Government proposes revolutionary measures to tackle discrimination

The Czech government recently unveiled revolutionary new proposals, aimed at preventing employers, companies and even restaurant owners from discriminating on the grounds of race, gender or religious affiliation. The proposed measures are unprecedented: they shift the 'burden of proof' onto the accused, rather than the victim: if the law is passed it will be enough to accuse your boss or the waiter in your local restaurant of discrimination - and he or she will have to go to court to prove you wrong.

The government says the measures are being introduced to bring the country in line with the European Union, but critics say they go way too far. Not everyone is unhappy, however: Michaela Marksova-Tominova is the director of the Centre for Gender Studies, and earlier Radio Prague's Rob Cameron spoke to her by telephone.

"I know that many people were and are against, but I think that this is very important. Because if I am discriminated in my job - either if I apply for a job and then I am almost sure that the man who won the tender was [a worse candidate] than me, or if I already have a job and suddenly I realise that my male colleague is getting more money for the same job- then of course if I want to take measures, I have nothing in my hands to prove it. Because all the documents are with the employer."

The problem though, what the critics are saying, is that the entire Western legal system is built on the presumption of innocence, and this seems to introduce the presumption of guilt. The employer must prove that he is not discriminating against employees. Shouldn't it be the other way around?

"Well I think that this legal institution, which is called burden of proof, is something which has been thought through very carefully by the lawyers of the European Union, and I think they have invented this because these cases are very special."

Right. Do you think there is adequate protection of women in the workplace in Czech firms?

"Well actually in the past, and even now, I think that sometimes women are over-protected, which then works against them. Women are forbidden from working at night in certain places, and so on..." you mean these measures are patronising?

"Yes, exactly. As far as I know this is going to be slowly removed, but it's not finished yet. Otherwise, concerning things like sexual harassment and sexual discrimination, the legal framework is already here, and it couldn't be more perfect. So this kind of protection is OK, on paper. But in the Centre for Gender Studies, we're not aware of a single case since the beginning of January."

it's not being put into practice...

"Exactly. And I think that first, many women don't know about it yet, and second, many women, although they know about it, are not going to use it, because they're afraid. Because if you live in a small town, I think even if you win such a case, then in the end you are actually damaged - who's going to give you another job? They would accuse you of being a feminist or whatever."

And is that to do with the general culture in the Czech Republic, which is fairly dismissive of feminism and women's rights?

"I think that's one part of it. And then the second part of it is that even men are not used to defending themselves in the workplace. Nobody is used to doing it, and the fact that people are very passive is part of it as well."