[Editor's note: no copies of the Slovenian Government Report to CEDAW were available while this report was being researched and written.]
A young constitutional republic, Slovenia became independent from Yugoslavia only five years ago. It has been in the throes of becoming a nation and forming its own economy, while at the same time experiencing the double shock of making the transition from a socialist to a market economy. The consequences of these changes for women are still far from clear. Recession, restructuring, including privatisation, the collapse of trade with the states of the former Yugoslavia, and the influx of refugees from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina are some of the challenges the country has been facing. However, bordered by Italy, Hungary and Austria, as well as by Croatia, Slovenia was the most economically developed of the republics, with the highest living standard and very active foreign trade. Its relationship with the industrialised countries of Europe began forming many years before independence. It also had the advantage of being the most homogenous of the former republics. While Yugoslavia had four major languages, three main religions and many ethnic groups, ninety percent of Slovenia's two million inhabitants are ethnic Slovene and Roman Catholic.
Commentaries refer to 1989 as the year of the "Slovene Spring," the period when the independence movement clearly emerged in Slovenia, catalysed by the trial for espionage and treason of four Slovenian journalists by a Yugoslav military tribunal. Conducted in relative secrecy, and in Serbo-Croation rather than in the indigenous Slovenian language, the affair sparked further action against the Yugoslav Federation and resistance to the threat of Serbian dominance. Throughout this period the Slovenian press was open as well as outspoken, and kept the public informed, not only of the progress of the tribunal, but of Slovenia's disproportionate economic contribution (eight percent of the population generating almost thirty percent of the revenue) to the Yugoslav Federation. This time of political agitation includes the development of activist social minorities - including environmentalist and women's groups - and of burgeoning national support for their demands.
Over eighty-eight percent of the Slovenian electorate voted for independence in December 1990. In June of 1991, the Yugoslav army attempted to re-establish control over the republic, hoping that a show of force would intimidate Slovenia (and Croatia as well, which had also declared its independence) and act as a warning to other republics thinking of secession. However, Slovene troops thwarted their efforts, and after ten days of fighting, won its independence. At independence there were barely more than two million inhabitants. It is a country of small cities, with a population almost evenly divided between rural and urban.
The European Union is already Slovenia's main trading partner - now accounting for about seventy percent of its total foreign trade.1 International trade and foreign policy is geared towards Western Europe, particularly Italy and the former Yugoslavia. Slovenia now has official EU associate membership. It is outperforming other Central and Eastern European candidates, and if current rates continue, could also pass EU members Greece and Portugal in economic growth in four or five years. A founding member of the World Trade Organisation, Slovenia has an international credit rating of A. It is being considered for membership in NATO, which it sees as a guarantee of its sovereignty and independence.
Due to continuing conflict in the region, there has been a large influx of Croatian and Bosnian refugees into Slovenia. Sources say that the situation of the refugees is precarious, and that very little is being done to help defuse the resentment they generate. In general, Slovenes feel that their country cannot afford to maintain the refugees, that the relative strength of the Slovene economy can only remain so if it does not have to support more than country's own small population. It does not help that the refugee population has a higher birth rate than the indigenous Slovenes. Additionally, the homogeneity of the Slovene people is perceived as an important mainstay against ethnic conflict and as an important source of 'nationhood.' 2
Information sent by one source concerned the psycho-social effects of refugee status on women. Not surprisingly, isolation, loneliness, poverty, and exhaustion were common among the refugees, and women were at increased risk for psychological distress due to their vulnerability. This source hypothesised that the stress felt by refugees would only increase as Slovenian nationalism rose, and as attitudes towards refugees hardened.
SEX ROLES AND STEREOTYPING - Article 5
A recent article about Slovenian women discusses the problem women in post-socialist countries have with being "antipolitical." While the socialist vision was a shortcut to equality that did not change the division of labour in the family, equal opportunity politics in the Western democracies does nothing to change it either. The article notes that women's aversion to politics under both systems is "predicated on 'not having time' or 'having to work' [and] reveals that the core of the question is how to change partner relationships, family conditions, and daily life, and not how to build huge social facilities to 'solve' the problem of housework."3 As the Slovenian 1993 Preliminary Report to CEDAW,4 confirms in its commentary on Article 5, Slovenian women still perform the majority of household tasks. This sexual division of labour, combined with the very high full-time employment rate of women, means that women commonly work a double shift - one at work followed by another at home. The report adds that "work at home within the family has lost its economic value and price and is not even regarded as 'proper work.' "5
Despite this double burden, comparative research done by a team of Slovenian and US sociologists indicates that Slovenian women tend to be very liberal in their gender role attitudes and very career-oriented. The authors found that women were less traditional in their career aspirations than men.6 One source mentioned that during informal interviews, Slovenian women expressed a preference for employment even when presented with hypothetical situations in which they would not have to work.
