Prague Gender Studies Centre
[ 18.5.1999, Lenka Simerská
The Prague Gender Studies Centre (GSC) was set up in 1991 in the flat of the dissident sociologist Jiřina Šiklová, and initially functioned primarily as a library of mostly foreign language literature and a so-called curriculum centre. A group of women from different professions (sociologists, philosophers and academics from various fields of the social sciences, writers, students, and a number of Americans and Canadians who were mostly in Prague for a short time only) soon formed around the centre and developed the debate on the position of women with lectures, research and publicity. From the outset, the GSC was in close contact with similar centres in other countires. An important stimulus in the early stages was the conference on "Women in a Changing Europe" held in Denmark and the East West meeting of women in Dubrovník, where the Network of East West Women was founded, with its offices in the USA. The GSC also took an active part in international dialogue, including the co-organisation of conferences, starting with Emerging Women´s Organisations in Post-Communist Europe in Jíloviště u Prahy (Frauen Anstiftung Hamburg, 1992), or East-East Gender Studies Inspirations in Liblice (1993). Many other conferences followed directed at both the Czech and the international public (Politics with Women or without Women?, Women in the history of Prague, Project Parity - Training Women for Public Life and Politics, Woman and Man in the Media, The Hidden History of Women, Feminist Theology in Post-Communist Countries, Regional Action in the 43rd Session of the UN Commission for the Status of Women, etc.). The GSC received its earliest financial support from the Network of East West Women and its later development was aided by long-term support from the German women´s foundation, Frauen Anstiftung, and grants from international foundations. The GSC was officially registered as a non-profit, nongevenmental organisation in 1992 (under the law in force at the time, with the title of foundation) and two years later moved from Jiřina Šiklová´s flat to its first premises in Prague´s second district.
The great success of the GSC and the partial achievement of its aims since the beginning of the 1990s has been the introduction of gender studies in the social sciences in Czech universities. As early as 1992/3 GSC organised a lecture cycle on Social Aspects from the Point of View of Gender and Gender-Culture-Society at Charles University in Prague. In the following academic year the lecture cycle was extended to Masaryk University in Ústí nad Labem. Members of the GCS gradually introduced the gender and feminist aspects into their respective fields and gave lectures in their departments or institutions. The Centre´s greatest achievement in introducing gender and women´s studies into uneversity education was the establishment of the Centre for the Study of Gender in the Department of Social Work at Charles University in Prague, the first such centre in this country. The Academic Senate decided to stablish the Centre on the basis of a proposal by members of GSC in 1998 and the first semester of teaching is now under way. The GSC is however still providing financial and organisational support for the work of this department, providing premises for its co-ordinators and a support for students in the form of ist library.
Lectures are also directed towards the general public and since 1996 the GSC has organised regular lectures and debates in its Tuesdays with Gender cycle. GSC also responds to need for discussion on women´s questions in the regions and participates in public debates on the invitation of local organisations or activists.
The library has at present around four thousand volumes in the field of gender and women´s studies and feminism, as well as fiction and 200 periodicals (in both Czech and foreign languages). It has an extensive collection of cuttings from Czech and foreign newspapers, monitoring the media view of women´s questions. The library also publishes its own works, provides an information service on the activities of women´s organisations and the state bureaucracy and is developing an internet project, www.feminismus.cz. An important feature of the library is its archive, which includes a collection of historical materials and works by activists of the Czech Women´s movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
One of the GSC´s most extensive projects is Women´s Memories. Using oral history methods it is collecting women´s experiences under communism. This idea has aroused interest among women academics in other postcommunist countries and groups from the Czech Republic, Poland, Serbia, Croatia and Germany are collaborating on the project.
The GSC works closely with other women´s NGOs. Together with the organisations proFem, LaStrada, Elektra, Rosa and Bílý kruh bezpečí, it has founded the Co-ordination Circle for the Prevention of Violence against Women and was one of the initiators of the Association for Equal opportunities of Women and Men. In collaboration with state organisations. the GSC is attempting to influence the functioning of institutional mechanisms to improve the postion of women and to monitor the respecting of international accords such as CEDAW or the Platform for Action. Members of the GSC were involved in founding the coalition of NGOs in post-communist countries, the Karat Coalition, and within the coalition are now working on the Peking+5 process (an assessment of the gains made by the World Conference on Women in Peking in 1995, and new perspectives).
The Gender Studies Centre in Prague can claim much of the merit for the increasing awareness during the 1990s, both among the general public and in academic circles, of questions of feminism and the postiion of women in this country and in the world. Its activities have created a space for discussion on the relations between women and men from the point of view of various academic disciplines, it has drawn attention to existing problems, contributed to reflection on the communist period and reviwed historical memory, carrying on the idea of the Czech women´s movement between the wars or even earlier as an integral part of a developed civil society.
The GSC has also published many works, to date:
- Altos and Sopranos: A Pocket Handbook of Women´s Organisations, 1995.
- L Busheikin, S. Trnka (ed.): Bodies of Bread and Butter: Reconfiguring Women´s Lives in the Post-communist Czech Republic, 1993.
- N. Cetkovič, P. Frýdlová: Epistolae. Praha: GSC, proFem, Berlin: OWEN, 1999.
- M. čermáková, H. Maříková: Data o ženách v české republice /Data on Women in the Czech Republic/, 1996.
- M. čermáková, H. Maříková, L. Simerská: Platforma pro akci /Platform for Action/, 1998
- R. Eisler: číše a meč, agrese a láska aneb Žena a muž v prùběhu staletí /The Cup and the Sword, Aggression and Love, or Woman and Man in the Course of Centuries/. Praha: Nakladatelství Lidové noviny with contribution by GSC, 1995.
- P. Frýdlová (ed.): Všechny naše včerejšky I., II. - Paměť žen /All our Yesterdays I., II. - Women´s Memories/, 1998.
- H. Havelková: Existuje středoevropský model mateřství a rodiny? /Is There a Central
- European Model of Motherhood and the Family?/, Praha: Divadelní ústav, in collaboration with the Austrian Cultural Institute and the Nadace Gender Studies, 1995.
- S. Hendrychová: Právní postavení žen v české republice /The Legal Position of Women in
the Czech Republic/, 1998.
- V. Ledvinka, J. Pešek (ed.): Žena v dějinách Prahy /Women in the History of Prague/, Praha: Documenta Pragensia XIII. Scriptorum in collaboration with Nadace Gender
- Regionální zpráva o institucionálních mechanismech pro zlepšení postavení žen v zemích střední a východní Evropy /Regional Report on Institutional Mechanisms for the
- Improvement of the Position of Women in the Countries of Central and Eastern
- M. Vodrážka: Politika s ženami či bez žen? /Politics with Women or without Women?/,
- M. Vodrážka: Feministické rozhovory o "tajných službách" /Feminist Interviews on the "Secret Services"/, 1996
- Zpráva o Nadaci Gender Studies v Praze 1991 - 1997 /Report on the Gender Studies
- Centre in Prague 1991 - 1997/, 1998
- With the financial support of the UNDP, the GSC is currently preparing a publication "Women in the Czech Republic in the 1990s, assessing a decade of democratic development of this society in relation to women". The book will be published in 2000, both in Czech and English edition.
Source: Simerska Lenka: Gender Studies Center, Prague. Czech Sociological Review, vol. VII, no 2, 1999. Sociologicky ústav AV CR, Praha.