Over the past ten years, the Slovak Republic has been represented in the European Parliament (EP) for two electoral terms by 20 MEPs – seven of them women – who have contributed to the creation and implementation of the politics of gender equality to different extents.
The purpose of this report is to summarise the representation of women from the Slovak Republic in the EP at two levels – firstly the proportion of women and men in elected offices (the descriptive representation), and then the representation of so called women’s issues by the MEPs from Slovakia (the substantive representation, see e.g. Celis, 2008). Currently, the correlation between these two types of women’s political representation remains unclear. Despite the widely shared assumption that women in politics stand for women’s interests, as stated, for example, in the influential and widely cited and discussed “critical mass” theory of Drude Dahlerup (1988), the will and ability of women in politics to enforce women’s rights and the interests of women is not unambiguously supported by the empirical evidence. Therefore, this report treats these two issues as relatively separate. Current debates about substantive representation of women turn their attention from the concept of “critical mass” to the concept of “critical actors”. (Childs – Krook, 2009). Thus, instead of looking at how many women in politics are necessary to enforce an agenda focused on the living conditions and rights of women, scholars have become more interested in who (whether an individual or a group) is willing and able to enforce such an agenda, and how the entire process of the political struggle operates.
This shift in the category of analysis rises from the experience that not only women but also men (and we have to add also transgender or intersexual people) are proponents of gender equality politics. (Childs – Krook, 2009) Another reason for leaving the conceptual frame of “women standing for women” is that we can hardly hope to find a common definition of what constitutes the women’s agenda; the claims about how to “act for women” nowadays widely differ and can even be contradictory. In the light of conservative political claims regarding women’s issues (which are on rise, at least in Slovakia, nowadays), it is no longer possible to suppose that politics “for women” can be equated with feminist politics. (Celis – Childs, 2012). Therefore, the report on the substantial representation of women concentrates on politicians who have dealt with the issues of gender equality politics.
Activities related to specific issues
Even though Anna Záborská represents a conservative voice on the issue of gender equality, in 2006 (and later again in 2009) she submitted a Report on Gender Mainstreaming in the Work of Committees, where she stressed the importance of implementing gender mainstreaming and gender equality principles in the politics proposed by every single committee. The Parliament supported this position and on 18 January 2007 adopted a resolution which undertook to apply a gender mainstreaming strategy with regard to community policies and the work of its parliamentary committees. Gender mainstreaming – i.e. understanding seemingly “neutral” or mainstream politics from a gender perspective, which considers the impact and effects on both women and men – presents a key element in a holistic approach to the implementation of the politics of gender equality. However, what remains ambiguous is the explicit rejection of the concept of gender mainstreaming as “trying to erase the differences between men and women, whose origins are seen as “cultural”, and based on habits and traditions” in the speech made by Anna Záborská at the conference focussed on the perspective of the Church on gender politics organised by the Conference of Bishops of Slovakia (March 2013).
Equal treatment in employment and occupation
The greatest achievement concerning the issue of equal treatment of women and men in employment and occupation in recent years was the Recast Directive 2006/54/EC, which provides that sex discrimination in respect of all aspects of pay should be eliminated, and stipulates that any persons who have considered themselves discriminated against through a failure to apply this principle should be able to have their rights asserted by judicial process and be protected against any reprisals on the part of their employers. Also related to this directive, in February 2012 Edit Bauer submitted a Report with Recommendation to the Commission on the application of equal pay for women and men, in which she stated that The Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality noted that fifty-five years after Article 119 of the Treaty of Rome, nothing has really changed. She asked the Commission to review Directive 2006/54/EC and implement the principle of equal opportunities and the equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment and occupation. She also urged a more precise definition of the gender pay gap, proper analysis of the situation, prevention of discrimination and the implementation of effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions. The report was adopted and resulted in the EP resolution of 24 May 2012 with recommendations to the Commission on the application of the principle of equal pay for male and female workers for equal work or work of equal value.
