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SPECIAL SERIES: PART 1: WOMEN IN THE HOME

Slovak women working two shifts

Silvia Matejová is a well-dressed professional woman; she's also a 36-year-old mother of four. If you met Silvia on the street, you'd likely imagine her as a career-driven woman with no time to take care of her children, and guess that she hired people to do the housework for her.
But for Silvia, her family is more important than her career. Like most other Slovak mothers, the weight of the household chores and child-raising demands rests almost completely upon her shoulders. Somehow Silvia manages to juggle both work and family responsibilities - she even thrives under the pressure, adding that she would like to have another baby.


Silvia Matejová and her four children (clockwise from left: Lea, Marína, Timotej, and Šimon). With her husband working in Prague 5 days a week, Matejová finds herself in a position sociologists say is common for Slovak women: working two shifts, one as the head of her own business, and the second as the head of her family.
photo: Courtesy Silvia Matejová

Silvia Matejová is a well-dressed professional woman; she's also a 36-year-old mother of four. If you met Silvia on the street, you'd likely imagine her as a career-driven woman with no time to take care of her children, and guess that she hired people to do the housework for her.

But for Silvia, her family is more important than her career. Like most other Slovak mothers, the weight of the household chores and child-raising demands rests almost completely upon her shoulders. Somehow Silvia manages to juggle both work and family responsibilities - she even thrives under the pressure, adding that she would like to have another baby.

"My husband ironed his trousers once in his whole life and it's still a memorable day for him," said Silvia, who is the head of her own protocol and etiquette counselling firm. "But even though he doesn't have much time to help, he's never thought that all the work I was doing was a natural thing just because I'm a woman. I know men who think of their wives as slaves rather than equal partners."

Although Silvia's spouse is appreciative of her long hours of labour, he is still a typical example of how a Slovak man shares the household duties - he doesn't. Although sociologists have noted an overall increase in the amount of work Slovak men do at home, they say that the increase has been slight and that the division of jobs is still based on stereotypes.

Zuzana Vranová, secretary of the Parliamentary Commitee for Women's Issues, said that women like Silvia had been working two shifts a day since the early days of communism.

"If you consider the traditionally strong partiarchal model in Slovak society, women have ended up working twice as hard as men," Vranová told The Slovak Spectator on April 4. "After their professional work, they start another shift in the household. This pattern has survived until now, although it can be said that the more educated a couple is, the more the partners tend to share the responsibilities in the household."

Vranová said that the few Slovak men who were lending a helping hand around the home often exaggerated the true importance of the work they did. "Even if they do help, they tend to inflate their contributions," she said. "When we ask men and women how responsibilities are divided in their households, the man says he does 75% of the dish-washing, while the wife says he does about 30%."

Vranová also said that men tended to "choose the 'better' jobs like taking the children out for sports or to the movies, or washing the dishes, which is largely considered as a relatively easy task."

Peter Guráň, a sociologist and the Family Ministry's Family Politics Section director, said that the traditional male and female responsibilities had been slow to change in modern Slovakia, especially in the countryside. "In Slovakia the patriarchal pattern is strongly rooted," said Guráň. "Traditionally, women were the homemakers responsible for the household and raising the children, while men represented the family in public, outside the family circle."

Guráň agreed with Vranová that the patriarchy had been in retreat over the last 10 years, especially among young and urban Slovaks. "In the countryside, people are still very old-fashioned and they believe that two-parent families are the basis for a sound society," he said. "Over 90% of all couples living together in Slovakia are married. The rest are single parents or people living as partners without a wedding certificate. This shows how highly respected marriage is here."

Magda Zgančíková belongs to the remaining 10% of the Slovak population. She is 30, has a 6-month-old baby girl and lives with her partner in one household. "I don't think it's so important to have a paper [wedding certificate] to show that we live together," Magda said. "If I wanted to get married, I could do it during a lunch break, but we just don't think that the time has come for such a decision yet."

Although she stays at home with her little daughter, Magda has been the owner and manager of a regional radio station in Bojnice (north-east of Bratislava) for the past six years. Her partner works in a foreign company in a high managerial post and does not have much time to spend with Magda and their child. "I do most of the work at home but when he has time he helps with anything that needs to be done on the weekends, like cooking, shopping or vacuuming," said Magda.

According to Guráň this lopsided division of responsibilities is typical for Slovakia's younger generations. "To go shopping once a week is more relaxing than the hard work women do," he said. "Women still have to wash the windows, do the laundry or clean the carpets. The sharing among partners has increased but the tasks that men and women carry out are still very stereotypical."

Sylvia is a good example of this. With four children to take care of, she wakes up every day at 5:00 to begin her first of two jobs that day. Since her husband works in Prague, she is responsible for every single task in the household.

"My husband is at home on Mondays and Fridays, but his job takes the rest of his time," Silvia said. "He has little time to talk to our children. But we have to carry on like this if he is to keep his position at work. I can't afford to feel sorry for myself."

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