By Romy Caverlé and Marijn Butter
For many years now, women rights are a big issue in Slovakia. Women in this country do not have the same rights as men and are expected to fulfill the traditional role women were told to have. So, the question is: who should be responsible for changing this conservative mindset: the government or the European Union?
On 1 April this year, the Slovak government announced that they were going to drop the Istanbul Convention. This is the international treaty on women rights protects women against domestic violence and to promote gender equality. The Slovak National Party (SNS) claimed that the convention contradicts the definition of gender from the Slovak’s Constitution. In the whole European Union, women are paid 20% less compared to men. In Slovakia it’s even more: namely 22%. Furthermore, there is a 9% difference between the wages of men and women in the exact same job position. Nevertheless, Slovakia just elected their first female president, Zuzana Čaputová, which is a huge step for the country but will not solve the gender inequality right away.
One of the people who wants to see a change, is Zsolt Gal. He is a professor at the ESN Comenius University Bratislava in political science. According to Gal, people in Slovakia are used to the fact that women rights are not equal to men rights: “The view on abortion comes from the heritage of the communist regime and there were no serious attempts in that time to change it,” Gal says, “That’s why the traditional role of women in society is still very present in daily life of Slovakian people.” But what’s necessary to change this traditional role of women within the Slovakian society?
Other people besides politicians who want to see a change, are feminists like Siesta. Siesta, whose real name is Victoria, is a Slovak women who introduced herself in three words: feminist, anti-fascist and vegan. Siesta uses her Instagram to show people in Slovakia that it’s important to fight for their rights as a woman in this country. “Slovakia is a traditional and really strong Catholic country where women belong in the kitchen and have no voice. So, I want to change this.”
Siesta points out that there are still a lot of issues, such as abortion, harassment and other violations, in Slovakia, where women are often not taken seriously: “For example, the Me-too movement was a really big thing abroad but not in Slovakia, because in Slovakia we’re told that these women only invented these stories themselves.” According to Siesta, it’s not only the conservative media and politicians who blame these women but also society in general who’s responsible for that. Slovakia is a very traditional country that still has stereotyped gender roles.”
Women should also have a stronger voice in the European Union and they should set a law about salaries for women, according to Siesta. Huge gaps in salaries between men and women in the same job positions illustrate the fact that women are not treated the same way. “In western European countries, women have a stronger voice and are not afraid. In Slovakia, women are supposed to be thin and good looking, patient and silent.” Siesta wants to make a difference by participating in protests to fight for women rights.
However, even though a lot of feminists, politicians and professors think they don’t belong to the traditionally minded people who are stuck in their cultural bubble, they are still a part of it. “It is what it is,” is still a sentence that even feminists in Slovakia often use. The number of abortions is declining, which ensures that there are now only around 1000 abortions per year. Women in Slovakia think it’s a good thing, even though this says nothing about the fact if women are able to do an abortion when they want or need to.
“Due to the traditional mindset of the Slovakian people, issues like abortion are not even on the agenda,” says Gal. According to Siesta, the EU shouldn’t make decisions for Slovakia but the country needs to do that by itself at their own pace: “It’s important for the country to do this on a national level, because the Slovakian citizens are not ready for such a radical change. The traditional roles of women and men are fully integrated into their lives, which makes it hard to change their perspectives on certain topics. First, a radical cultural change is necessary before the country can take effective measures to improve women rights in Slovakia.”
Also, listen to our podcast and take a look at our photo essay about women rights in Slovakia.