Gender Equality as Issue with Content and Context. Ten years of Slovakia´s Membership of the European Union

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How has accession influenced gender equality in Slovakia? How has legislation changed and what has happened to the lives of women and men in the country? How has accession influenced the situation of feminist and women’s NGOs? These and other questions are raised in this analysis, which tries to summarise some basic aspects of the assessment of the Slovakia’s membership of the EU. The analysis is part of the international project “10 Years in the EU from a Gender Perspective. Achievements and Shattered Hopes” conducted and funded by the Regional Office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Warsaw.

Accession to the EU has had an important influence on the Legal System of the Slovak Republic. Since May 1st 2004 Slovakia has transposed into its legal system 1219 of the total 1231 Directives - Slovakia was in arrears with 12 cases. As the Assessment Report states, at present 85% of the legislation in Slovakia is formed by the transposition of EU legislation (MZVEZ SR, 2014).

In the field of gender equality, transposition of EU Directives has led to changes predominantly in the Labour Code (Act no. 341/2011 Coll.) and to the adoption of the so called Antidiscrimination Act (Act no. 365/2004 Coll.). The political struggle to become a part of the EU also contributed to the adoption of some strategic documents on gender equality and to mainstreaming gender into strategic materials on other issues (Bútorová, 2008; Repar, 2007). Despite the adopted laws and regulations regarding gender equality Slovak legislation lags behind many EU countries (Magurová – Pietruchová, 2012).

According to Stanislava Repar (2007) the pre-accession period marked changes in the setting and shaping of the gender equality agenda, however Zuzana Očenášová (2011) points out that even at that time Slovakia did not fully use the potential for developing gender equality policies. This is attributable to economic and political changes between 2000 and 2004. Even though many of the introduced reforms have influenced the state of gender equality in society, gender mainstreaming was not applied and gender equality was not among governmental priorities (Očenášová, 2011). The second important reason might have been the linking of gender equality policy with other antidiscrimination policies. Given that the European Commission openly supported the merging of antidiscrimination directives on different grounds of discrimination into one legal framework, gender, together with other potential grounds of discrimination, was included in the Antidiscrimination Act (Očenášová, 2011, para 6). The Antidiscrimination Act, together with the Constitution of the Slovak Republic, provides an important legal framework for protection against discrimination on different grounds, including gender, as well as a legal framework for equal treatment and equal opportunities.

These two reasons mentioned by Očenášová might be supplemented by another one – a long-term lack of interest on the part of political representatives in the human rights of women and gender equality issues.

A slight shift can be seen when examining compliance with equal opportunities in employment. In 2002 Filadelfiová concluded that there were no precedents in this field.

To meet the objectives set out in the strategy Europe 2020, Slovakia needs to take action in various fields. With regard to gender equality in the labour market, Filadelfiová (2012) and Pietruchová (2012) suggest the following steps and measures:[1]

  • Declare publicly that gender inequality in economic independence is a deficit in democracy, strengthen gender mainstreaming in public policies.
  • Focus on spreading information about discrimination and protection of equal treatment in the labour market.
  • Increase employment and improve social welfare, provide evaluation of their impact on gender equality, consistently implement gender equality as an overlapping priority in all the projects supported by the EU funds.
  • Develop tools binding and motivating employers to apply gender measures and to encourage gender audits. Consider gender audits as legal obligations.
  • Ensure transparency in the selection of workers and their promotion. Consider quotas as a means to remove the glass ceiling.
  • Implement measures to promote the employment of various groups of women, with particular attention paid to the situation of Roma women who face multiple forms of discrimination.
  • Pay attention to poverty and material deprivation, which is faced more often by women receiving low salaries and/or caring for children.
  • Ensure regular collection and publication of data on women and men in the labour market.
  • Within the scope of the elimination of the gender gap, improve the enforcement of existing legislation.
  • Include the elimination of the gender gap into employment policies.
  • Ensure equal pay among employers by encouraging social responsibility.
  • Promote an exchange of practices between EU member states and involve social partners in searching for solutions.

With regard to the objectives laid down in the strategy Europe 2020 for the gender division of labour, it is possible to build on the recommendations for gender equality in the labour market (Filadelfiová, 2012):

  • Defeminise family care and childcare.
  • Adopt a comprehensive strategy for the reconciliation of work and family that would reflect on women’s burden of unpaid work. Create a variety of policies aimed at bringing different groups of women and men back to the labour market.
  • Make the concept of parental leave more flexible, so it will be easier for both parents to take and share. Implement proactive measures to increase the participation of fathers in childcare. 
  • On all levels of politics support the reconciliation of work and family as well as develop services (e.g. available institutional childcare).

Equality in decision-making processes is one of the most important values the European Union is built upon (Magurová – Pietruchová, 2011). The participation of women in decision-making in Slovakia is low from the long term perspective; however, this problem has not become an issue of persistent public interest (Maďarová, 2013). Women make up only “a third of all legislators and top managers and have minority representation in most statutory bodies and public administration” (MPSVR SR, 2014).

According to Mládeková (2012) a long-term and consistent action is needed to meet the objectives stated in the EU Strategy for equality between women and men 2010-2015 as well as the strategy Europe 2020. Recommended steps include:

  • Establish the long-term goal of raising awareness about the issue.
  • Strive to reach the younger generation and spread the idea of the ​​higher representation of women in top positions, for example through social networking.
  • Reach out to recruitment agencies.
  • Establish mandatory governmental intervention.
  • Establish a percentage target for women’s representation in decision-making positions within a certain timeframe.
  • Monitor the representation of women in top positions.
  • Prioritise companies with a gender balance in public procurement processes.