Advertising, Pornography and stereotypes
Despite some very positive developments concerning women in the new state structure, "a new attitude that is not very 'woman-friendly' is developing in the public space. This is partly due to the rise in blatant sexism, and partly due to the very raw economic liberalisation, which relies on mass advertising with its stereotypes."7
One Slovenian activist noted that before independence there were restrictions against public pornography, but now there are none. After independence, the legislature was apparently not prepared to respond to the flood of pornography and pornographic advertisements from Europe.
PROSTITUTION AND TRAFFICKING IN WOMEN - Article 6
The Constitution of Slovenia does not explicitly refer to the prevention of all forms of trafficking in women. However, the Penal Code defines several actions which constitute trading in slaves, and the law sanctions such acts with one to ten years' imprisonment. If such an act is perpetrated against a juvenile, the penalty increases to a minimum of five years' imprisonment. There are similar sanctions concerning the exploitation of prostitution. The Slovenian 1993 Preliminary Government Report to CEDAW says that from 1989 to 1992, official records showed only ten victim reports of the crime of soliciting for prostitution. The report goes on to note that this statistic is a rather unlikely reflection of the actual situation, given the prevalence of advertisements for sexual services in newspapers and magazines, as well as the numbers of massage salons and night-clubs featuring "Eastern European artistes."8 One source says that there are usually many more arrests of individual women for prostitution than of those who solicit for prostitutes.
VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN - Articles 3, 5, 6, 12, 15 and 16
In 1993, the Office for Women's Politics organised an open round table in an attempt to deal with the issue of violence against women, and this effort continues. Violence against women is the focus of activity for many Slovenian NGOs. The number of women reporting domestic and sexual violence has increased in the last few years as SOS lines and shelters have become more publicised.
As elsewhere, it is very difficult to ascertain the extent and severity of violence against women in the family because women often hesitate to report assaults to the police for fear of social censure or retribution. This difficulty is compounded by the legal system itself, since incidents of violence in the home, either between spouses or other family members, are most frequently classified as violations of the statute concerning Disturbing the Peace. Violations of this kind usually incur very minor penalties. However, women's groups have been wary of trying to increase the penalties for domestic violence, as there is no counselling for perpetrators and, if they are incarcerated without some form of counselling or other mental health treatment, the groups fear that their violent behaviour will only increase once they are released.
In Slovenia, frequently both parties involved in domestic violence are fined if the police are called, regardless of who was the instigator, making statistical accuracy even more difficult, and also serving to dissuade victims from calling the police. There is disagreement concerning the role played by the police in these cases. According to the US State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1995, spousal violence is a known problem and the police are "not reluctant" to intervene. This is contradicted by a source in Slovenia who works with battered women who said that in her experience, the police do not intervene in situations of domestic violence unless the SOS line calls them to do so. In other words, if the victim herself notifies the police, it is unlikely they will intervene, but if the SOS line calls, the police will go to the home. The government Centres on Social Work in each region, which are specifically set up to deal with social problems, do not include domestic violence against adult women among their responsibilities.
POLITICAL AND PUBLIC LIFE - Article 7
Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, women have been participating actively in feminist, ecological and social movements and have grown accustomed to the process of networking and organising themselves independently of political parties. This was part of the distinct evolution away from the 'state feminism' orchestrated by the Communist Party in earlier years. While women in Slovenia are not characteristically passive or indifferent to politics, they are under-represented in formal politics, where women's issues are relatively absent. The socialist era concept of "the worker," has been replaced by the concept of the "Slovene Nation," but women remain subsumed within the latter as they were in the former.
A consistent criticism voiced by Slovene activists is that women are recognised basically in their reproductive role as mothers.9 Several sources expressed concern that the construction of women as mothers, both in the Constitution and in the rhetoric of Slovene politics, combined with a national concern over the low birth rate of indigenous Slovenians, could build to a more overt pressure to "redomesticate women" in other words, restrict women's participation in political and public life.10 The current "maternalistic" rhetoric is vociferously articulated by the Christian Democratic Party. A possible referendum on mandatory three-year pregnancy leave for all women is of great concern, as is the possibility that in the upcoming November 1996 elections, the Christian Democrats could gain either the Ministry of Social Work or Education. Both ministries oversee areas of immediate concern to women, and the social conservatism of the Christian Democrats is seen as a direct threat to women's interests.
