100 Years of Fortitude
On the heels of their suffrage centennial, Slovakia’s first female president is inspiring a new generation of women leaders.
This year, Slovakia marked one hundred years since women gained the right to vote.
And alongside the centennial anniversary came a second milestone: the election of the nation’s first female president. Since Zuzana Čaputová took office last year, she has quickly become Slovakia’s most popular and trusted leader. A recent poll found that 74 percent of Slovak citizens approve of her performance, significantly higher than any other politician.
“The fact that we have a woman president, and people see that it’s not something unthinkable, and that she is doing really well and is much beloved—that’s tremendous,” says Zora Jaurová, Vice-Chairman of the Progressive Slovakia Party. “And now is exactly the time when we have to take it to the next level, which is what we are trying to do. Early on, all the male consultants, advisors, and spin-doctors said she had absolutely no chance to be elected.”
Čaputová’s election is a bright spot amidst a larger landscape of gender inequality Slovaks still struggle with. The vast majority of its public positions are held by men. New Prime Minister Igor Matovič appointed only three women to his 15-member cabinet. And the European Institute for Gender Equality lists Slovakia 26th out of 28 European Union nations on gender equality, with significant disparities in women’s employment, financial resources, and the amount of time devoted to caring responsibilities in the household.
The tide may be turning. Among progress on the environment, anti-corruption efforts, and judiciary reform, one of Čaputová’s most significant achievements remains largely overlooked—she’s inspired women at all levels of government to become more active. Women of all ages and backgrounds are stepping up to claim their seats at every table: city council, the mayor’s office, party leadership, and the Slovak Parliament.
In an exclusive photo essay for Trix, photojournalist Gabriela Bulisova captured portraits of Slovakia’s rising female leaders poised to set an example for central Europe and the rest of the world.
“When we compare with other countries, we can say with all modesty that the Slovak Republic is one of the most successful countries in fighting COVID-19. The pandemic uncompromisingly and directly pointed out problems we have known about for years. We will therefore use the opportunities that are offered to us and our common empathy to make tackling these issues a priority. What can help us and what we really need is the globalization of compassion. Globalization of cooperation. They are a prerequisite for overcoming the problems we face together.” —President Zuzana Čaputová
“The Covid-19 pandemic revealed major problems in sectors like health care or home care that are low-paid and employ mostly women. Many women who became home teachers of their children also faced difficulties. Our experiences during the crisis will serve as a starting point for measures to better reconcile work and family life and a better distribution of unpaid work.”—Jana Žitňanská, Vice-Chairwoman of the For the People Party
“I am very pleased that the President is drawing public attention to topics like environmental protection and climate change, which despite their importance, resonate very little in our society or are talked about very superficially. Thanks to this attention, perhaps more people will change their attitudes and contribute to much-needed change.” —Tatiana Kratochvilová, First Deputy Mayor of the City of Bratislava
“In my election campaign, I promised that the central effort of my political work will be to improve the position of women. In Slovakia, poverty has the face of a woman. Nine out of 10 single-parent families are headed by a woman; more than half of women are unemployed; and senior women live longer than men but spend their last years with significantly lower pensions. All this contributes to a persistent pay gap between men and women.” —Vladimíra Marcinková, Member of Parliament and Vice-Chairwoman of the Committee for Social Welfare and Minorities
“It’s very hard to succeed on your own, so women need the support of a community to do it. There are more and more strong women who have the courage to face challenges and who know what they want and why they want it. Personally, I think that is changing significantly for the better.” —Mayor Dana Čahojová
“In city politics there are more women mayors than men mayors. That’s because they have to deal with real, actual problems that need to be pragmatically, realistically solved. Also, the bigger the town, the lesser the number of women working in politics. In the smallest towns, where there is the lowest pay and the most work, there are women mayors, because no man would do all that work.” —Dana Kleinert, City Council Member
These quotes have been translated from Slovak.
This article is second in a Trix series examining the global history of women’s voting rights.