What the Coronavirus Crisis Has Taught Us About the Position of Women in the Czech Republic

January 29, 2021
Michaela Bakala's editorial was published in the special issue of Hospodarske noviny dedicated to TOP Czech Women Awards on January 27, 2021. Dear readers, Times of crisis reveal in full what has been quietly simmering beneath the surface during the quiet times. The coronavirus crisis tells us a lot about ourselves, our society, and our economy. Among other things, it reveals how we are doing when it comes to women’s equality and the use of their potential in governing our country. It is obvious the pandemic and the imposed restrictions have had a more significant impact on women. Closed schools and restaurants in these difficult times have revealed what a woman has to cope with in her role as a partner and mother, no matter how demanding is her own profession. Perhaps, as a result, more people (especially those who are in position to influence things) will understand that equality barriers in the labor market persist, especially when it comes to reconciling work and family life. It is mothers who usually stay at home with the children; we have the longest maternity leaves. There is a shortage of kindergartens and nurseries, and part-time work for parents of small children is still not the standard. This is not something vociferous feminists shout about, empirical data confirms this. The “woman and career” prejudices prevail. Discussions continue on the extent to which a woman has the right to step back from her familial duties and pursue a career. Whether she can succeed in typically male domains and whether it makes sense to have more women in dominant political, business, and academic positions. I think this is where the coronavirus crisis has helped in overcoming some gender stereotypes. There have been some very positive examples of the potential women have leading in the highest government positions. One could even say that countries lead by a woman have been much more successful in fighting the pandemic. One such country is New Zealand with its PM Jacinda Ardern. Jacinda has been leading the country through the coronavirus crisis in a calm and orderly manner. She pushed through measures that kept COVID infections extremely low. She symbolizes a progressive type of politics and is set by many as an example for great statesmen. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Finnish PM Sanna Marin and President of the Slovak Republic Zuzana Caputova also demonstrated the ability to act and at the same time calm and guide people in their countries during the coronavirus crisis. These examples of female politicians dominating the rankings of credibility reminded me of one of Barack Obama’s speeches. He said that if only women ran the world for two years, we would wake up to a better world. Successful female politicians are not the rule, but they are good examples, a challenge, and a goal that the Czech Republic will one day have a woman at the country’s helm. It is only a matter of time before the Czechs become aware of the women’s potential in leading politics. So far, our country cannot boast of a significant female representation in politics. If we look at the ranking of democratic countries based on the number of women in the lower chambers of their parliaments, the first place goes to Sweden with 42 percent. The Czech Republic is at the bottom of this list with its 22 percent. We can continue tabling evidence of prevailing unequal conditions. This topic might seem tiresome, but we need to talk about the continued existence of the glass ceiling, preventing women from equal pay for the same their work as their male counterparts. The average hourly earnings of women in Czechia are 20 percent lower than those of men. Czechia ranks third among the EU countries when it comes to this earnings difference. We have to make it clear that some things are simply not right. Not everything has to be governed by law. It is more important how the society understands and behaves in terms of women’s rights norms. I am convinced that inspiring examples of successful women involved in economic, political, and social life are a more potent weapon in fighting gender inequalities and stereotypes than, say, quotas. And this is why it makes sense to me to be the patron of the Top Czech Women project. Organized by the Economia media house for the 16th year, TOP Czech Women honors women from business, non-profit, and public sectors. The main goal is not to hand out trophies for their successes in their fields. Foremost, it is to present their life stories and to inspire other women to follow their example. And if anyone is about to say that such women’s only groups only make matters worse, I will disabuse them of that notion. This project has men on its panel, in the organizing team, and we always invite them to the ceremony announcing the results. We view men as partners that we need in our lives. We want to achieve and share our successes with them. Therefore, I believe the life stories of the awarded TOP Czech women of 2020 will appeal not only to women but also to members of the opposite sex. The achievements of this year’s winners can inspire us all.  Above all, we should all congratulate them from our hearts. I suspect this year will not be easy. We will again be facing uncertainties and changes. I wish all of us success. May we remain optimistic and strong. We will need good health and a lot of luck! The world around us is changing, let’s use it as an opportunity! Michaela Bakala, philanthropist, and patron of the TOP Czech Women project

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