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Interview with Michaela Marksová-Tominová, Minister of Labor and Social Care

„When female politicians don’t have an exceptionally tolerant partner at home, as I do, then they have no chance combining career and family.”

Michaela Marksová-Tominová, the Minister of Labor and Social Care, studied at the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Charles University. She came up through the non-profit field, as Director of Public Relations for the Gender Studies non-profit organization, as well as classical public-office work. The headed the Department of Family Policy at the Ministry of Labor and Social Care, as well as the Equal Opportunity Department of the Ministry of Education. In practice, she specializes in family policy, women’s rights and equal opportunities for women and men.

 Have you become used to being called a Minister yet?

Generally yes. But if someone calls me Mrs. Marksová, I don’t care. I’m not attached to being called Minister Marksová.

Being considered as a candidate for the post of Minister of Labor and Social Care was under close media watch. Was it even possible to think peacefully about this offer after such charged meetings?

It wasn’t. But not because of the media, rather because of the time. I remember that it was a Monday and I had just walked out of the Jedlička Institute, where I was teaching and a journalist called me, asking me whether I was the candidate for Minister of Labor. She told me that Mr. Krčál had stepped down for family
reasons.  I had no idea what she was talking about – and then on Thursday, I had an interview with the Prime Minister and on Friday was nominated. It was a bustle.

In one interview back then, still as the shadow Minister, you answered the question of what was your political dream by saying that „If it works out after the elections, I would like my shadow function to become an executive one.“ Would you answer differently today?

I would answer exactly the same. You can only criticize from the shadow position and you can sort of propose some things as well, but the chances of making them happen are minimal.

In the same interview, you said that you „don’t like meetings which often discuss the political situation from the Šumavas to the Tatras‘ and many inter-party matters.“ It is my feeling that this is a rather dominant feature of Czech politics...

It is and, as I know from various discussions, it’s not a feature only of Czech politics. It had been written about at the international level in relation to the small ratio of women in politics. Women often have a family at home that they need to take care of and they want to get their meetings done quickly. Men don’t care. They can take their time to discuss any issue at ease and at length. This is also apparent in the Chamber of Deputies, where the opposition creates obstructions with endless speeches and they’re all men. Of course, there are exceptions on both sides.

How detailed was your overview of the issues at the Ministry before you came to office? And what surprised you most during your first days in this regard?

In some areas I had a very detailed knowledge, because I had remained in touch with my former colleagues. This was mostly the area of caring for children in need, concerning family policy or fighting poverty and supporting social integration. I also had detailed knowledge of social security payments, both within and outside the insurance. I taught that subject at the Jedlička Institute. I knew a number of people personally, including some from the government. I even knew the premises of the Minister and other such spaces. So, to some degree, it was like coming home. I have no idea how the Ministry could function today if these people weren’t there. I was shocked by the incredible chaos in the area of IT – one learned from the media about problems with social care payments, but that mess was and, for a while still will be, in everything.

The media already pronounced that the Ministry of Labor and Social Care was the ministry with the highest ratio of women in leadership. Was this your intent?

No, because two of the three deputies were ‘given’ to me by coalition partners. But I’m very happy for them.

How do you envision the expression ‘modern family policy’?

A system of support on part of the state and municipalities, thanks to which young people in this country needn’t be concerned about having children.

What will you consider a personal success while heading the Ministry?

If I manage to deliver all the items from the program statement and if there is no big disaster.  I would like to set up such policies that even the ministers following me could easily take them over and continue without changing them from scratch again. And mainly, if we can manage the mentioned IT: if there is no more news in the media regarding the payments of social care by the beginning of next year, then everything will be running as it’s supposed to. And that’s a big challenge.

You have experience in state administration, self-governance and even from the media and non-profit areas. Is this a good combination for your current position?

Certainly, just for the fact that I already have known many people from these fields for a long time and I also understand the issues they work on. That simplifies mutual communication.

The agenda of your ministry is actually very wide. Which areas did you have to study first? And what interested you the most?

I had to learn about the IT issues in detail, to a degree that is even possible to understand for a non-professional. At the same time, it’s a world of private business, sometimes even pretty rough private business that I had no experience with so far. The other areas weren’t unknown to me, I just needed to get to know them in more depth: such as labor safety and health protection, social housing, the employment policy, functioning of the labor inspectorate, injury insurance and setting remuneration rates. In terms of content, I can’t think of anything that would surprise me, but what did completely shock me was that a number of these areas had suffered from negligence for years. Many things landed on this government that had been postponed for 10 or 15 years. For God’s sake, what were they doing here before us?

You have many years of experience in politics at the municipal level. What are the benefits of this experience? Is it that closeness to people, or is it better to be heading the central administrative office where you can change more things?

I’m personally interested in the national level and think it gives us quite considerable opportunities for change. One is also more visible in the media and the way I express myself on different subjects already has had the potential to change the atmosphere in society – a change in the sense of making people understand that their offices are here for them. In terms of the municipal level, I’m from Prague 2 and that adjoins the very center. Although it’s a small city district in terms of the capital, it has 52,000 citizens, already quite a big town, where many people come to work during the day and is a relatively rich district. We don’t have any socially excluded areas and have low unemployment. Although we do have problems with drug-users, street crime and even a few problematic rooming houses.

What type of complications should women planning a political career be prepared for?

They will find themselves in a very male environment, often being the ‚oddballs.‘ My experience is that many colleagues no longer treat us courteously as women, while not yet as equals to men. We’re sort of strangely in between. If women have small children, it still seems to me that it’s considered as a bit unnatural that they can’t pay perhaps so much attention to them, while with men it’s fine. When female politicians don’t have an exceptionally tolerant partner at home, as I do, then they have no chance combining career and family. This is all still much simpler for men.

What makes you, as a Minister, the happiest and what, on the other hand, takes most of your energy?

I’m pleased that we bring people the hope that there is a chance the situation will change for the better. But we need time in order for that hope to transform into acts, so I hope that this government will survive throughout its entire election period without any larger scandals. If we don’t provide people a certain stability, I’m afraid they will be voting for extremists the next time around. I’m also happy to be travelling around the Czech Republic, because of my function. I have a chance to get to know the problems of ordinary people, visit various companies, social care facilities...

What drains my energy is, for example, the duty of spending long hours in the Chamber of Deputies, when none of the laws related to me are being discussed. As I said, some men from the opposition parties that governed in past years, wasted time on purpose with endless speeches. As if they were unable to do anything constructive.

Author: Jaroslav Kramer
Translation: Michaela Freeman

Out now: Leaders Magazine 3/2014 (e-Magazine)  
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