Redaktion querelles-net: Interview mit Jirina Siklová

Interview mit Jirina Siklová

Redaktion querelles-net

Für unser Forum zum Schwerpunktthema ist es uns gelungen, mit der Soziologin Jirina Siklová, Professorin und Gründerin des Gender Studies Center in Prag/Tschechien, ein Interview zu führen, das wir Ihnen hier in englischer Sprache präsentieren wollen.

Jirina Siklová (GSC) and Marie Lienau (proFem)
Jirina Siklová (GSC) and Marie Lienau (proFem)

Jirina Siklová is the Head of the Department of Social Work at the Philosophical Faculty of Charles University in Prague. Dr. Siklová is a member of the Czech Helsinki Committee – an association devoted to the protection of human rights. She is also founder of the Gender Studies Center in Prague; signatory of the Charter 77; and was a dissident during the Communist rule in Czechoslovakia. Dr. Jirina Siklová is also a regular contributor to the daily Lidove Noviny and a frequent guest in nationally televised political and sociological debates.

On the 8th of March four Czech women’s organizations have founded the first centre of women’s organizations in Prague. Now the offices of the Gender Studies Centre, LaStrada (prevention of the trafficking in women), proFem (Central European Counselling Centre for Women’s Projects) and Promluv (group of lesbian and bisexual women ) are under the same roof ! Each of these organizations will work on their own projects and will follow their own goals. For contact and photos etc. see their homepage.


The Feminist Curtain by Jirina Siklová

„PRAGUE: Sometimes I feel like a schizophrenic. When in the West, I criticize Western feminist ideas about Central Europe. At home, I refrain from such criticisms and go after the potent anti-feminist stereotypes of my homeland, the Czech Republic. My unpopularity, it seems, cuts two ways…“ more

Why We Resist Western-Style Feminism by Jirina Siklová

Published by „Transitions“ (1/1998), ed. by the Institute for Journalism in Transition (IJT), an independent, nonprofit, media-development organization based in Prague. „For many East Europeans living in societies where, after communism, women are tired of bearing the double burden of housework and paid work and are unimpressed with the ‚egalitarian‘ principles of full employment, the idea of ‚feminism‘ must be redefined…“


QN: Ms Siklová, you are a sociologist; what are your main fields of research?

J.S: After 1990 when I was again invited to teach at university, I started with applied sociology. I hold lectures on social gerontology, gender identity, life spans and national, ethnical and race identity. Also, I’m very active on the media; I’m working in many nongovernmental organizations and am a member of some international boards of journals. I can send you my CV as well.

QN: In 1991, the Gender Studies Center (GSC) was established in your Prague flat. How did this come about? Who gave it impetus? Could you take somebody as an example? Who were the other initiators?

J.S.: After 1989, I was relatively popular—I was thought of as a “dissident”, somebody who had been arrested during the communist regime as a „spy“ and for “subversion of socialism” while actually, I had only sent abroad manuscripts, papers and commentaries of our writers and “forbidden” journalists and organized the contact between our people in exile and those who had stayed here. I was nothing more than an unofficial postwoman for them. After November 1989, some important women, for example Ruth Rosen from Berkeley, Keitha Sapsine Fine from CUNY, Ann Snitow and Sonja Robinson from the New School for Social Research (New York) and others visited me, gave me many books and asked me whether I was a feminist. But for me feminism was an „unknown“ ideology (see the papers I published then). After two years, when I had received many important books about feminism, the women’s movement and women’s studies in the world, the New Schools for Social Research asked me what I needed, and I told Ann Snitow that I needed 200 USD per month and a student to set up a library for the books. The money would pay for her salary, our advertisements, the phone and fax bills etc. They opened a bank account and we got started. The first librarian was Jana Hradilkova, then mother of three, now of four; she worked together with Laura Busheikin, from Seattle/Canada and many other students from the USA and Canada in my flat. They were working under the slogan “English for Freedom”. They were not paid for their work; but we didn’t need money—my flat was free, my children were growing up and no longer living with me, my mother died in the summer of 1990 and I had been divorced many years ago. I worked a lot in politics, in the Foundation Charta 77, in Journals and I started to teach at the Faculty of Arts again, where I had been thrown out after 1968. I told myself, all this can be used for our gender studies library. This is how our centrum for Gender Studies for students, women from the Czech Republic and foreign students got started. We started with our library, discussions about gender-specific problems and English lectures.

QN: You received financial help from the German “Frauen Anstiftung”. How did you get into contact with them and did you receive any help other than financial?

