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Point/Counterpoint

Women deserve a break...
...but equality a bigger issue

The daily paper Sme recently carried a pair of articles on the position of women in Slovak society. The first, written by Monika Beňová, the general manager of the non-parliamentary Smer party, was published on March 3, and advocated changing the Civil Code to give working women with small children one day off per month; Smer has made the proposal the subject of its latest billboard campaign. A response appeared from sociologist Magdalena Piscová on March 20.

Women deserve a break...

By Monika Beňová
During the few decades that the emancipation process has been unfolding around the globe, it has been proven that the extent to which women are emancipated reflects the extent to which each society is emancipated.
Real emancipation in Slovakia did not start until after 1989. Slovak women and girls, who had grown up in patriarchal families, were caught off guard. Nevertheless, women tried to establish themselves in society, the business sector, and more slowly on the political scene.
In general, women currently dominate the memberships of non-profit organisations, NGOs and civic groups; they are overwhelmingly involved in environmental areas, in the protection of human rights, in helping the handicapped, battered women and children. However, it is still difficult for women to establish themselves in the wider context.
Even nowadays, it is rare to find women in leading managerial posts in the corporate world. As during Communism, women are to be found mostly among middle management and technical staff. The education and health care sectors, which are among the lowest paid in the country, remain the domain of women.
When Slovak managers meet a woman during an 'important' meeting, they are usually interested in how nice her legs are; at best they smile tolerantly, at worst they pound the desk, use rough and offensive expressions, and appear to think that women should stay in the kitchen. Consequently, Slovak women have to make twice the effort (as their male colleagues) to win senior managerial posts.
How much is whispered about female politicians, business people, company directors - essentially about any women who, God forbid, are ambitious. Our male colleagues constantly feed society with spicy and 'reliable' information on what each of us must have 'done' in order to win our posts.
Despite the general climate in society, I am very encouraged to see more and more women getting involved in social, economic and business spheres. It only remains for more women to become involved in politics.
With the help of Róbert Fico, [a member of parliament and chairman of the non-parliamentary Smer party - ed. note], I am trying to push forward a change to the Civic Code which would allow women with children younger than 15 years to have one day off per month that they could devote to their children, family and their own mental health. We all must pull together to eliminate hidden discrimination against women.

Monika Beňová is general
manager of the Smer party


...but equality a bigger issue

By Magdaléna Piscová
After reading Monika Beňová's analysis of the position of women in Slovakia, I get the feeling either that the two of us live in parallel worlds, or that the issue of women has become a good opportunity for generating political capital.
For starters, to say that the real process of emancipation only began after 1989 seems to me to be simplifying and ideologising what really happened. To draw a connection between the position of women in society and the fact that they were brought up in patriarchal family structures, and that they were therefore unprepared for the change that occurred, is to simplify and distort the truth. Were men prepared for the changes in society any better?
I am also convinced the patriarchal family model doesn't exist in Slovakia today, and nor did it exist 10 or 15 years ago. For example, during the 1990s there has been no real alternative to a family model in which the mother is economically active, and the family unit has two incomes - no alternative, that is, except in cases where the mother was single and the only bread-winner.
Perhaps things were not ideal under Communism, but they were far better than in Ireland, for example, where before 1976 a woman had to leave her job as soon as she got married.
And I'm not saying that our society has no work to do to improve the position of women. If we compare average wage figures, for example, we see that women are at a disadvantage to men.
In her article, Monika Beňová announces that she is going to initiate an amendment of the Civic Code so that women with children younger than 15 years will get one day off work per month. Without a doubt, this initiative has the potential to attract public interest.
But the 'improvement' proposed by the Smer party is just a lure for the public, and in reality cannot improve women's position in society. What employer, after all, would prefer to hire a woman rather than a man, knowing that the woman is entitled by law to take one day off per month? Will the position of women thus improve? Or will the amendment not simply spread hidden discrimination against middle-aged and older women towards the younger generation of women as well?
And what about women who don't have young children but take care of handicapped relatives? What about fathers who take care of young children?
In conclusion, I would like to note an obscure historical fact - a similar law was valid during the Hitler era in Germany, and was later inherited by the Communist German Democratic Republic. Current German legislation, however, does not include such a rule.

Magdaléna Piscová is
a sociologist with
the Slovak Academy of Sciences

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