First ever woman elected to head parliamentary party

Hana Marvanova

For the first time in the history of the Czech Republic, a woman has been elected to head a parliamentary party. Hana Marvanova, a thirty-eight-year-old lawyer, beat off her main male competitor to become the new leader of the Freedom Union, one of the main parties in the opposition Four Party Coalition. The centre-right coalition has been topping almost all the polls for five months now, and Mrs Marvanova's election has received immense publicity. Nick Carey reports.

In a country where a lack of women politicians has recently become an issue, many commentators are heralding it as a great step forward. Michaela Marksova-Tominova, the director of the Centre for Gender Studies in Prague, is one those who has welcomed Mrs Marvanova's election:

Michaela Marksova-Tominova: I was positively surprised because I was afraid that the other candidate, Vladimir Mlynar, who is a very young man, would win and I think that it is very important that a woman won, and not only a woman, but a woman of a certain age, if I can put it that way, and one who is certainly more experienced.

Radio Prague: What is know about Marvanova herself? What is her reputation as a woman politician?

MM-T: I would say she is a typical female politician in the Czech Republic in the past decade. This means that she has never touched upon women's issues, but it is understandable in her case, because parties such as the Freedom Union and the Civic Democrats simply doesn't care about this agenda yet. On the other hand, I was very please when about a month ago she actually admitted for the first time that when she worked in the private sector, she really experienced discrimination. So now she admits that discrimination against women exists, which is progress.

RP: What benefits could she have for women in the Czech Republic, being in such a prominent position?

MM-T: I think the most important thing is that she has been elected as the first female leader ever, so I think she is important as an example, proof that women can easily handle such positions."

RP: What about Czech voters?

MM-T: As I already said, because she doesn't really talk about women's issues, she won't really damage the Freedom Union in the eyes of men and I really don't know what the impact on women voters will be."

RP: You've mentioned twice now that she hasn't really touched on women's issues and that she is typical female politician in the Czech Republic in this respect. Why is that?

MM-T: Well I think the general atmosphere in our society used to be against women's issues, because everyone used to say that if you were talking about women's issues that you were a stupid feminist. The truth is that in the past two or three years the situation started to change a little bit, but I think there is a small number of women in the Lower House and the Senate. Some of them, even if they wanted to talk about women's issues, they are not able to do so because there are so few of them. In this country, they need what we call critical mass, which means that it is necessary to have women making up at least thirty percent of those in decision making processes and then they would be able to support specific women's issues.

RP: Is this the start of change do you think?

MM-T: I think this one more step towards equal opportunities in politics.