This Monday saw thousands of women go on a nationwide strike in Poland in a protest against the ban on abortion proposed by the ruling Law and Justice party. Warsaw-based Rafal Milach, co-founder of Sputnik Photos and one of the photographers shortlisted for the 2016 New East Photo Prize, joined the 30,000 demonstrators protesting in the streets of the capital in what has since been dubbed “Black Monday”, referring to the colour worn by both women and men on the day.

“I’ve been taking part in all the demonstrations since the change of government in 2015. Sometimes as a photographer, sometimes as a participant, sometimes both. This time I felt like the women, and also the men as well, were united beyond some political factions or ideas — it was about this very basic human fundamental right,” Milach told The Calvert Journal.  

Yesterday it was announced that the proposed law, which had passed the reading stage in the Polish government, has been rejected as a result of the scale of public protest. The pro-choice demonstrators' turnout was bigger than anyone expected, with many simultaneous marches taking place beyond Poland in cities such as Berlin, Paris, Brussels and London in solidarity with Polish women. 

“I was afraid that this energy would not bring any result because so far all the protests we’ve had, the government has not reacted to. This time it was different. We didn’t expect the government to respond so quickly. It was amazing to be part of something that provoked actual change, at least for the moment. I don’t know what’s going to happen next but at least there was a reaction,” the photographer reflects. 

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