The problem of human trafficking received the attention of the EP in its seventh term. In March 2011, the EU Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting victims was adopted. The most important achievements of the Directive lay in the broadened scope of the definition of exploitation, the focus on victim protection, more strict penalties for offenders and the introduction of the obligation for the Member States to establish national rapporteurs or equivalent mechanisms. The proposal for the directive aimed at repealing and replacing Framework Decision 2002/629/JHA was also initiatied by Edit Bauer, who, as early as in January 2010, alongside Simon Busuttil, submitted the motion for the resolution on preventing trafficking in human beings. The motion urged “the adoption of a victim-focused approach, meaning that all potential categories of victim must be identified, targeted and protected, with special attention being given to children and other at-risk groups (...) the development of a common EU template for the collection and collation of data relating to all aspects of trafficking in human beings, including age and gender (...) [and stated that] the level of penalties and sanctions for those – including legal persons – who profit from trafficking in human beings should reflect the seriousness of the crime and have a dissuasive effect, and trafficking in children should be particularly severely punished“.
Even though trafficking has to be considered a gender-related issue per se (UNODC, 2012), Edit Bauer stressed the gender aspect of trafficking both in her public speeches (e.g. on The Sixth EU Anti-Trafficking Day held on 18 October 2012) as well as in her report from 2010. Edit Bauer thus contributed not only to the adoption of EU policies on the prevention of trafficking in human beings, but also towards a focus on gender aspects in the legislation.
Rights of LGBT persons
The issue of the rights of LGBT persons was dealt with mainly by the MEPs Monika Flašíková-Beňová and Anna Záborská. However, both politicians were active from opposite perspectives. While Monika Flašíková-Beňová advocated the rights of LGBT persons, Anna Záborské acted against the implementation of policies acknowledging the rights of LGBT persons. Among the activities of Monika Flašíková-Beňová, we can mention the most recent report on the situation of fundamental rights in the European Union (2010 – 2011). In the section focussed on sexual orientation and gender identity, the report calls for recognition of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, as well as for the adoption of a national legislative framework to address discrimination experienced by LGBT people and same-sex couples on grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Following this report, the EP adopted a resolution on the situation of fundamental rights in the European Union (2010 – 2011) in December 2012.
However, Anna Záborská did not vote for this report, nor for the report from Ulrike Lunacek on the EU roadmap against homophobia and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. In her parliamentary speeches, Anna Záborská often disagreed with the implementation of terms such as homophobia and sexual identity, which would, according to her, mean the legitimisation of an ideological activism.
The European Parliament indisputably represents an important institution for the enforcement and implementation of policies of gender equality in all Member States and therefore in Slovakia. Representation of women in the EP at both levels markedly outruns the representation of women in Slovakia; female politicians have a much better chance of reaching the EP and thus serving in international high-level politics, and both female and male politicians have many more opportunities to deal with the issues of gender equality than they have in Slovak politics (as can be drawn from several notes on the disinterest of political institution on gender equality, see e.g. Lamačková, 2008). However, several important questions related to the better position of both women and gender equality politics remain open. As the first section of the current report states, the EP is considered both by politicians and voters to be a secondary political institution (Kovář – Kovář, 2012; Mesežnikov, 2009). It is thus questionable and unclear whether women who reach the EP more easily than they can achieve positions in national politics automatically reach a better position and opportunities in national politics, which is characterised by its masculine character (Maďarová, 2011). Another important question concerns the contribution of gender-related activities of Slovak MEPs in EP to national politics. Firstly, as much analysis shows, the Slovak Republic does not score well on the effective implementation of the EU gender policies (Lamačková, 2008). Secondly, a massive amount of conservative political pressure can be observed in Slovakia nowadays and many of the activities undertaken by the MEP Anna Záborská support this trend. However, we cannot overlook the positive cases. Not only did Edit Bauer contribute substantially to the abovementioned issues of gender equality, but she was also engaged in other activities, which she treated in a holistic, gender-sensitive way (e. g. gender aspects of poverty, intersection of gender and age etc.). Furthermore, Monika Flašíková-Beňová publicly supported the idea of gender equality and rights for LGBTI people when she took part in the PRIDE march in Slovakia. Thus, even though the female MEPs from Slovakia were fairly active in the area of gender equality, their agenda does not introduce a consistent holistic approach to the issue.
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.