|(E) STATUS OF CROATIAN WOMEN in 2002
|By Nenad N. Bach |
(E) STATUS OF CROATIAN WOMEN in 2002
Two Croatian women conducted this interview. From Zagreb, Nevenka Sudar is a Professor of English and literature, editor-in-chief of the only women's e-zine in Croatia, called CROW and a woman's human rights activist.
Katarina Tepesh left Croatia in 1968 at age of 17 and lives in New York City.
Women in the United States organized the first national Women's Day in response to the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that killed 146 women who were trapped in a locked workroom. Their actions helped inspire International Women's Day on March 8th. American women initiated a recognition week for Women's History, which was expanded in 1987 by Congressional action to the entire month of March.
Katarina: Janica Kostelic superb skiing at the Olympics by winning 4 medals fulfilled hers and our dream. Janica was holding fast to her dreams for more then 12 years.
Nevenka: Janica's achievements are her own. We can brag about her being from Croatia, but the fact remains that her achievement was the result of hers, and nobody else's efforts, time, self-sacrifice, pain, perseverance, etc.
K - How will you celebrate March 8th in Croatia?
N - This year Croatian women's groups are organizing a big event which will take place in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. In one of Zagreb's most popular theaters "ZKM" (short for Zagreb's Youth Theater) in town's center, the first V-day celebration in Croatia will be organized by B.a.B.e., Be active. Be emancipated, www.crowmagazine.com/arhiva.htm a woman's human rights group and Autonomous Women's House Zagreb, the oldest shelter for women and children victims of violence. The event will include a performance of "Vagina monologues" by Eve Ensler as well as readings of facts about women by various famous Croatian women from all walks of life. They will speak out about violence against women, economic & political discrimination of women, sexism in the media, trafficking, women from minorities, education etc. All the tickets have already been sold out. Many have been invited to this event, leading Croatian politicians, ministers, ambassadors. The ticket's lowest price was around 4 USD, while the highest amount was unlimited. The amount which will be gathered at this event will be given to the Women's Shelter.
Other events taking place on March 8th will include various round tables across the country, appearances in all the media on the subject of March 8th as International Women's Day, a lot of promotional and informational material distributed (a lot of people in Croatia still think of March 8th as "communist holiday" rather than an international women's day). Very few people know about the history of this day and women's groups will try to inform them. For a long time March 8th was considered a day when children were obliged to make a card for their mothers, and men were obliged to buy women flowers and get drunk with their buddies. We feel that March 8th, International Women's Day, must be demystified and used for raising awareness about status of women in Croatia and generally.
K - In US, American women have a joke that in our wallet we hold two most important cards: One is our voter registration and the other is a membership card to a progressive organization that will improve our lives.
N - Nobody ever disclosed how many women voted at any elections in Croatia. Unfortunately, there are no gender sensitive statistics in Croatia.
K - Women in US are breaking barriers in the military, athletics, the arts and every type of workspace.
N - Yes, there are women in military in Croatia. But, there is a twist to their inclusion into the military. During the war their presence was welcomed and they fought together with men. Today, you can read about this or that woman who joined this or that army division, but the articles are mainly written to show that what those women need the most is to remain feminine even in their uniforms or in the training grounds. For example, the articles about women in military would emphasize more on their looks and make-up than on their skills or achievements.
At the moment Croatia is in the middle of one of the biggest scandals concerning women in military. In short, several women from one of the army divisions sent an anonymous letter to the Minister of Defense and to B.a.B.e. asking for help because they wrote, they had been constantly sexually harassed by their superiors. Their lives became unbearable because the superior officer to whom they made complaints about two other superior officers, laughed at them. They couldn't stand assaults by drunken men anymore. However, the military officials sent a commission not to find out what happened but to intimidate women further. The media wrote a lot on this issue and the women's groups demanded a fair investigation which would include psychologists, women and proper procedure. Army officials who claimed after half an hour of investigation that nobody was harassed and that it was all a lie, had to form another commission and include women and psychologists into the procedure. It is still going on. However it seems that women are too frightened and that their lives are unbearable (on top of that they are afraid they will lose their jobs since there is more than 10.000 surplus people in the military) and that they want to withdraw thinking that it would be better to suffer in silence. Today I read in the paper that one man from the city where the army barracks are situated said: «What would a decent woman do in the army anyway?»
This case shows one of the biggest problems of Croatian women (not just in military but at work anywhere) and that is sexual harassment. Croatia does not have a law which would recognize sexual harassment as unacceptable and punishable behavior. It is still a laughing matter for most people and remarks are: what do they complain about if they haven't been raped?
