Ministry aims to remove discrimination against women

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Women in senior positions are something of a rare species in the Czech Republic, and top female managers are sometimes interviewed in the press as a unique curiosity. There are, of course, exceptions, but these only seem to illustrate the discriminatory approach of Czech employers to female employees. But the labour and social affairs minister says he's not happy with the situation, and has recently come up with an initiative to change it. How? Vladimir Tax reports.

According to official data a female employee in the Czech Republic receives less than three quarters of the salary of her male colleague working in the same position. Ten years ago, the figure was more than 80 percent - a sign that the gap is actually widening. There are certain jobs that women are actually prevented by law from doing, and women are hardly represented at all in senior political posts. While the female chair of the Senate, Libuse Benesova, is a rare exception, the Social Democratic government is purely male and the prime minister has been quoted as saying there was no place for women in his cabinet.

Lenka Zamykalova is a research analyst from the Research Institute for Labour and Social Affairs. I asked her where the main problems lay. In a recently published document, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs identifies problems on several levels. Firstly, it plans to remove restrictions on women in employment, arguing technology has advanced to such a degree that some of the occupations barred to women under law are no longer dangerous. Secondly, the ministry wants to enforce obligations stemming from international agreements.

But the ministry doesn't want merely to do away with existing discrimination. It also intends to introduce some kind of affirmative action to get more women into leading positions in the state administration. All this despite negative experience with efforts at positive discrimination in other countries. Lenka Zamykalova doubts affirmative action could work in the Czech Republic.