obligations, and the emerging partnership family model is a way of elimination of differences between the genders, leading to a crisis of masculinity. At the same time, research shows that, within Polish society, the accepted family model has been changing as well. The number of supporters of the model, in which the woman is to take care of home and children, and the man is to provide maintenance, has been decreasing (85 per cent of respondents in 1992, 79 per cent in 1995, 74 per cent in 1997, 74 per cent in 1999 and 69 per cent in 2002).

These processes have been accompanied by substantial changes in life aspirations. Women want to work not only to get a return of their expenditure on education. More often, they perceive the opportunity to attain self-fulfilment through work. In 2012, 46 per cent of men and 56 per cent of women disagreed with the opinion that housework could be as satisfactory for a woman as professional work. At the same time, 32 per cent of men and 41 per cent of women rejected the opinion that small children suffer when their mothers work (unpublished data, see WP2 and WP3 reports). In this situation, the female inhabitants of Warsaw are experiencing pressure from two opposing forces –the conservative discourse, putting emphasis on the significance of a mother’s care, while at the same time, they are expected to work, and, in many cases, they also want to develop their careers. Thus, the opinions of some politicians and the Catholic Church, formulated in the public discourse, are not consistent with opinions of the majority of society and with changes in social roles of women and men in Poland, visible particularly in large cities, such as Warsaw. Outside feminist circles, there are only rare voices stating that a lack of professional activity of women and their contribution to household work do not have to be defined in accordance with the traditional category of a “housewife”, subordinated to her husband and children.

42.1. Short description

MaMa Foundation is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) established in June 2006 in Warsaw. It works for mothers’ rights in Poland by organising social campaigns, such as “O Mamma Mia! I cannot drive my pram in here!” – a campaign for adapting public space for prams and wheelchairs; campaigns for employees’ rights, such as “Horror stories”, which lists examples of dismissing mothers from their jobs; online help and workshops for refugee women and many more. Since October 2006, MaMa, together with Muranów cinema, has been organising “Baby at the cinema” thanks to which parents can watch films while their children play with baby sitters. This project is currently being transferred to other cities in Poland. The foundation also runs a mothers’ time bank, encouraging mothers to share the time and exchange support, e.g. in child care. Since 2007 the foundation supports local moms’ clubs by providing workshops for mothers, local leaders and representatives of local authorities. One such local moms’ clubs is located in the Targówek district, which is one of the most deprived areas in Warsaw. The activities of this club are financed by local authorities of the district and the public library of Targówek. MaMa Foundation promotes also the economic values of women’s housework.

42.2. Conceptions of ways of addressing users

The activities of the MaMa Foundation are based on the concept that mothers with small children are citizens with full rights like everybody else and that they should not be excluded from participation in the local public life due to cultural stereotypes (e.g. that mothers with small children should spend time mostly at home and its closest surroundings) or architectonic barriers (e.g. regarding the lack of public space for prams and places for changing diapers and breastfeeding). The ideas and projects of MaMa Foundation are linked to such concepts as social economy and social cooperatives, grass-roots solidarity and mutual help and feminism. It was established by mothers of small children.

The crucial ways of addressing the foundation’s beneficiaries include social campaigns, campaigns for employees’ rights, workshops and training, legal, psychological and civil advice, artistic and educational projects for parents with children and publishing and research activities. For instance, since 2010, the foundation has been implementing the project “Warsaw Housevives’ Club” (Koło Gospodyń Miejskich). In cooperation with a group of experts (such as sociologists dealing with gender studies), the organisation has formulated recommendations for the Polish parliament on the economic value of work performed by women within the framework of fulfilment of their household duties:

We show and we calculate it precisely that housework performed by women, most often, in 95 per cent in Poland, is quantifiable and it is possible to calculate its precise value in money. At present, this is a salary of about PLN 2,800 – including the tasks that are performed on behalf of the family. So, this has a market value. We are introducing a new way of thinking about this. It is not all about paying women for doing housework, but about actually seeing this work, being able to notice it. To show that this is a part of economy, because this money, although virtual, is earned thanks to the tasks that the woman performs


“Warsaw Housewives’ Club” also includes workshops for women who are not working professionally. These are aimed at increasing the awareness of women in terms of partnership-based division of tasks at home and providing the participants with specific tools that will help them in negotiations with their husband or partner:

… the female inhabitants of Warsaw attend our workshops, there have been five editions conducted so far, and the interest is really great. Perhaps it’s because we invite psychologists and mediators to teach women how to make their partners clean up their socks, which, I think, is innovative. In fact, we are not afraid of the very trivial subjects, we provide the tools – very specific ones. These are not just the meetings to complain about how bad it is, but to learn certain things as well


Also, we found the foundation’s project “Moms’ Cooperative – the social project on preventing women’s exclusion from labour market and society” especially interesting. The main aim of the project is to support women, who are threatened with social exclusion, in terms of education, integration into the society and their future chances in the labour market. It includes both vocational and psychological training in order to strengthen the overall potential of its recipients. The project is addressed to about ten young and lone mothers from Warsaw, who gave a birth to their child before the age of 18 years and who are long-term unemployed (over 2 years, usually because of child care obligations). Also, the issues of possible domestic violence and conflicts with the law are taken into account. The specific activities within the project “Moms’ Cooperative” included four types of educational workshops on social economy, social cooperatives, self-employment, marketing and promotion, folk art and psychological motivations. Currently, twelve young and lone mothers from Warsaw make up the cooperative, which creates, promotes and distributes regional and local handmade products inspired by folk art (toys, jewellery, accessories such as bags, cases for cell phones and iphones, souvenirs for tourists and office accessories – cases for laptops, covers for agendas and business cards holders, etc.). In the frame of the project, the design, creation and quality of products is supervised by experts from the State Ethnographical Museum in Warsaw. The members of the cooperative were chosen on the basis of their artistic skills and creativity. The idea of the project “Moms’ Cooperative” emerged from the cooperation between MaMa Foundation with two other partners: the Orbis Hotel Group and the Accor Foundation. The social cooperative of young and lone unemployed mothers from Warsaw is claimed to be the first initiative of this kind in Poland.

