By Katie Story
In an imposing, gray building, sitting in the flat she had lived in her entire life, Jirina Siklova says that the Czech Republic had achieved gender equality. By contrast, in an abandoned clinic shut down numerous times by the police, Tereza Zvolska says 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 says. “We need to build our own tradition in this field.”
According to the European Commission website, “There are practically no differences between women and men in the areas of access to education, health care and services.”
The government subsidizes contraceptives, and abortions are legal up to three months of the pregnancy. However, there are still areas that can be improved. Jitka Hausenblasova is project manager at the Gender Studies center, set up in 1991. It started as a library but now also publishes many pieces on gender related issues. Hausenblasova deals with issues in corporations that have low percentages of women in upper echelons.
“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,” Hausenblasova says. “This is one of the problems that [show that] women in general are valued as less.”
At the institute, education is crucial to inform both genders about inequalities in modern society—like in the business world. After the fall of communism, people assumed equality between men and women had been achieved because government mandated it, however Hausenblasova says that women may believe their own problems are unique to them when there could be a larger, systematic issue in place. Bringing to light these systematic issues is still something she and the center hopes to address.
Zvolska recently graduated from Charles University with a Masters 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.
The big issue brought up at the lecture at the Klinika was the dearth of women in politics, and if quotas were appropriate to fix this issue. Though there has been an increase during the past two decades, women only make up about 20 percent of elected officials in the Parliament Senate, according to a summary to the report “Political Participation of Women in the Czech Republic,” published by the European Commission, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship Programme in 2012.
The Czech Republic scores higher than the United States for 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 people react negatively because they see feminism only as the western feminism, which was imported and flooded into the country after the fall of communism. As well, people have misconceptions of what a feminist really is. They might think that feminism is synonymous to man-hating.
Because of the communist roots when equality was required by the state, many feel that equality has already been achieved and shouldn’t be so zealously sought for. The state required that all must work, therefore equality was just something that had to happen.
“The ideology [was] that men and women should go to work," Hausenblasova says. "Women should be freed from things like ironing...[the government] had plans for...services. 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,” says Hausenblasova in reference to this idealist social framework.
As Siklova explained that “feminisms” were simple and many questions revolving around it were simple, it seems that the younger generation is struggling with that concept and what it means for their Czech Republic. Sometimes older traditions of superficial security, like communism of the 1950s, are as empty as the concept of equality preached by older generations today.
Sitting among the borrowed couches and books surrounded by anarchist and ideological slogans plastered all over the Klinika, any outsider could see that young Prague people are searching for what they want to believe in and how to reconcile their Western European identity with more extreme, Western movements. Although the Czech Republic has its own, local problems, Zvolska believes that hardly anyone even knows that these problems exist.
“We don’t really have the issue...but in every field there are feminist issues,” Zvolska says. "But nobody really points at that. Society is quite ignorant."