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Although the Czech electorate approved the country's accession to the European Union in a national referendum, the Czech public and media are not interested in the EU agenda. The public is divided in their perception of the EU membership and the impact from having joined the EU is rarely discussed. Moreover, the public's euroscepticism accelerated during the time Václav Klaus was the president and has now entered the mainstream.
News from the European Parliament are still considered as foreign rather than domestic. That means the Czech MEPs are rarely involved in political discussions at the national level, and that includes female MEPs. They are publicly recognised only when they undertake some initiative which is also significant at the national level.
Therefore the only Czech female MEPs who got to the top of popularity rankings were the two presidential candidates in the 2013 election – Jana Bobošíková and Zuzana Roithová. Both of them were also well known before they became MEPs. Bobošíková was a popular TV presenter and one of the most visible players in so called Czech TV Crisis. Roithová was a senator and the Minister of Health. Jana Hybášková was the focus of the Czech media before the early elections in 2009 when she was first nominated and then rejected as the leader of the Christian and Democratic Union – Czechoslovak People's Party.
The Influence and Potential Impact of Czech Female MEPs on EU Agenda
As indicated in the introductory part, the EU decision-making level is not much reflected in the Czech media and NGOs. There are several think-tanks focusing on EU agenda, but these mostly focus on the Union itself or particular topics linked to it. The media do monitor and analyse activities of elected MEPs but usually without indicating the content of their initiatives.
According to these statistics Czech female MEPs were on average more active than their male colleagues (some of the women were among the most active of all Czech MEPs). Considering various indicators, such as attendance, presence during voting, motions for resolutions or reporting, activity of Czech female MEPs were above the EU average. On the contrary, the Czech delegation as a whole ranks below the EU average in all measures of MEPs activity.
Jana Hybášková has advocated closer relations between the EU and Israel, having enforced the prohibition of the Anti-Semitic TV broadcaster Al-Manar on European satellites. She has also contributed to the change in the racist content of some Palestinian textbooks financed by the EU. She became a member of the Steering Committee of the World Movement for Democracy in 2006.
All Czech female MEPs took a similar stand on the proposed ACTA international agreement - none voted for its adoption (three voted against it and one abstained). In general, all Czech MEPs addressed the issues of women’s role in society and equal opportunity.
Andrea Češková, Zuzana Brzobohatá and Věra Flasarová focus on another significant social issue – equal remuneration for women and men. Andrea Češková has proposed introducing a legislation reducing persistent disparities in salaries between men and women. This legislation would foster equal working conditions and prerequisites for starting a family. Věra Flasarová was a rapporteur on the Report on Educational Discrimination against Young Women and Girls.
The female MEPs agree on the relevance of higher female representation in politics and in decision-making posts in the economic sector; however, their views on how to achieve this differ. Zuzana Brzobohatá has expressed her support of equal representation of women and men in the European Parliament and generally in the political and private sectors by signing the declaration No Modern European Democracy without Gender Equality. Like Zuzana Roithová and Olga Sehnalová, she supports introduction of gender quotas in management boards.
On the contrary, Andrea Češková has expressed her disapproval of the proposed introduction of quotas, arguing that it would increase the administrative workload for business companies. She considers raising public awareness through the media, the educational system and an information campaign would be a more natural way of challenging gender stereotypes. She thinks that quotas could be counter-productive to women. As an alternative, she proposes increasing positive image of women politicians in the media and promoting successful female role models.
Thus, she supports even representation of women and men in the decision-making process, but she opposes legislative measurements like introducing quotas. She addresses the issue of combining professional and family life and the related subject matters of preschool child-care and combating violence against women and children. Zuzana Brzobohatá, Zuzana Roithová and Olga Sehnalová voted for the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and Council on improvement of gender equality in supervisory boards of companies listed on the stock exchange. Andrea Češková, however, voted against it The adoption of the Directive is considered the biggest success in the field of gender equality.
Initiatives Undertaken at the EU and National Level
Zuzana Roithová supported the imprisoned Ukrainian ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and she pushed forward the cancellation of visa obligation forCzech citizens travelling to Canada. She also urges the cancellation of daylight saving time.
