The extent to which the EU has fulfilled its pledge to spread and promote gender equality within its member states during the 2004 enlargement process is debatable. The case of the Czech Republic, a state that slipped to 96th place on a scale of 142 countries in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report (WEF, 2014), in particular demonstrates the inefficiency of EU action in this realm of affairs. Czech women’s lobby groups, who are at the heart of the action for gender equality, are frustrated with both the stagnation of progress and the EU’s sometimes damaging imposition.
Whilst the EU faces significant obstacles regards gender equality in the Czech Republic, stemming from a lack of open political institutions and of government compliance, the supranational institution has not acted efficiently in nipping these restraints in the bud. A gap between ‘legislative guarantees put on paper and their implementation in practice’ (Havelkova, 2009) persists, and the Czech authorities’ activity continues as an ‘incoherent exercise in window dressing’ (Pavlik, 2008). The failure of the state to exploit the supposed domestic, international and resource opportunities of Europeanisation, and the EU’s restricted influence in the arena, were arguably set in stone in 2004, when Czech accession was granted despite five incomplete gender directives*.
*At the time of accession, the following gender directives in the Czech Republic were incomplete: 1000/43/EC ‘Racial Equality’, 2000/78/EC ‘Employment Equality’, 86/613/EEC ‘Equal Treatment In Self-Employment And For Self-Employed Mothers’, 79/7/EEC ‘Equal Treatment In Statutory Social Security’, and 96/7/EEC ‘Equal Treatment In Occupational Social Security Schemes’.
The 2014 WEF report gave the Czech Republic a gender equality score of 0.674 (equality being 1), placing the state . In terms of ‘wage equality’ the country ranked 119th (0.8 below the average), its pay gap at 25% (Women, 2014). 63 women for every 79 men are in work and 26 women to every 74 men have positions as legislators, senior officials and managers. In terms of political empowerment, the state ranked 118th for ‘women in ministerial positions’ (7 women to every 93 men), and regards ‘women in parliament’ there are 20 women to every 81 men. The country ranked 100th for gender economic participation. As Lazarová reports, the Czech Republic is very much ‘still struggling with gender equality issues’ (2014).
Inequalities and discrimination in gender in the Czech Republic continue to manifest in the realms of the media, politics, education, labour, the health care system, trafficking and prostitution, and in rural life. Roma women suffer from a double discrimination, as both women and members of an ethnic minority. The government laws, policies and practices dealing with these issues are both inadequate and problematic.
The EU as a Placebo?
Czech women’s lobby groups are frustrated to say the least. Their plight may have been legitimised by EU integration and supported by crucial funding; however, significant obstacles restrain their effectiveness due to an imposed formalisation. Financial dependency, for one, has cost women’s NGOs their sovereignty. The result has been an organisational rupture, by which their agenda is decided by the EU and their objectives consequently adapted to their capacity, and not the other way around. Director of Gender Studies, Helena Skálová, claims that EU interference has limited the diversity of gender issues targeted, and imposed an extreme administrative burden (Dolezelova & Ciprova, 2014). At first librarian, then information specialist, and now project manager for Gender Studies, Michaela Svatošová deplores the ‘very commercialised approach’ forced upon women’s NGOs, which strips them of their activism and imposes a uniform structure built on the overarching EU goals of economic and labour market growth.
‘The EU,’ Svatošová says, ‘is just a placebo. It does not heal the issue from the bottom; it actually covers the filth up with a fancy coat’ (2015).
Whilst real changes must result, not from hard-line ‘superficial’ EU laws, but from within the system, and this will ‘unfold over time’ (Pierson, 1998), the EU must fulfil its role by: carefully controlling the implementation of its policies and putting pressure on the state to consistently promote gender equality; spreading greater awareness of the gender inequalities and transparent EU action through the media and discussions; and by financing diverse topics related to gender equality — smaller and independent initiatives. Key gender inequalities that have been side-lined by EU action, such as gender stereotypes and gender-based violence must be confronted. Policies must support the EU rhetoric of ‘basic protection of citizens regardless of their social status’, and not, as Svatošová states, only ‘upper class white educated people who are economically active and bring some cash to the state’ (2015).
Dolezelova, A., & Ciprova, K. (2014). EU — accelerator or brake for gender equality in the Czech Republic? Warsaw: Heinrich Boll Stiftung.
Havelkova, B. (2009). The legal notion of gender equality in the Czech Republic. Women’s Studies International Forum, 21–29.
Lazarova, D. (2014). Radio Praha. Retrieved from Radio Praha:http://www.radio.cz/en/section/curraffrs/czech-republic-still-struggling-with-gender-equality-issues
Pavlik, P. (2008). Equal opportunities for all? Gender Politics in the Czech Republic. In S. Baer S, & M. Hoheisel , Between success and disappointment: Gender equality policies in an enlarged Europe (pp. 191–205). Berlin: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, GenderKompetenzZentrum.
Pierson, P. (1998). The path to european integration: a historical-institutionalist analysis. In W. Sandholtz, & A. Stone Sweet, European integration and supranational governance (pp. 27–58). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Svatošová, M. (2015, April 29). Project Manager at Gender Studies. (C. Shute, Interviewer)
WEF. (2014). Economies . Retrieved from World Economic Forum:http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2014/economies/#economy=CZE
Women. (2014). Introduction. Retrieved from Gender Equality Creates Democracy: http://www.gender-equality.webinfo.lt/results/czech.htm