42.3. Internal organisation and modes of working

As mentioned before, all the people who currently work for MaMa Foundation are women and mothers, so they have personally experienced various problems related to motherhood in Warsaw. Its chair is Sylwia Chutnik, a feminist, writer and certified guide to Warsaw, who has published several books well perceived by both readers and critics (Pocket Calendar of Women, Little Girl and Women’s Warsaw). MaMa Foundation currently employs two people (temporarily, within the projects) and on a regular basis cooperates with ten volunteers:

… we have a constant division of the structure, of course, this activity is also task-based, for specific projects, but we do our best to act on the basis of competences – each of us has a specific scope of duties and work. Of course, within the framework of this, there are specific activities.


It is also supported by various experts, e.g. lawyers, psychologists, trainers, scientists and artists, who take part in its activities when needed.

It has to be emphasised that, even when an initiative is directed only to adults, MaMa Foundation allows the participation of children or provides free child care during a workshop, training or meeting. The basic modes of working of MaMa Foundation are described as follows:

  • The Foundation cooperates on a regular basis with local authorities in Warsaw’s districts in order to broaden mother- and child-friendly public spaces.
  • The members of its board, employees and experts participate in public debates and meetings and express in media their opinions on mothers’ situations in private and professional life.

Usually, the foundation tries to spread its message in different levels of society at the same time, like in the case of the project “Warsaw Housewives’ Club”:

The initiative is, in fact, aimed at several social groups. The women – this is the workshop part, the society as a whole – some of the social campaigns and the recommendations, aimed at politicians representing all options in the Parliament and the local authorities, not only politicians, but also officers of specific departments or offices.


MaMa Foundation cooperates with such organisations and partners as the Association for Legal Intervention, ideologically diversified women’s organisations, the Institute of Public Affairs (a think-tank research organisation), the Warsaw Municipal Office, local authorities at the level of Warsaw’s districts, local politicians and the Warsaw Labour Office. Also, it participates in several third sector coalitions: the 8 March Women’s Agreement, the 11 November Agreement and the Coalition for Equal Opportunities. However, it has to be stressed that MaMa Foundation cooperates not only with structures having liberal or left-wing orientations: “We cooperate with various institutions; in many cases, these differ from us ideologically and politically, for instance, there are various Catholic organisations that deal with family issues. We look for coalitions whenever it seems that we can share an objective with anyone” (WP5.Care1).

MaMa Foundation’s crucial projects are financed by the Accor Foundation (private sector), The Warsaw Labour Office (public sector), Trust for Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe (a public charity incorporated under the laws of the USA), the European Social Fund (ESF) (public sector; the MaMa Foundation takes part in the projects coordinated by the Warsaw local authorities). Apart from that, MaMa Foundation has a status of a public benefit organisation. According to Polish law on public good activity and volunteering, such organisations are allowed to receive 1 per cent of income tax from individuals, so they are tax-deductible organisations. To receive such status, an organisation has to be an NGO (political parties and trade unions do not qualify), involved in specific activities related to public good as described by the law, and be sufficiently transparent in its activities, governance and finances.

42.4. Interaction with the local welfare system

It seems that MaMa Foundation and its activities affected the local public discourse on mothers with small children as a group of particular needs and problems, especially regarding the participation in public places and city space. The foundation contributed significantly to growing awareness of the importance of mother- and child-friendly architecture and local public infrastructure related to culture and leisure. These issues were not seriously discussed before as mothers with small children were associated mostly with the private sphere and child care facilities. MaMa Foundation stresses also the important issue of work and care reconciliation by emphasising that motherhood does not have to be an obstacle to women’s personal or/and professional development. Apart from that, it offers solutions in terms of employment and child care, which are alternative to those provided by public institutions. In the case of “Moms’ Cooperative”, the project addresses a specific subgroup within long-term unemployed women – young single mothers – by using innovative means based on the concepts of social economy.

As for alternative ideas on child care, MaMa Foundation challenges the common belief that women on maternal leave usually spend time with their children at home. If they are not at home, mothers actually do not have much choice of where to go with a small child, except for the local shop, playground or relatives. The social isolation of young mothers results in the sense of loneliness and depression. Regarding these problems, MaMa Foundation leads several “local moms’ clubs” in different parts of Warsaw, where mothers can come with their children, meet, exchange experiences and take part in workshops and training sessions, which are offered by the club. In this context, the activities of MaMa Foundation go beyond the common public debates on child care, which are concentrated on fees and places available in nurseries and kindergartens in Warsaw.

Also, it should be noted that the activities of MaMa Foundation are perceived with interest by organisations and institutions in other cities of Poland:

“Numerous similar organisations emerge, and we often share our experience, and some projects are implemented in other cities, for instance, the project “To the Movies with Your Child”, but also the exhibition “Art of Mothers”, well, things that can be shifted to other cities without us going there.


The project “Warsaw Housewives’ Club” is being implemented in Berlin, and a female representative of the Ukrainian parliament has also displayed some interest in it.


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42. MaMa Foundation

Categories: Child and family care