The Office for Women's Politics
IWRAW sources were ambivalent about the role of the government Office for Women's Politics, established in July of 1992. While it is important and visible evidence of government's commitment to women, one source described it as without much influence and said that its existence lulled the public into believing that women were adequately represented within government. She noted that officials of the Office for Women's Politics were far more likely to place the priorities of their respective political parties above the priorities of women's non-governmental organisations. The government officials will do what is "effective for their careers, not necessarily what is effective for women." For example, women's NGOs supported the Communist party's idea of reinstating quotas for the number of women in Parliament (as a way of addressing the steep drop-off in female representatives after independence), but the Office of Women and Politics, while in accord with the NGOs theoretically, did not support the Communist's recommendation very strongly or very audibly. Another source noted that the Office was essentially without political power. It may only make recommendations, and its main source of influence is based on the party affiliation its appointees share with the Prime Minister. Nonetheless, this particular source felt that the Office was open and supportive of NGOs and that its presence was an invaluable support for their work.
EMPLOYMENT - Article 11
Slovenia has the highest living standard among post-communist countries due to a highly developed, diversified industrial sector, and a well-educated, skilled workforce.11 Nonetheless, the labour market has experienced major shocks in the transition to a market economy. First and foremost, it has become possible for workers to be laid off. Unemployment went from a negligible 1.6 percent in 1987 to 8.2 percent in 1991, 11.6 percent in 1992, and reached 15.4 percent by the end of 1993.12 As one commentary says, "the job security of the socialist period ended with a vengeance."13 Plant closings became a fact of life, and a lack of trust in collective bargaining developed between the government and the trade unions. Teachers, metal workers and farmers went on strike in 1993 to protest measures that amounted to a government wage freeze. In April of 1996 public sector employees - the Slovene dentists and doctors' trade union (FIDES) - went on strike for nearly a month.14
Nearly forty-seven percent of the Slovenian work force is female.15 Women hold eighty percent of the jobs in health and social work, and more than half of the jobs in other service sectors, such as education and culture.16
Slovenia has not privatised as quickly as the other ex-communist countries. Though its transition to an independent, open economy is far from complete, some clear concerns with regard to women's position in the labour force have emerged. There has always been occupational and wage segregation in Slovenia, with women heavily concentrated in lower-paying positions and in certain professions and industries. At the beginning of the transition, women were less likely to be laid off than men because they were not the predominant workers in heavy industry, which bore the initial brunt of layoffs. Since women tended to be employed in service sectors as well as in light industry, they were not laid off in numbers equal to men. Also, there is some evidence, referred to in the 1993 Slovene Preliminary Report to CEDAW, suggesting that women were more likely to accept lower wages in order to keep their jobs.17
All of IWRAW's sources expressed concern that the newly created private enterprises are less likely to hire women, and those that are restructuring are more likely to make female employees redundant. Women are more expensive - protective legislation requiring one year paid maternity leave and earlier retirement benefits has so far been retained, as well as the regulation preventing pregnant women from night work and from work which could threaten their health. And because of child-bearing, they are deemed less efficient elements of a workforce. The Slovene 1993 Preliminary Report to CEDAW echoes this concern, emphasising that women are at a disadvantage in the labour market because of family duties, and that this disadvantage will increase as the labour market itself continues to shrink in the restructuring process.
IWRAW's sources stressed that women's concerns about the effects of privatisation are provisional, due to the brief period of time that has elapsed since its effects were first felt. However, sources say that various patterns of employment discrimination common to open economies are establishing themselves in Slovenia. For example, women who are more qualified than male applicants are being passed over for positions because employers believe that women either do not need employment (as they will have a husband to care for them economically) or that they will end their employment once pregnant. By way of example, one source related that the Office for Women's Politics recently tried to build a case of employment discrimination against a company which required women, as a condition of their employment, to sign an undated contract which stated that upon pregnancy they would quit their job. The plaintiffs decided not to go ahead with the case, due to fear of reprisals.
