Ženská stínová vláda / Czech Women Battering Stone Wall of Politics
February 27, 2000 NY Times
RAGUE, Feb. 26 -- After almost two years of total exclusion from the government, some Czech women feel the time has come to break into the old boys` club. When Prime Minister Milos Zeman formed a cabinet composed entirely of men in the summer of 1998, women in politics complained for a while, but still hoped their time would come. But their frustration has deepened in recent weeks with Mr. Zeman`s announcement that he will replace five ministers with another set of men because "male candidates appear to be better experts than women."
"My first reaction was, `I`m going to kill this man,` " said Jana Volfova, a member of Parliament for Mr. Zeman`s Social Democratic Party. On second thought, she opted for a different form of retaliation: she announced that she would form her own shadow cabinet -- composed entirely of women.
"I want to prove that there are enough top-quality female experts to fill every single government chair," she said. "Of course they exist, and they are good. Their only problem is a lack of media exposure. That`s the role the shadow cabinet should play -- to make these women visible."
The Czech government, led by the minority Social Democrats, is the only all-male cabinet in Central Europe. Although Mr. Zeman`s party has a 25 percent quota for women, most of them never rise above their positions in local government.
But the absence of women in top positions runs across the Czech political spectrum. There are only 39 women among the 281 Parliament members from 5 parties.
Petra Buzkova, who is vice chairwoman of the House of Representatives and who says she will soon resign as vice chairwoman of Mr. Zeman`s party, has fought a long, frustrating battle with her boss. She, too, rejects the notion that women lack expertise.
"To put it very mildly, the prime minister did not look for any female candidates," she said in a recent interview. "That`s all I have to say."
The idea of a shadow cabinet received mixed reactions. While many politicians dismissed it as silly, many women, partisans as well as independents, have declared an interest in filling the posts. Ms. Volfova said the selection process should take about two weeks. She plans to inaugurate her shadow government at the beginning of March.
"It is a good way to push women into the spotlight," said Jirina Siklova, the head of the Association for Equal Status of Women, a nongovernmental group based in Prague.
"Czech women aren`t assertive enough," she said. "Many of them don`t realize they are being kept in a subordinate position, so they don`t protest. If a prime minister of any Western country said something like this, it would be a total scandal."
Women have been reluctant to enter politics, Ms. Siklova said, because the profession was discredited during the Communist era. Women tried to avoid any public engagements that would require them to join the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. The Communist women`s faction, like the rest of the party, was the subject of jokes, scorn and hatred.
Since Communism`s fall in 1989, women`s rise to power has been slow.
"Many women are successful in business, but the political sphere has been traditionally occupied by men, and women find it hard to get in," said Petr Mateju, a representative of the right-wing opposition Freedom Union Party.
"That social model is still firmly in place. The whole political and social elite is strongly male-dominated, and our government is just a logical outcome of it."
Still, he was quick to add, the shadow cabinet was "a stupid idea."
"It will do women more harm than good," he said. "It will be interpreted as a joke, while we are dealing with a serious problem."
Even Ms. Volfova admits that her project was conceived partly with humor. But she believes it can ultimately propel women into top political positions. "Female politicians have long been in the shadow of their male colleagues," she said. "So why not take advantage of it and create a shadow government?"