First Woman Professional of the Year Award

Sunday evening saw the presentation of the first ever Woman Professional of the Year Award at Prague's Hilton hotel. The award, which is the brainchild of media consultants AMI, is intended to celebrate women who achieve significant success in their work. According to organisers, women's professional achievements go largely unrecognised in Czech society. Sunday's award was perhaps one step in changing old perceptions. Jan Velinger reports:

The atmosphere at the Hilton's Congress Hall was charming but tense, as organisers prepared for the first ever presentation of the Professional Woman of the Year Award. Ten candidates were in the running, chosen from an original field of fifty-two. Candidates had the opportunity to apply this summer by filling out forms in Czech magazines. Many it turned out, were unaware of their entries, with applications being sent in by either husbands or colleagues. For some the invitation to the gala event came as a complete surprise.

The jury consisted of a wide array of people from various professional fields, including a linguist from Charles University, a biologist, and a film composer, as well as well-known media types Jolana Voldanova of Czech TV, photographer David Kraus, and athlete Jarmila Kratochvilova. The head of the jury was writer Michal Viewegh, who quickly set the tone for the evening, by distancing the Woman Professional of the Year Award from other women's competitions:

"This event is a cultivated and much-needed answer to competitions such as beauty contests, where the only thing the girls have to present is the size of their bust, hips, and waist, and perhaps a little dance. It must be said that women's standing in the Czech Republic is not equal, that is beyond discussion, and events such as the Woman Professional Award, can broaden awareness of the situation."

Finally we come to the contestants themselves: naturally those present wondered who the finalists would be, and ultimately, who would win. The choice of professions was broad indeed, including: a professional fitness trainer, a head nurse with experience in former-Yugoslavia, and a director of a unique language school in Brno. Still other finalists included a hotel manager, the director of a society for seniors, a criminal lawyer, and a second nurse specialising in diets. There was also a music teacher who works with disabled children, a biomedicine expert, and the head of a clinic that uses modern scientific methods to help couples with problems to conceive. This last contestant was to take the main prize, and her name was Dr. Katerina Vesela.

"I am a manager or a director of the Repromeda sanatorium in Brno, and we are interested in assisting reproduction. There are many different professions from different fields, from science, from culture and so on. And I am very satisfied that we are the top ten from the Czech Republic. And, I am very surprised that I am the winner."

Dr. Vesela was surprised by her victory, but certainly not disappointed. She received a glass vase as a sign of her victory, as well as other prizes. Jury head Michal Viewegh revealed that choosing a winner was no easy choice:

"Choosing one woman out of ten who have had such success in their fields was an extremely difficult task. In fact it was almost impossible. That was why we as the jury decided in the end to award the prize to the symbolic winner of the contest."

The symbolic emphasis on Dr. Vesela's award in no way lessens her victory. Instead, it can be seen as an honour for all those who took part. Organisers now hope that the competition will continue next year, building on the success of the first Woman Professional of the Year Award.