Monday is International Women’s Day, and in 2010 that means one hundred years since the holiday was introduced. The idea to highlight the struggle for women’s rights around the world picked up a different tone in communist countries like Czechoslovakia though, and was largely discarded after 1989. Now some NGOs in the Czech Republic want to use the 100th anniversary to reawaken the spirit of activism that Women’s Day originally stood for.
The first Women’s Day was announced at an international women’s conference in Copenhagen in 1910. It was meant to be a day for confronting the issue of women’s rights, particularly in the areas of voting and labour equality. When the socialist countries declared victory in these causes though, Women’s Day settled into a celebration of femininity, a day for mothers and sweethearts. The head of the Czech Women’s Lobby, Alexandra Jachanová Doležalová, told me how it was celebrated – quite literally celebrated – in those days.
“International Women’s Day was like a celebration of women, there were parties where mainly men were getting drunk, women would get flowers; it was more a celebration of being a woman and being something special, and it was not connected to equal rights or activism or anything like that.”
With the fall of communism, Women’s Day vanished from the calendar. It was considered a communist red letter day in the Czech Republic, and indeed, it was. It had started out as a concept of the political left, first promoted by Western socialist parties, and in a few years helping to spark the Russian Revolution itself.
Elsewhere in the world Women’s Day still means activism, but in today’s Czech Republic the associations with communism are still strong. These were some of the reactions in Prague city centre, where the phrase International Women’s Day draws various fuzzy responses.
“I’m sorry I haven’t heard about it. Or actually maybe I have heard about it but I never celebrate it, I don’t even know how to celebrate it.”
“Well basically I’ve always thought of International Woman’s Day as Mothers’ Day, more or less. But it also carries to some extent some colours of the previous regime.”
This year though organisations like the Czech Women’s Lobby want to take advantage of 100th anniversary to turn a page in public perception, reclaiming Women’s Day from its socialist stigma and confronting the problems that women still bear in Czech society today.
“There is this attitude where we just want to throw away everything that was here before and even if something might have been good, we just throw it away just because it was here during the communist regime.”
The events planned for the week after Women’s Day include theatre performances, discussions and readings. But the original spirit of Women’s Day means protest. Alexandra Jachanová Doležalová plans to get people out onto the streets this Women’s Day to demonstrate for equal pay. But the real protest will be against the loss of the spirit of activism that still has lots of issues to deal with in this country.
“We have of course legislation which doesn’t allow discrimination; we have the right to abortion and so on. But in reality the rights are not equal. There is huge discrimination on the labour market, women still don’t have the same wages as men, there are gender stereotypes concerning the division of roles ion the household, only four percent of people in high management positions are women, we have of course sexual violence, so really the position is not equal yet.”
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