HEALTH CARE AND FAMILY PLANNING - Article 12
The economic transition has led to disarray in the state-run medical system and to the development of a parallel private system of health care available only to those who can afford to pay. The seriousness of the problems affecting the health care system became obvious after the strike in April 1996, when doctors and dentists published a declaration, giving their account of the situation in Slovenia's health service. Their complaints focused on the monopoly of control exercised by the state Institute for Health Insurance, which, for example, has a regulation that doctors must see fifty patients a day on average.18 While doctors insisted on better pay and working conditions, the State countered that raising salaries for doctors and dentists would trigger a chain reaction of pay demands in both state and private sectors.19
Mental health services for women
The first real social research about women who were hospitalised in one of Ljubljana's psychiatric hospitals was done in 1992. The women's life stories revealed a number of psycho-social factors, such as violence, sexual abuse, isolation, exhaustion, poverty - particularly among the refugees from ex-Yugoslavian republics - which are not treated or even recognised in the bio-medical model that predominates in psychiatric hospitals. Although traditional psychiatric services operate on a medical model, they mainly function as social service institutions. For example, the researchers found that many women in the Ljubljana hospital had run away from violent relationships "to take a rest." Researchers also found that these hospitals tend to reinforce traditional taboos against speaking out about sexual abuse and other dysfunctional family experiences. The majority of the staff in these institutions are women, who themselves help to perpetuate the taboos and who sometimes express their own psycho-social oppression in power relations with patients.
On a theoretical level, consciousness about gender differences has progressed, but on a practical level, psycho-social help for women remains almost untouched. Until recently, there has been only the help line for battered women, although now a few social workers have begun to consider a women's perspective in their work. This means that the mental health treatment options for women in Slovenia are still extremely limited.
Article 55 of the Slovenian Constitution concerns freedom of choice in childbearing. It states that "persons shall be free to decide whether to bear children. The State shall ensure that persons have every opportunity to exercise this freedom and shall create such conditions as enable parents to freely choose whether or not to bear children." Nonetheless, there is concern among sources that this right, which now allows women access to abortion, will be slowly dismantled, particularly if the Christian Democrats secure important ministries or gain more political power after the elections in November 1996.
2 The editors of Independent Slovenia, (New York: St Martin's Press, 1994), identify the integration of refugees and the protection of their human rights as one pressing issue for Slovenia. They note that in 1994 the number of refugees was at 75,000, and that Slovene law does not allow them to work. back
3 Jalusic, Vlasta, "Troubles with Democracy: Women and Slovene Independence," Independent Slovenia: Origins, Movements, Prospects, ed. Benderly, Jill and Kraft, Evan (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994) 135 - 153. back
4 Preliminary Report from the Republic of Slovenia on Measures taken for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, published in The Republic of Slovenia, 1993. back
5 Preliminary Report 60. back
6 Morinaga, Y., Frieze, I., and A. Ferligoj, "Career Plans and Gender-Role Attitudes of College Students in the United States, Japan and Slovenia" in Sex Roles: A Journal of Research," Vol. 29, No.5-6, 1993, 317 back
7 Jalusic, Vlasta back
8 Preliminary Report 63. back
9 The Slovenian constitution, adopted in December of 1990, mentions women explicitly only twice (articles 51 and 75), and in each case refers to women as mothers. See Drakuli´c, Slavenka, "Women and the New Democracy in the Former Yugoslavia," in Nanette Funk and Magda Mueller, Gender-Politics and Post-Communism: Reflections From Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union, (Routledge:New York) 1993. Milica Anti´c suggests that the preamble of the Constitution, in which the sanctity of life is identified as a basic value of society, lends force to conservative forces which see that clause as reason to restrict abortion rights. She attributes anti-abortion sentiment as arising from Slovenian nationalism and fears of the Slovene nation dying out. Aniti´c, Milica, "Democracy Between Tyranny and Liberty: Women in Post-'Socialist' Slovenia," Feminist Review No.39, Winter 1991 back
10 Jogan, Maca, "Redomestication of Women in Slovenia?" in Women's Studies International Forum Vol. 17, No2/3, 1994, 307-309 back
11 The World Today, "Is South-Eastern Europe Making it?" Vol 49, No.6 , June 1993 p.112 back
12 Evan Kraft, Milan Vodopivec, and Milan Cvikl, "On Its Own: The Economy of Independent Slovenia," Independent Slovenia, (St. Martin's Press, New York, 1994) 201 - 223 back
13 Kraft, Vodopivec and Cvikl back
14 Jana Slacek, "Doctors Better Paid But No Less Overworked," Inter Press Service, Global Information Network, on-line, Nexus, 8 May 1996. back
15 Market Europe, "Slovenians Find A Peaceful Lifestyle in their Little Corner," Vol 7, No.5, Wednesday, May 1, 1996. back
16 Market Europe, "Slovenians Find A Peaceful Lifestyle in their Little Corner," Vol 7, No.5, Wednesday, May 1, 1996. back
17 Bucar, Maja. back
18 Jana Slacek back
19 Jana Slacek back
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