The battle for gender equality rages on in the Czech Republic

The battle for gender equality rages on in the Czech Republic

Czech women are twice as likely to be poor as Czech men, according to a report published by Social Watch earlier this year.

(David W. Cerny/Reuters)
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On the outskirts of the eastern Czech city of Brno, Jana Molková is sitting in the kitchen of her small flat, searching for jobs online. She’s been unemployed for the past six months after losing her cleaning job at a nearby factory.

“I lost that job because they wanted me to work longer hours and I couldn’t do it,” she explains. “I have to collect my son from school, cook the meals, and everything else. It wasn’t possible. So now we survive somehow.”

Jana’s husband left suddenly two years ago and since then she’s been bringing up their two sons, aged three and eight, alone. Financial help from the state is “very minimal,” she tells Equal Times, and when asked about child support payments from her husband, she simply shakes her head. “We had to move into a much smaller flat when he left,” she says. “Life changed a lot.”

Jana is not alone. In fact, Czech women are twice as likely to be poor as Czech men according to a report published by Social Watch earlier this year. Single mothers like Jana are among those most likely to be living in poverty, along with female migrants and women over the age of 65.

Women are solely responsible for 87 per cent of the estimated 180,000 single-parent families in the Czech Republic, the report says. On top of that, single mothers are more likely to be in low-paid work, and twice as likely to be unemployed than the national average.

In addition, a new study by the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI) shows that wages in the Czech Republic were on average 8.3 per cent lower than in Germany in 1993; by 2015 that disparity stood at 30.9 per cent lower, despite increasing levels of productivity.

The Social Watch report accurately reflects the current situation in the Czech Republic, according to The Czech-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions (CMKOS), the largest trade union confederation in the Czech Republic.

“The most significant problem in our country is the very high gender pay gap, low wages and salaries generally, but especially in sectors where female workers prevail,” Dana Machátová, chair of the CMKOS Committee of Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, tells Equal Times. “This is the main cause of the feminisation of poverty, especially among single-mothers and female pensioners.”

Marketa Mottlová, author of the report and project coordinator at Czech equality watchdog Forum 50%, says the consequences of the disadvantaged position of women on the labour market are serious in terms of economic dependence and poverty.

The financial problems faced by Czech women are closely linked to other inequality issues, according to CMKOS, such as under-representation in government. Domestic violence is another issue that’s impossible to separate from economic dependence in a society where experts point out that sexist attitudes persist in many areas.

Alarmingly, Mottlová point out that every third Czech woman has experienced violence in her life.

“Stereotypes around the topic of rape are present in the Czech society,” she says. “Victims are sometimes seen as co-responsible for the rape.”

“Poverty among women and violence against women are the most serious outcomes of gender inequality in the Czech Republic,” Hana Stelzerová, director of the Czech Women’s Lobby, tells Equal Times.

“Of course there are more structural inequalities in Czech society and often it is linked to sexism and the perception of women as household keepers and therefore those that do the unpaid work,” she says. “Women are the ones that take care of the needy, and it has an effect on their income.”

“Czech women often choose to be at home with the children for a long time and don’t anticipate the negative effect of it,” she adds. “If there’s problem in the family, women become economically dependent on the men.”

Because women default to taking unpaid caring roles, men are usually able to spend much more time throughout their lives on building a career, she says, meaning they have “economic superiority over women.”

Tackling gender inequality

The Czech Women’s Lobby is one of a slowly growing number of voices in the country lobbying for the government to introduce concrete measures to tackle gender inequality.

“There are now two measures that are on the political agenda that could help to address female poverty - social housing and substitute alimony for single parents,” points out Mottlová. “The authorities should also adopt concrete measures to close gender pay gap, for example gender audits in public institutions.”

But any progress being made on gender equality by the Czech government is slow.

In May 2016 the Czech Republic signed the Istanbul Convention. It was the next-to-last state to do so and the convention has not yet been ratified. According to the Social Watch report, the reason for the delay is “the lack of willingness to accept the gender question when it comes to the issue of violence.”

“There’s an unwillingness [among government officials] to recognise that violence is gender based and mirrors gender relations in society,” says Mottlová. “In most cases women are victims and men are perpetrators.”

Meanwhile, proposals to introduce legislative quotas for the share of women on electoral lists were rejected, despite the fact that one of the recommendations of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women is the introduction of quotas.

The situation isn’t helped by the fact that women are under-represented in decision making positions in the Czech Republic.

“Even though women constitute half of society, only one fifth of them are represented in politics,” says Mottlová. “Since political decisions influence both men and women, female experiences and perspectives should not be lacking.”

Reasons to be positive

However, the current Czech government gives campaigners some reasons to be positive. Stelzerová says there is hope that the economic situation for women could improve “thanks to the current labour minister, who is a feminist.”
Meanwhile, there has been long-awaited success in raising the national minimum wage.

The CMKOS says that for many years it has sought an increase in the minimum wage in vain. “Only the current government meets the demands of the trade unions,” says Machátová. “Nevertheless, the CMKOS continues to seek further increases of the minimum wage, also an important instrument for reducing the gender pay gap.”

The CMKOS and affiliated trade unions have been leading an intensive campaign against cheap labour in the Czech Republic, which includes efforts to reduce and eliminate the gender pay gap.

“The aim of the campaign is to extricate the Czech economy from the persistent economic concept of low wages and salaries,” says Machátová. “Trade union pressure has positively influenced private sector bargaining and wage increases in the public sphere.”

Experts also point to a slowly growing public awareness of gender issues and increasing media coverage in the Czech Republic.

“I think the media pays much more attention to gender issues than in the past which is a good development,” says Mottlová. “But the improvement in gender equality is slow, we still have a long way to go.”