The development of gender equality policy in the Czech Republic comes hand in hand with the country’s EU-accession process. Even though the Gender Studies NGO was established as early as in 1991, and the department of Gender and Sociology within the Sociological Institute of the Academy of Sciences even earlier (in 1990), institutional and legislative changes really only began in 1996 with the process leading up to the accession . As policy makers in the Czech Republic so strongly wanted membership of the EU, the harmonisation of law, even gender equality law, was not a very complicated process. The difficulties arose after 2004, mainly with regard to the implementation of the law, and also in terms of making further progress. As the Czech Republic is already a member of the EU (and being removed is highly unlikely) and most of the current gender equality policy (besides some new directives) is part of soft law, there are no means to make the Czech Republic and its government commit to further development of gender equality policy.
In general, it can be said that EU proposals such as quotas or paternity leave are discussed in the Czech Republic, but without any direct connection to the EU. The strategy of using the EU as a representative of the gender equality issue is uncommon. This is mainly because mainstream media discourse usually paints the EU as a policy maker we have no influence over, one that dictates policies to us that we do not want. Moreover, we can state that Czech mass media mainly reports on EU policies in a negative way, and this is exaggerated when it reports on gender equality and the respective directives.
It is not certain how long it would have taken for any changes in the situation to occur without the impact of European integration, and also that of UN institutions. Still, it is clear that the pressure of the EU was crucial for the change of environment in which women's groups operate. Emerging institutions (as mentioned above) were welcomed by women's organisations as potential partners. The influence of the EU is evident due to the emphasis on cooperation between governmental structures and women's NGOs (the development of this cooperation is subsequently monitored). Similarly, the need for the harmonisation of Czech legislation with the European directives on gender equality was an exceptional opportunity for lobbying and the promotion of groups’ goals to strengthen gender equality. Optimistic expectations faded after it became clear that changes in institutions and legislation would be rather formal and indirect. In spite of this, the conditions described above enabled some women's groups to reach decision-making levels.
The EU has caused radical changes in the sphere of funding. The already described absence of state support of gender issues meant a lack of stability for many women´s/gender organisations. The European funds were expected to change this and they provided hope of sustainable and continuous funding. However, the EU finance has also brought many problematic aspects: a focus on projects rather than on vision, a change of basic aims to meet grant schemes (and consequently a low diversity of gender issues in the Czech Republic), an extreme administrative burden (at the expense of crucial activities), and high demands on the formal structure and functioning of organisations receiving the finance.
Project financing has a fundamental influence on another issue - the impact of the EU that leads to the radical change of aims, activities, strategies etc. of many NGOs. Financial support becomes concentrated on topics that primarily relate to economic prosperity in Europe. Emphasis is put on equal opportunities for women and men on the labour market, followed by the issue of work-life balance. Most women's/gender NGOs that made an effort to access European donations (and then maintain their receipt), began to adapt or redefine their mission in line with EU grant schemes. This results partly in a diminishing diversity of topics, partly in compliance, and also in a too flexible adaptability of individual organisations to the issues defined by the funds. Even organisations that primarily focused on completely different issues (for instance on domestic violence) started, at least for some time, to implement labour market issues in their curriculum (in that case to organise retraining programmes for victims of violence).
When trying to summarize the nature of the relationship between the EU and women's/gender groups and organisations, we form picture full of contradictory moments. There has been a fundamental shift and a raised visibility of gender equality as an issue. After several years of attempts and negotiations, the issue of gender equality reached the governmental level. The NGOs accessed European finance, which enabled their professionalisation, a degree of stability and, especially, allowed them to be considered trusted entities. On the other hand, some gender topics (as well as some groups and organisations) have been marginalised. Visible and audible activism, criticism and the ability to combat issues have faded. Obviously, it is questionable whether this is a consequence of EU integration. It is possible that the imaginary blanket in which, for some time, the EU covered women's/gender organisations, in paradox prevented a critical view and further action. In either case, it is not too late to realise that the EU can be a great help, and a tool for change, but that it is neither necessary nor desirable to fully rely on it.
- Create public debates related to EU policies, invite the general public and the media
- Be active in EU policy-making and be responsible for its outcomes
- Include EU policies that you support in election programmes and inform voters why you are supporting these policies
- Inform on EU policies and analyse the impact of EU policies on the Czech Republic
- Create and attend public discussions about EU policies and their impact
- Study materials from NGOs and the academic sector
- Do not rely on European financing as a primary source of income: look for other alternatives
- Maintain the original mission and aims of the organisation, do not adapt to project calls
- Work with the general public and media in order to inform about specific topics
- Be critical and DO ACTIVISM
- Support each other in strategic work
- Control the implementation of EU policies in the Czech Republic and put pressure on nation states to consistently promote gender equality
- Prepare discussions about EU policies and their impact for the media from the Czech Republic (and other countries)
- Prepare information for the media about upcoming EU legislation and describe it in depth
- Give financial support to diverse topics related to gender equality, to smaller projects, and to independent networks
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.