Issue Story: The Other “F” Word

By: Alana Hood

The Czech Republic has a very unique place on the spectrum of feminism

Feminism takes many different forms around the world—a fact that is easy to forget in a relatively progressive country like the United States. In the Czech Republic, the word “feminism” is hardly even uttered; it’s almost considered a curse word.

Many men have a hesitancy to change their mindset about women’s abilities. Jana Ciglerova, the previous editor-in-chief of the Czech Republic’s Elle, explained that a large majority of men look for a 1950s ideal woman—one who finds her fulfillment solely from being a homemaker. Women may disagree with this perspective and recognize their own professional abilities, but there is an overwhelming tendency to refuse the self-categorization of “feminist.”

Talk of women and their sole importance in the home can be heard in taxi cabs, on the metro, and in the street markets of Prague, something that varies greatly from the normal discussion of the topic in the metropolises of the United States.

Within Europe, the Czech Republic only has 18 women in parliament, ranking the second lowest and just ahead of Malta, which only has two women in legislative office out of 16 members total.

This low representation of women as decision makers is reflected in the business world as well. According to the European Union, the amount of women in executive positons does not reach greater than 10 percent in any of the regions of the Czech Republic. In the top 25 companies in the Czech Republic, 100 percent of the Chief Executive Officers are male.

Though the business and political landscape is dominated by men, women began to exceed men in the higher education graduation rate by a ratio of 120 to 100, according to a 1997 statistic from State University. While that statistic is more than 20 years old, it shows there has been time for women to grow into more impactful leadership positons in their respective businesses.

As a country who escaped the throws of communism just 24 years ago, the Czech Republic’s views of equality has a complicated history. During the communist period, equality was evident in every aspect of life: housing, job opportunity, taxes, among other areas, according to Dr. Kelly Hignett, a historian and lecturer at Leeds Beckett University, who studies Central Europe,

There were many false efforts to promote equality for women during the Communist period. According to the country’s constitution at the time, women were given the same rights as men, depicted in one of the most common mottos of communism, “equality for all.” On paper, women were equal, but changing the feelings of the general public seemed to be easier said than done.

The Prague Castle complex, the area of the Czech Republic’s national government

In the present day, women’s maternity leave usually lasts anywhere from two to three years—what would seem like a privilege to the women of the United States, many of whom only get a few weeks, and many more, none at all. However, this advantage can cause problems in a woman’s professional life. It leaves room for discriminatory hiring, with some employers hesitant to hire women in their late 20s and early 30s.

Monika Mcgarrell Klimentova, a participation specialist for the city of Prague who helps engage the public in city planning and safety, said, “Prague is a bit of a bubble. The ideals are much more modern than in other areas of the Czech Republic, but there is still a lot of room for improvement.”

Klimentova focuses much of her research and work on the safety of women around the city.

“Feminism is still a swear word to much of Prague, but we are trying to have a renaissance of the word and help people to understand that it would bring positivity to the entire society,” Kilmentova said.

Because communism is fresh in the minds of the Czech people, many critics of feminist principles relate gender equality to the egalitarianism of the communist era.  Leveling the playing field between men and women is seen by some as an enemy to democracy because it suggests forced employment by gender instead of solely ability, but some argue that feminism simply rewards women to the same extent that men are rewarded in the professional environment.

Under communism, Czech citizens were encouraged to view feminism not as its own issue, but as a general form of human rights. More radical feminists believe this perspective is too passive.

Klimentova said, “The public often has a hard time remembering that feminism can lead to opening the gates for other discriminated groups like minority races.”

But according to Klimentova, most of the public simply doesn’t want to label themselves as “feminists” because of the negative connotation the word still has in Czech society.

“A lot of the young men I work with would probably be feminists, but they would never openly say that,” Klimentova stated. “The change in the acceptance of the word has been improving at a very slow rate.”