J.S.: Yes, the help from the Frauen-Anstiftung was extremely important for us. From now on, we could work on a much more professional level; we had the possibility to buy electronic equipment, like PCs, copiers, faxes and we could pay salaries to our staff. Later, I think from 1995 on, the Gender Studies moved into new rooms—my flat had become too small by now. This initiated a second phase in the development of our Center. Shortly before Christmas 1993, Sasa Lienau from FrauenAnstiftung called me to say that their foundation had some money to set up activities for and by women in the postcommunist countried. I was asked to develop some projects. The requirements were very simple: Just write what you would like to do, if you had the money. It was the first project I developed. We succeeded and received support for our work in February 1994. I am sending you the History of our Gender Studies Center which explains this process in more detail. (See the article Gender Studies Center in Prague in the supplementary files).

Jirina Siklová
Jirina Siklová
QN: Since 1998 (and so far uniquely in the Czech Republic), the University of Prague offers a course in Gender Studies. Can you tell us more about this course—how is it structured, who attends it and what are the course contents?

J.S.: Our report about the Center explains this probably best, but I can tell you how it all started. I was one of the founders of the Department of Social work or Department of Applied Sociology and I thought that women’s problems were social problems too! This was one of the reasons why we started the programme in the first place: We wanted to deal with social problems from the point of view of gender, or from the point of view of the differences between men and women. We succeeded and gave it minimal standards for accreditation of the Departments of Social Work at all Universities and High Schools. When we started these lectures in 1993, they were confined to our Department, but now they are held at four universities and many high schools in the Czech Republic. This was one of the reasons why we set up a lecture for secondary school teachers with the support of the Open Society Fund. Then, step by step the Center at our University got under way. Last year, we received support for the Centre from the Ford Foundation. This is O.K., but the Center is “under” the leadership of the Department of Applied Sociology; it is not independent. Why? Because nobody has a PhD in gender studies and nobody coming from gender studies can be associate professor. I am associate professor in Sociology, but not gender studies. It is simply impossible in the Czech Republic. We will have to wait for a new generation to do their PhDs abroad. At the moment, I don’t see any other solution to this problem.

QN: Do you receive any support by political institutions and in what way? Do you co-operate with other countries politically?

J.S.: No, unfortunately not. We have never received any help from politics. At the beginning, our work was frought with many difficulties and people from the official authorities were joking about us. But during the last few years, since 1997, the situation has improved. Under the influence of the EU, our authorities have changed their attitudes and we are not as underevaluated now as we were at the beginning. They have had to recognize that gender studies are popular, that they are „normal“ and „fashionable“ abroad and that these things can succeed. There are no more jokes now. We have a higher prestige than before. But still, we don’t receive any financial support. All we have is paid for by the grant we receive from the Heinrich Böll Stiftung (such as books, lectures) or from “small grants” from different Embassies, Open Society Countries or the Foundation for Development Civic Society (NROS) etc. We have a much better position now than we had at the beginning. Political leaders don’t joke about us any more. The weekly and daily journals are interested in publishing information about G.S and to do interviews with some of our members. Now we receive support from women in parliament and the best contacts we have are those to members of the Social Democratical Party. Politically, we are not co-operating with other countries. We are NGOs and not a politically oriented club or organization.

But we do co-operate with several other countries on several projects. As a most political one I would choose the KARAT Coalition. It is a coalition of women’s organisations from CEE (and recently NIS) countries, founded in 1997 in Warsaw. KARAT is a very god tool of lobbying on the national as well as international levels. The biggest success was its work within UN (first in 1999 and then last year within the Bejing+5 process), where thanks KARAT the CEE countries became visible with their very specific problems of transition. In June 2000 the first issue of the KARAT magazine “Fair Play” which was about the Beijing+5 process (since then 2 more issues were published, on “Women in Decision making Processes” and “Women on the Labour Market”). It is published in English.

QN: Please tell us something about the successes you had and the problems you had to face during the institutionalization of the Gender Studies Center. Have you redefined your aims in any way since 1991? Are there any significant gaps that opened between your academic work and the problems of everyday life?

J.S.: I don’t know if you mean me personally or our organization. I at least didn’t change my aims. I found very competent workers and enthusiastic women who are now responsible for G.S. and I feel like the „grandmother“ of the G.S. and member of trustees). I think and hope that G.S. will go on working without my help. But our financial resources won’t last long and the young women who would like to set up a career in G.S can’t see a future there. I can’t help them; I simply can’t provide them with a secure perspective.