K - In US we have very fragile margin for women's rights on the Supreme Court. Only two women! Our reproductive choice is on the line. When vacancy occurs on the high court and our President George Bush nominates one of the arch-conservative judges from his "short list", American women will be busy trying to persuade our Senators to turn down any high court nominee who does not support women's constitutional right to reproductive choice
N - At the moment there are around 22% of women in Croatian Parliament. In the previous parliament (1991-1999) there was only 7% of women in Parliament. One woman is a vice-president of the government, two women are ministers (minister of Justice and minister of tourism), only one woman is a party president (HNS - Vesna Pusic - Croatian People's Party). Women's groups who formed a Women's Ad Hoc Coalition for monitoring and influencing elections in 1995, 1997 and 1999, demanded introduction of women's quotas in Election law and party statutes, but unsuccessfully. There are a lot of women within parties but they are not high ranked in party hierarchy and seldom promoted on candidate lists on places most likely to win elections.
As long as women politicians are in opposition to the ruling party, they are more inclined to represent women's point of view and fight for equality or advancement of the status of women in Croatia. But it has been proven over and over again that once they do get elected, they "forget" that they are women and play "boys'" game just to hold on to the ruling position. Since women's groups are doing their best to help women politicians to come to the places of power and become a part of decision making bodies, they are the best witnesses of how women politicians turn their backs to everything they spoke in favor of before they came to power. Their priority list changes, the issues of their concern as well as their vocabulary. Suddenly, everything else becomes more important than women's rights. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, but it seems that general attitude of women politicians, once they gain power in Croatia, is that women's rights are really "less important" to everything else.
On the other hand, even when they become politicians and/or fight hard to enter the Parliament or the government, women are still not safe from insults based on their sex. General attitude of politicians, media and the majority of public opinion is that these gender based insults are only cute, harmless and charming jokes.
In general, the parliamentarians have no sense of political or personal responsibility when it comes to gender equality, respect and civilized behavior towards women despite all official proclamations and ratified international declarations.
Here are few examples from Croatian political scene. Vice Vukojevic, a parliamentary representative of previously ruling party (Croatian Democratic Union) and the current judge of Croatian Constitutional Court, made remarks during the parliamentary speech of one of woman politicians of the opposition: «Talk less, bear more children!» and «My pussycat!» None of any party members reacted to these remarks or denounced them as socially unacceptable. A parliamentarian from the opposition, Ivan Jakovcic made a remark that the Minister for European Integrations was certainly listened to (only) because she was a «charming woman», while the Minister of Justice talked about women as «weaker sex». Sexist escapades in Croatian Parliament are not rare. One of the most recent incidents happened at the end of last year, when one of the parliamentarians, Anto Kovacevic, directly attacked a woman colleague Vesna Pusic during Parliamentary session. Wanting to interrupt her speech he disagreed with, he said: «You were made for bed, not for the head!» The woman in question left the session in protest while the politician who insulted her (and who is a member of the Parliamentary Committee for Human Rights!) was not asked to leave by the presiding chairperson!
The media approach supports sexism portraying women politicians in a manner which discredits their political importance and influence. Thus, we can often read interviews in which women politicians reveal their kitchen secrets and cooking skills, their wardrobe secrets and preferences in underwear, or appear on pictures where they are caught in embarrassing positions.
The public opinion will not easily change as long as women themselves participate in patriarchal marginalization of women's politicians. A few weeks ago in one of the most popular talk shows hosted by a woman, the same parliamentarian Anto Kovacevic was invited as a guest and repeated his insults calling the same woman politician a «rattle snake» and bringing with him a mattress to illustrate his «charming» remark that she (and women in general) are (primarily) «made for bed and not for the head». This talk show has entertaining character and his insults were minimized by the show's atmosphere, the host (a woman!) giggled to his insults and the public in the studio cheered.
Again, only women's groups reacted fiercely and issued a press statement sent to the Committee of Croatian Television to do something about such sexist, antidemocratic, and intolerant treatment of women in the media. They accepted the statement and confirmed them officially in regard to this show, but the fact is that the show still goes on and in essence nothing changed beyond verbal reproach.
K - Forbes magazine just published their annual lists of billionaires. On the list of 15 riches billionaires, 4 are actually women. Number 8 and the riches woman in the world is Alice Walton, 56 years old with $20.5 billions from Walmart stores; Number 10 is Helen Walton, 82 years old with an $20.4 billions from Walmart; Number 12 is Johanna Quandt, 74 years old from Germany with $18.4 billion from BMW; Number 13 is Lilliane Bettencourt, 79 years old from France with $14.9 billion from L'Oreal cosmetics;
N - Good thing or a step forward for brighter future of Croatian nonprofit groups is a new Law on NGOs which came into force beginning of this year. For the first time, profitable organizations will have tax reductions if they sponsor or donate money to non-profitable organizations. We hope many profitable organizations will now be motivated to give some money to the nonprofit organizations of their choice or liking. It is hard to say to which and we foresee that charitable or humanitarian organizations will get more money, as well as sports and cultural/artistic ones.
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