March 8 is International Women’s Day and women’s organisations in the Czech Republic are using the occasion to highlight pay inequality and other issues. One event taking place on Wednesday is a gathering aligned with A Day Without a Woman, an international campaign urging women to go on strike for the day to call attention to the gender pay gap. I spoke to Petra Jelinková from Ženy, one of several young feminist groups taking part here in Prague.
“We hope we will get some attention for International Women’s Day, because it is really important these days – as much as it was in the early 20th century.
“Especially in the Czech context, where people tend to believe that feminism is not really so important any more, because equal rights have been achieved.
“But the reality is different. There is still a huge pay gap. There is a lot of sexual violence that is largely tolerated. And some conditions are still very unfavourable for women.”
In the past, especially under communism, International Women’s Day was a really big event here in the Czech Republic, or the then Czechoslovakia. How is it viewed by your generation?
“You are right. It was quite big. But unfortunately I think that it was sort of an empty thing.
“It didn’t really have much meaning, because very often it was just a symbolic day when women received some awful red carnations and there were some enterprise parties.
“For many women, for the generations of our mothers and grandmothers, it really became something that didn’t really mean so much.
“And we believe that our generation, the generation of younger women, should really ignite this atmosphere, this deeper meaning that it used to have – and we would like to show it women of all generations.”
A lot of focus has been placed this year on the issue of pay inequality between women and men. Is that an issue that’s really felt by your generation – or is it something that concerns older women more?
“It affects women of all ages. It is very serious for women who are retired. Because when their pension is being calculated it reflects their pay from their previous years.
“This means that when they are retired and if they are widows, they receive very little money. The number of poor women at that age is alarming and it makes their situation incredibly difficult.
“So it is really a crucial topic for older women, but of course it is very important for young women as well, because they need to make sure that their conditions are going to be better in the future.”
Earlier today at a conference about pay inequality, Michaela Marksová, the minister for social affairs, said that the sexist comments last week from the Polish MEP that were broadcast around the world showed that the women’s fight isn’t over. I presume you would concur with what she said?
“Absolutely. And I think that in Central or Eastern Europe this is a struggle that is very real.
“Sexism is present everywhere and we have to face remarks like this very often, unfortunately.”