Are Eastern women conservative?

There is no women’s movement in the Czech Republic. That is the dissatisfying conclusion I had to come up with after examining the Western-styled feminist literature.

Neither State Commissioners for the Equality of Women nor family ministry are known there. The Czech government represents the curiosity of a mere men’s club in whole Europe today. Only 9 percent of the parliament’s members are women: a paradox and shameful situation if you bear in mind the huge participation of women in political activities against the old regime.

Something inside of me refused these plain political facts, didn’t want to adopt the picture of marginalised women’s interests. I needed to see it with my own eyes and so I jumped in the train to Prague. Like in a Kamikaze-action I hoped to save my wishful dream of the emancipated eastern women. I lead my steps to the Prague gender studies centre and to Jirina Siklova, a former women dissident and member of the Charter 77, who founded it in 1991.

The punk girl that worked in the centre library gave me Siklova’s private phone number and offered me to call her right from the spot. Half an hour later I sat on the couch in Siklova’s sitting room. The next four hours I spent in a quite chaotic atmosphere: with craftsmen fixing the bathroom; the grandchild, wearing a crown on her head and asking for attention; the display of a video of a journalist friend on a social project made for TV and me, the foreign visitor.

In her library I finally got a possibility to ask the question because of which I had come to see Jirina Siklova. What are the reasons for the invisibility of women in the public political scene?

"First we have to arrange democracy", thinks Jirina Siklova. The question of the participation of women in political power is totally misplaced at the moment.The experienced socialist emancipation has destroyed the sensibility for the women’s question. And the radical feminists who came to Prague right after the velvet revolution, for ‘missionary work’ with the feed sisters, finished it off.

However, the Czech women did not yet have to experience how quickly women’s rights can get lost: the high level of working women has not changed since 1988, it remains to be about 46%. The closures of nursery schools didn’t lead to protest because they had been of low quality anyway. A cut in women’s rights, like with the abortion debate in Poland, Germany or Hungary, has not developed.

When I read about the non-existing women’s movement in the Czech Republic today, the missing women in the political scene and the apathy against feminism, I recall my visit to Jirina Siklova and my impression of her: In the middle of all, orientated on the requirements of everyday life, self-confident and self-determined.

Now the necessity of a Western-styled feminism in the Czech Republic seem questionable and the paradox. So far, no unique Czech or East European feminist thought has developed. But when it does, it will be different and it will raise other questions than the Western feminist debate.

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