Gender equality, feminism face mixed discussion in Czech Republic

In an imposing, gray building, sitting in the flat she’d lived in her entire life, 82-year old Jirina Siklova said that the Czech Republic had achieved gender equality. By contrast, in an abandoned clinic, the Klinika, shut down numerous times by the police, Tereza Zvolska said that feminism looks to find its place among Czech culture because national culture itself, specifically in Prague, is still finding itself.

“Czech people are still sort of searching for an identity in general and I think it’s basically connected to the feminism as well,” Zvolska said. “…we need to build our own tradition in this field.”

Jitka Hausenblasova is a project manager at the Gender Studies center. Launched in 1991, the center began as a library but now also publishes many articles on gender-related issues. Hausenblasova deals with those issues in corporations that have low percentages of women in upper management.

“Here we have a lot of areas that are feminized…so that means these professions are less valued than others that are perceived as male professions” said Hausenblasova, “This is one of the problems that [show that] women in general are valued as less.”

At the institute, according to Hausenblasova, education is crucial to inform both genders about inequalities in modern society. After the fall of communism, people assumed equality between men and women had been achieved because it was mandated by the former government. As a result, Hausenblasova said that women may believe their own problems are unique to them when there could be a larger system issue in place. Bringing to light these systemic issues is the issue she and the center hope to address.

Zvolska recently graduated from Charles University with a master’s in gender studies. Although she says people scoff at her degree and complain that she wasted their tax dollars in a major that could lead nowhere, she believes that in every facet of daily life there are feminist issues that need to be addressed.

A key topic of a recent lecture at the Klinika concerned the under representation of women in politics and whether quotas were appropriate to solve the issue. Though there has been an increase during the past two decades, women still make up about 20 percent of elected officials in the Parliament Senate, according to a summary in the report “Political Participation of Women in the Czech Republic,” published by the European Commission, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Programme in 2012, yet women are about 51 percent of the population.

The Czech Republic scores higher than the United States with percentage of women in the Lower or Single House, with the U.S. only having about 19 percent. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which focuses on worldwide dialogue among parliaments, both countries fall behind about 68 other countries when it comes to percentage of women in government.

However, bringing up these issues and tying them to the overall movement of feminism causes mixed reactions. Hausenblasova said that some people react negatively because they see feminism only as Western feminism, which was imported into the country after the fall of communism. She adds that some people have misconceptions about what a feminist really is and believe it to be synonymous with man-hating.

In addition, because equality was required by the state when the Czech Republic was under Communist rule, Hausenblasova adds that many feel equality has already been achieved and people should not fight for it so zealously. Hausenblatova says that because the state required all people to work, equality was to some degree a naturally-occurring phenomenon.

“The ideology [was] that men and women should go to work. Women should be freed from things like ironing … [the government] had plans for … services,” Hausenblasova said. “The ideal community was some kind of unit and everyday people should be going to work and all the other things should be provided by the services … like laundry services.”

However, women still ended up with two “jobs” because the services the state was supposed to provide never came into fruition.

“It was just a theory, but in reality the communist planning just didn’t work,” Hausenblasova said.

Sitting among the borrowed couches and books surrounded by posters and slogans plastered around the Klinika, Zvolska believes that people don’t pay attention to particular local issues, but they should pay attention to feminist issues.

“In every field there are feminist issues,” she said. “But nobody really points at that. Society is quite ignorant.”

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