Consumer protection is a big topic for the Czech female MEPs. Zuzana Roithová has set up an online informative portal www.budulinek.eu that strives to protect children from dangerous products. She has also made a motion to modernise legislation on the import of low-quality toys from China. Within the field of consumer protection, Olga Sehnalová focuses primarily on protection from aggressive trade practices and false advertising. She deals with problems of double quality standards of groceries within the EU member states. She has also expressed her disapproval to more frequent vehicle controls as proposed by the European Council. She supports unification of regulations so that technical inspections would be equally thorough in all countries.
Zuzana Brzobohatá is an advocate of promoting active citizenship as well as active ageing.
Involvement in Promoting New Legislation and Politics in the Area of Gender Equality and Elimination of Discrimination on Grounds of Gender and Sexual Orientation
As stated above, the majority support of the EP and Council directive on improving gender balance among non-executive directors of companies listed on the stock exchanges is considered to be the most significant involvement in promoting gender equality. The female MEPs voted unanimously in the case of motion for the resolution, Women and Business Leadership. They all spoke out in favour of the motions for resolutions such as Combating Violence against Women and Gendercide: The Missing Women?. There were disparities regarding motions for the resolutions The EU Policy Framework to Fight Violence against Women (one MEP against) and Elimination and Prevention of All Forms of Violence against Women and Girls and Role of Women in an Ageing Society (two MEPs against).
Zuzana Roithová and Olga Sehnalová voted for the motion for the resolution Sexual Exploitation and Prostitution and Its Impact on Gender Equality; Andrea Češková abstained from voting and the two remaining MEPs were not present at the meeting. All female MEPs except for Zuzana Roithová voted for the motion Equality between Women and Men in 2012 (in case of the previous year’s resolution, Andrea Češková abstained,two MEPs voted for and two against in 2009); the situation was the same in the case of voting for implementation of gender mainstreaming in the European Parliament work resolution on the situation of single mothers. The Czech female MEPs voted quite to the contrary on an alternative motion for resolution Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. Only two MEPsfrom ČSSD voted for the resolution draft on educational and professional mobility of women just as in the case of resolution regarding women and political decision making, motion for resolution regarding Peking +15. Only two female MEPs voted, one for and the other against, on the assessment of results ofmale andfemale equality roadmap for 2006 – 2010.
Two ČSSD deputies voted for the Undocumented Women Migrants in the European Union motion for resolution; Věra Flasarová abstained in the vote and the remaining deputies voted against the resolution. The motion for resolution Women with Disabilities andthe resolution on gender aspect of Roma inclusion strategies were supported by all female MEPs except for Andrea Češková. With regard to the system of equal compensation, Andrea Češková either abstained from voting or voted against, and the rest voted for it. The ODS representative was also the only one who rejected the resolution on equal treatment between men and women in the access to and supply of goods and services, the impact of the economic crises on gender equality and women’s rights (only two MEPsvoted on gender aspects of the economic downturn and financial crises – one voted for and one abstained),and a draft regarding the improvement of working conditionsfor pregnant workers and workers who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding.
With respect to sexual minorities, Zuzana Roithová disapproves of equal status of registered partnership and marriage andopposes adoption of children by homosexual couples. On the contrary, all remaining female MEPs voted for the alternative motion for resolution proposed by EPP, S&D, ALDE, Greens/EFA and GUE/NGL Homophobia and Discrimination on Grounds of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.
The Czech MEPs and their work are not widely recognized in Czech society. The bulk of the responsibility for this situation lies with journalists and the media in general who report primarily about national affairs and assure that the EU agenda is overshadowed by other (sometimes less important) issues. Therefore the general public is not familiar with the representation of women in the EP (and gender aspect of political representation in general), female MEPs and their work.
Furthermore, even the NGOs focusing on gender issues are not systematically monitoring their work. Fórum 50 % as the only Czech NGO focusing on women’s political participation investigates the phenomenon from the structural point of view (women’s representation in decision-making bodies, barriers female politicians face, positive measures, etc.) without particular interest in the content of their work.
Therefore the only well-known (female) MEPs are those undertaking some initiatives which are significant also on the national level – often leading them to time off from their work in the EP. The only available data considering their work are those prepared by specialized think-tanks or the occasional academic research. None of these are focused specifically on women or gender equality.
It still remains a challenge for the media, women’s NGOs and political think-tanks and watchdogs to make (female) Czech MEPs and their work more visible to the general public. Future success will probably go hand in hand with putting the EU issues on the agenda.