Under the influence of NGOs, as well as the international commitments of Slovakia, there have been several changes in legislation related to violence. However, the enforcement of existing laws remains a persisting problem. As Holubová and Magurová (2012) concluded, if Slovakia wants to meet objectives laid down in the Strategy for equality between women and men 2010-2015 and the strategy Europe 2020, it needs to take many additional steps:

  • As soon as possible set up an integrated system for the protection of women against violence, which should include effective tools for the identification of the risk of violence.
  • Establish a systematic, regular and repeated education process for professions such as the police, investigators, health professionals, social workers, and psychotherapists.
  • Work out an analysis of the effectiveness of the implementation of existing legislation.
  • Amend the Police Act to extend the period of banishment of violent persons from a common dwelling to at least 15 days.
  • Complement and refine the system of statistical reporting of all the sectors involved.
  • Ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence and ensure its consistent implementation.
  • Ensure professionally correct and gender competent translation of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence into Slovak.
  • Set up and provide integrated specialised services for the provision of assistance to women experiencing violence, in accordance with the European standards.
  • After securing safe and effective assistance for women experiencing violence, implement programs for perpetrators based on gender-competent cognitive-behavioural counselling.
  • Develop ethical standards for the media and ensure more effective regulation of media coverage of violence, sexual exploitation, as well as the degrading portrayal of women and children.
  • With regard to ​​sexual harassment, ensure effective prosecution of discrimination in the workplace by strengthening inspections and sanctions under effective legislation.
  • Improve protective measures for victims of sexual harassment.
  • Comprehensively improve the implementation of gender equality by increasing the effectiveness of anti-discrimination legislation.

There are no serious legal barriers that would limit women’s access to contraception or family planning services (MPSVR SR, 2014; Holubová – Magurová, 2012). However, modern contraceptives are available on prescription only, and (except for medically justified cases) they are not covered by either public health insurance or by any other form of social insurance. The price of modern contraceptives remains a barrier for many women. Another problem is insufficient sexual education in schools (Zampas a kol., 2011).

With regard to the Strategy for equality between women and men 2010-2015 and the strategy Europe 2020, Holubová and Magurová (2012) elaborated the following recommendations:

  • Take measures to remove social and economic barriers to family planning methods for marginalised groups, including Roma women.
  • Focus on empowerment in sex education, gender equality and education (particularly in the case of Roma women from a non-integrated environment)
  • Intensify gender mainstreaming in healthcare.
  • Finalise the law on long-term care, taking into account gender aspects and gender implications.

Ten years have passed since Slovakia joined the European Union, and this period has been affected by different social, political and economic factors, some of which have a local, and others have a European, character. EU accession provides a legal and policy framework for gender mainstreaming; the EU obligations are quite an effective advocacy tool but membership carries various risks at the same time, including the weakening of the feminist and women’s NGOs and the diluting of the notion of gender equality - when it often becomes an empty phrase without any specific content. I have therefore decided to write about different issues of gender equality, with particular recommendations that can be supplemented with some others that cover all the mentioned areas:

  • Strengthen women’s and feminist NGOs. Provide basic institutional support.
  • Develop detailed monitoring of implementation of European structural funds, which would show: what kind of organisations can/do (not) apply for grants; how EU priorities are reflected in particular countries’ grant allocation; what the requirements of each country in terms of bureaucracy are; what the opinions of NGO representatives on the European structural funds are, etc.
  • Transfer monitoring results into action.
  • Develop mechanisms that would continuously check the implementation of measures set out in the strategic documents for the promotion of gender equality and the eradication of gender-based violence.
  • Amend the Constitution of the Slovak Republic, so that the state and public administration would be committed to the active promotion of gender equality and the elimination of discrimination. The Constitution should state that affirmative action on reducing inequalities will not be considered discrimination (Magurová – Pietruchová, 2011)
  • Adopt a comprehensive law on gender equality, which can be developed specifically for the public sector or in general for all areas of political, social and economic life. Magurová and Pietruchová (2011) recommend starting with the law on gender equality for the public sector, which would include the following frameworks and principles: the objective provided as support for genuine gender equality; definitions of all types of discrimination based on sex/gender in regard to the relevant EU directives (Directive 2006/54/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 July 2006 on the implementation of the principle of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation; Council Directive 2004/113/EC of 13 December 2004 implementing the principle of equal treatment between men and women in the access to and supply of goods and services); a comprehensive definition of gender discrimination with regard to the CEDAW;  establishing the development of independent monitoring mechanisms, such as an ombudsperson for gender equality or similar institutions authorised to recommend corrective action regarding any existing or anticipated shortcomings; all the necessary legal measures for increasing the number of women in decision-making bodies with regards to Article 4 of CEDAW, while these strategies should be complemented with necessary changes within political parties and electoral laws and systems – primarily focused on the electoral lists and the formation of the government; a resolution that all the existing legal acts and legislation are subjected to analysis by gender experts and institutions with long-term expertise in gender equality, while these analyses should include recommendations for changes in legislation to strengthen gender equality and the elimination of discrimination; a resolution that all legal drafts in the relevant areas are subjected to gender analysis before they enter the legislative process (the best solution would be to have an obligatory part on gender implications in each act of legislation); develop laws against sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as effective mechanisms of sanctions; a provision that in all the areas of the labour market (the public sector) special measures would be used to ensure equal opportunities for women and men and to promote gender equality; the provision of compulsory and continuous education for gender equality in all public schools; modifying of the obligations of public media to eliminate gender stereotypical images and to apply the principles of gender equality in media content.

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 This project has been funded with support from the European Commission.

This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.




[1] For a complete list of recommendations see Filadelfiová (2012) and Pietruchová (2012).