QN: We are particularly interested in and fascinated by one of your projects: Women’s Memories. It aims at collecting and recording experiences by women in the Czech Republic prior to the transition of the country from communism to democracy with methods used by oral history research. Can you tell us more about this project?

J.S.: I will give you the answer of Pavla Friydlova, the head of this project:

The idea for this project came about in August 1995 during a long train journey through Siberia on the way to Beijing (China) for the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women. During the intensive discussions between women from the West and women from ex-socialist countries, Jirina Šiklova, sociologist and founder of the Gender Studies Centre in Prague, proposed an international research project in which women from countries in transition/transformation searching for their own history and women’s roots would work together. From the very beginning the project was envisioned as an international and ongoing, long-term project.

The project—Women’s Memories: Searching for Identity within Socialism—is at once a project for the recording of women’s stories through autobiographical notes and the rehistoricization of memories of the lives of various women in a specific historical time, and a project for exploring the essence, dynamics and conflicts of one ideological-political system. It is, in fact, this very „women’s perspective“ which Women’s Studies in relation to history has affirmed, which becomes the unavoidable or fundamental criteria for the approach to women’s historical experience. In the shadows of „great history“ which was written by men, a „small history“ of women was also taking place at the same time, as a culture of coming to terms with the everyday and the ways in which they survived, as a type of different participation and the observing of one’s own life.

Besides the genealogy along male lines, a genealogy of woman’s experience also appeared in the past which was created through the model of oral transfer of women-made and extended traditions. It is within this very interweaving and linking of “oral history” and “life story”—two contemporary methods of cultural anthropology and ethnology—that our research is based on, directed towards the search for identity/identities of women in socialism.

In its first stage, this project may be called a “lifesaver” as it contains the consciousness about the flow of time and the passing away of generations of women who, through their life stories, are authentic testimonies to the lives and activities under socialism. This first part of the project is mainly about women (born between 1920 and 1930) who spent their entire active life in the period of socialism; about women who were independent and economically self-reliant and who not only felt the social changes in the immediate sense, but directly participated in, and promoted these changes.

Read also the paper of Sarka Friedlová, which gives some more details about this project. (You'll find this paper in the supplementary files.)

QN: You have started an Internet project ( We are particularly interested in your opinions about the advantages and disadvantages of this medium for your work. How well is the Internet established in the Czech Republic and Eastern Europe in general?

J.S.: Also this is a question, one of my collegues, Lenka Simerská, will better answer:

Internet is quite well established in the CR. 22% of Czech women are online (latest data available in Dec. 00). The number is not high comparing to the male participation and considering the general internet acces possibilities. Nevertheless, women have access through their work place, students via the university, many households also have private accounts. Internet is a great way for us – women’s organisations, how to spread information about women’s issues. It’s relativly low cost way of publishing with a wide range. Especially journalists and students are those who go first to the internet when they search for materials and information. was founded as the first women’s information server in Czech language. The idea came from a young sociologist Lenka Simerska from the Gender Studies Centre. She registered the domain in 1998 and started publishing articles, news, information about feminist events and women’s projects. Later she introduced an online dicsussion named “What brought me to feminism”. The web site started to be very interactive and feedback emails very frequent. Not only from women – sympathizers of feminism (mostly students or intelectuals), but also from women who never heard anything about feminism. They just read the articles published on the web page and applied the facts or theories to their practical life experience. As a reaction to the web pages the Centre have been receiving emails and calls asking for various kinds of advises – where can victims of domestic violence get help; where can feminist art be found in the Czech Rep.; what are the legal instruments to diminish sexual disrimination at the work place; who are active lesbian groups oitside Prague; and many other questions. The number of the visitors is constantly increasing. The domain speaks for itself and the web site is quite well searchable. Now the Gender Studies Centre undertakes a reconstruction of the web site in order to make it more flexible and well searchable for our readers. We are preparing many new materials to be published online – academic papers, research, bibliographies, overview of women/gender studies courses. But also materials of very practical use – laws affecting women’s rights, cases of sexual harrasment, commentaries on media portrayal of women, political news, etc. Hopefully additional resources will be found to produce also an English version, or at least a digest of the web site.

QN: Thank you very much, Jirina Siklová, and also Pavla Frydlová, Michaela Tominová, Lenka Simerská, Sarka Friedlová and all your collegues who were working out answers to our questions!

URN urn:nbn:de:0114-qn021250

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