A series of press conferences were held in the first week of March in the Croatian parliament. In light of International Women’s Day, feminist members of parliament took the opportunity to speak up against gender inequality.
Ivana Posavec Krivecin, leader of the Social Democratic Party and Sandra Benčić from the Green-Left Coalition emphasized gender based inequality in the workplace and the pressing issue that gender violence is in the country.
In recent years the feminist agenda pushed by women’s rights organizations and NGO’s has been echoed by feminist members of the parliament. “When they talk about this and insist on these issues it makes it easier for that to get into the mainstream media,” feminist activist Paula Brecak says.
She believes gender inequality to be a big issue often not recognized by the public, and considers education through the mainstream media to be the informal education that the public needs. “People who have so deeply internalized these political values don’t recognize the issue,” she says. “We need to re-educated the whole society.”
Gender inequality has been of growing concern within Croatia’s government. The normalization of sexual assault, gender based violence and harassment are key issues feminist ministers are trying to discus in parliament.
According to the Gender Equality Ombudsperson of the Republic of Croatia acts of femicide increased over 50% since the start of the Covid 19 pandemic.
During a party hosted by The Social Democrats last December, an amendment of Article 87 of the Croatian Criminal Code was proposed. If passed, femicide would qualify as a hate crime against women.
Back in 2021 prime minister Andrej Plenković refused the motion whilst claiming that gender based acts of violence already fall under the hate crimes within the Croatia’s Criminal Code.
On a press conference held on March 9th, Posavec Krivecin spoke up about the hesitancy the government has in recognizing femicide as a criminal offense, and demanded once again that the act be included in the Croatian Criminal Code.
“We, as a society, are stuck and we haven’t defined laws against gendered violence against women. Which we, in the Republic of Croatia, keep on encountering,” said Posavec Krivecin.
Feminist NGO’s and media devoted to women’s rights have been vocal about the refusal of the proposal and the distrust of the prime minister’s answers.
Journalist and social media manager Anja Kovacevic wishes that femicide was acknowledged in the criminal law. “I think women will feel more seen, feel more secure and also more confident in the government.”
Kovacevic works for the women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health organization RECI.HR. Her view is that the government should focus on the prevention on crimes rather than the aftermath. “Each time another murder happens the government is like that is an exception, and we are getting to the point where it’s not an exception.”
Women’s rights organizations believe gender based violence is not a priority in Croatia’s agenda. “If they put femicide into law then they will have to address it, and they have other issues to deal with on a national and global level,” Brecak says.
VoxFeminae.net, a nonprofit magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Tihana Bertek reiterates the importance of including femicide in criminal law to. She believes it will raise awareness among the general public. “Significant barriers exist against women to realize their rights in the areas of safety and security, bodily autonomy, and sexual and reproductive rights,” she says.
Members of the parliament also addressed the gender based discrimination which would follow the passing of the new Labour Law. A law that was proposed in light of the surge of remote work result of Covid 19.
Workers’ Front Katarina Peović stated that the removal of regulation for remote work would extend working hours and would enable employers to “ask any worker to be make themselves available 24 hours a day.”
If the law passed it would increase the overtime and remove regulations for remote work and working from home. “Everyone is unhappy with at least on portion of the law,” says Kovacevic.
Members of parliament took a stand and stressed a feminist perspective against the law.
Bertek says Croatian society’s portrayal of women is still one in which women are expected to perform household tasks. “If the law is approved women could be overwhelmed with work without being adequately rewarded,” she says.
The Croatian government has a long history of conservative influences, such as the Catholic Church. This has affected the way of living inside the country, and according to many activists has perpetuated and old-school mentality which dismisses conversations around women’s rights and sexuality.
Whilst Croatian women’s rights organizations are working toward the betterment of women in Croatia’s society, they agree that members of parliament have the power to reach more voices than they can. “The sooner we start the sooner we are going to get to a safer society for everyone,” says Brecak.