Feminism in Czech Republic
After the wave of "revolutions" in the late 90s, Eastern Europe was flooded by Western "missionaries" (in all senses of the word) who were willing to help with building of the new democratic system. Many of the Western feminist that came to the Czech Republic were only very superficially familiar with the historical perspective and the position of women in socialist countries. In her introduction to the subject, Laura Busheikin(9), a Canadian working for the Gender Studies Center in Prague -- describes that she personally witnessed how "the iron curtain was replaced by blinds"(10). When the Western feminists met the Eastern European women, two stereotypes clashed: the stereotype of a Western feminist, and the one of the "backward Eastern Sister"(11). Many Czech women who saw the Western feminists as "the feminist brigade", developed a relation oscillating between defensive and offensive attitude'(12). Busheikin quotes Ann Snitow's claim about the relationship between Eastern European women and Western feminists: "This is the hardest thing I've ever encountered in tweet' three years of feminist organizing" (13). Eastern European feminists (the token example is Slavenka Drakulic and her conflicts with American feminists) soon started to challenge feminist basics(14): they would put in doubt basic terms, such as "liberation from patriarchal oppression, emancipation, equality"(15). Traditional and deeply lived-through disbelief in socialism, traditional distrust for ideologies would question all the terminology which is reminiscent of the discourse used by the old system. Another problem is the "leftist air of feminism" and the skepticism all socialist doctrines bring with themselves for anybody who lived through "the real socialism".
Nevertheless, the initial misunderstanding between the goals of the Western "feminist brigade" and Czech feminists gave rise to discussions and activities which crystallized in establishing various women's organization. The first of them, and probably the most widely known, is the Gender Studies Center in Prague. Founded and run first in the living room of a flat owned by Jidna Siklová one of the most famous Czech feminists, it grew within a few years into a real center which organizes conferences, workshops, lectures and runs a huge library, with publishing and archiving activities.
The workshops embrace a wide range of topics, from childhood, aging and the spiritual world to pornography, sex, politics, violence or racism. The center organizes university lectures at the Department of Social Work and Applied Sociology at Charles University in Prague, Palacky University in Olomouc and Masaryk University in Brno. Otherwise, none of these universities (the three most important universities in the country) has a permanent gender studies program. The publication of the Gender Studies in Prague include "Bodies of Bread and Butter': a collection of essays on gender issues in the Czech and Slovak Republics, and Eva Hauserová's book A Bosom Can Be Even Flown On, which provides a comprehensive introduction to Western feminisms as a background for the clarification of Czech feminism.
Currently, the center is working on a project called "The Memory of Women", archiving the woman's experience in various periods of time. The conclusion of the first part of the project, "Women under socialism", was celebrated during the opening of the First Women Center this March.
Other organizations related to gender issues in the Czech Republic are:
(Moreover, there is a smaller gender studies center, Meduza, in Brno, which has a runs a library, organizes workshops and conferences and publishes the journal Potmechut. Med~7~ was started and is still run by Pavla Buchtova. Another very important organization is the association Aspekt, with its center in Bratislava. Their journal of the same name is the most important journal of feminist theory and literature that is published in Czech and Slovak Republics).
On March 6th, 1998, the Prague feminist groups participated in opening the First Women Center (situated in a beautiful art nouveau building nearby the center of the city in Narodni dim Smichov, Nam. 14. Vrijna 16, Prague 5) which includes not only the offices of the six organizations, but a library, internet resources room, gallery and a tea room, as well. The Gender Studies Center is preparing a extensive webpage on http://www.ecn.cz/gender/, which should be finished very soon and will include information about all Czech feminist organizations.
Outside of academia, the knowledge about the activities of the Gender Studies Center is not common (the situation may have slightly changed if a massive PR action accompanied the opening of the First Women Center). As many theoreticians point out, "common" women do usually not have any interest in getting involved in politics because they were forced into public engagement during the socialist regime. Jirina Siklová(16) sees another reason why women are not interested in politicizing their concerns in the rather good economic situation: women face less insecurity than men in the work market (traditionally female jobs are less threatened with unemployment, as opposed to heavy industries that have to undergo a radical restructuring). But on the other hand, as J.C. Goldfarb (17) points out, women in the new regime have to face a wave of nationalism, new traditionalism and religion revival which threatens the position they gained in the society.
The recent discussion about abortion (which was started in February 1998 and is still going on in the newspaper Lidove Noviny) epitomizes the new concern with morality and traditional values which sweeps across the newly established countries. The discussion was started by a few "moral men" who reel that the abortion law is ineffective (as one of them put it, the number of abortions is not decreasing quickly enough). Since the new abortion law was introduced in 1993, it was indirectly restricted by the high cost (over 3.000 Kc, which equals more than half of the average per capita monthly pay and it is slightly more than the "minimum wage" earning for one month). Many abortions are still carried on in facilities in critical conditions and women are often treated very rudely by the personnel of the hospital.
Although, according to a 1991 survey 8, 93% of women aged 18-39 (as opposed to 61% of the entire population) support the right of women to chose, not many women participated in the discussion. Shocked by the Oberhausen case, when a live child was born of what was supposed to be an abortion, mostly anti-abortion men brought the subject to the Czech media. Only one of the men, a famous sexologist Radim Uzel, supported the right to choose, for which he was attacked by the others. Women carefully entered the discussion later, but when Bela Plechanovová tried to analyze the discussion on the background of power relations within genders, she was almost laughed at by the other participants in the discussion. This abortion debate must be seen within a broader context: in the difficult economic conditions, people marry later and start families later, and the Czech Republic has a traditionally high divorce rate. During the transformation era, nasality was steadily decreasing until it reached a negative level. "The dying nation" thus becomes another concern of the pro-life activists. As the religious tradition is rather weak (although some religious revivalism may be seen after the revolution), anti-abortion positions are much more held in the name of some abstract "morality". Contraceptives are widely available, and the number of women on the pill is steadily increasing, despite the high costs. RU486 was already discussed in the media, but did not get enough support for registration yet.
Another phenomenon connected to the sexual behavior of the population is wide spread prostitution. Czech prostitutes are considered to be beautiful, professional and cheap. Especially in the areas by the borders with Germany, prostitution is completely out of official control, and many women "work" literally by the roads, in inhuman conditions. exploited by pimps and in constant life threatening danger from their customers. Feminist organization La Strada is trying to help these women by providing them with support and information about safety, hygiene and contraception; in addition to trying to find means to prevent the traffic with women (i.e., kidnapping women and selling them into prostitution).
Significantly, many of the Czech women groups are focused on particular problems. helping women which are/were exploited or are in immediate danger. Despite this fact, the Czech Republic is not so sensitive to the notion of sexual harassment (19), which is mockingly translated as sexualn haraseni", meaning "sexual rattling". What is often considered normal behavior or "harmless fun" in communication would definitely classify as sexual harassment in the West. As Jirina Siklová points out, the definition of rape is different as well, as such the notion of date rape and spouse rape would not apply to the situation in the Czech Republic. Generally, women prefer not to report rape, because the harsh interrogation process that usually follows is often very humiliating, putting the victim in the position of somebody who "deserved it".