Where does Croatia stand today on women’s rights?

womens rights

UPDATED: 20.2.2024.

Although the struggle for women’s rights has been ongoing for centuries, there is still much to do. Not only must we continue to fight for gender equality, but we must also preserve the hard-won women’s rights.

Women in Croatia still have lower salaries in general than men. It is mostly implied that women are in charge of the household and raising children, for which they are often degraded instead of rewarded.

The state does not adequately support women’s reproductive rights, abortion, and contraception. Women are often subjected to various forms of violence and are insufficiently protected by law.

This is just a brief introduction, and here is an objective overview of Croatian women’s reality today.

In this post, we cover:

The facts are these…

Reality of women’s rights in Croatia

Definition of feminism and prejudices

It is important to understand the true definition of feminism so that we can avoid the misunderstandings and prejudices some people have. A common stereotype is that (female) feminists are (often aggressive) women who are against men and hate them. This is inaccurate.

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What is feminism?

Feminism is a group of social movements, worldviews, and theories that promote the improvement of women’s political, economic, and social rights and position in order to achieve gender equality. Femina means woman in Latin.

Throughout history, women were considered intellectually, morally, and spiritually weaker than men, so they were primarily kept in the private sphere of life and were dedicated to home and family. They were excluded from the public sphere and political and social rights, including voting, education, economic independence, physical autonomy, and custody of children. This social organization marked by the institutionalized dominance of men is called a patriarchal culture or patriarchy.

In the 19th century, movements with an aim to change those social conditions occurred. The term feminism was first used by the French philosopher Charles Fourier in 1837. However, the first recorded women’s protest was held in the 2nd century BC in ancient Rome.

Feminism fights for improving women’s rights and the equality of women and men. Both women and men can be feminists. As a matter of fact, everyone should be a feminist with equal human rights and without discrimination – it is common sense.

Brief history of women’s rights in Croatia

The first signs of feminism in the Croatian territory occurred around 1871 when a teacher Marija Jambrišak demanded equal working conditions and wages at the first Croatian teachers’ assembly in Zagreb. In addition, a pedagogue Marija Fabković demanded the equal position of women in other spheres. Ban Ivan Mažuranić equated female and male teachers in 1874. In 1881, women got the right to vote, but it was abolished after only 14 years.

During this time, under the absolutist and violent rule of the ban Khuen-Héderváry, women were taken back to the role of mother and housewife. It was considered that married women were expected to give up their teaching careers.

During World War I, politician Stjepan Radić advocated for women’s education. He was the first who demanded women’s right to vote in Parliament. The first Croatian female journalist Marija Jurić Zagorka became important in this period. She published the first Croatian female magazine called Ženski list (Women’s magazine).

[Read: Notable women in Croatian history (part 1), including Marija Jurić Zagorka ]

Women got the right to vote in 1945 and the right to an abortion in 1952. In 1990, gender equality and prohibition of discrimination, i.e., equal rights for women and men, were guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia. The previous Constitution guaranteed the right to abortion, but the new one from 1991 doesn’t include it. The Constitution is Croatia’s primary legal act, so including this right would strengthen women’s rights and avoid manipulation and restriction through other laws.

How is society raised?

Although the social consciousness has been changing, a division between women’s and men’s jobs and roles is still present. The most responsible factors for the gap are unawareness, lack of knowledge, tolerance of wrong values, and ignorance of the right ones. Some things are still taken for granted, and the minority of men and women equalize women’s and men’s rights in practice.

Women still use maternity leaves and care for children and the household more often than men. Most women with full-time jobs are also expected to fulfill the role of the mother and caretaker. There is a prejudice that women are always available and often do not receive any recognition for their efforts.

Gender roles are assigned even before birth. For example, clothes and rooms for girls are often pink and for boys blue. Girls are thought to be emotional, gentle, and polite, and boys strong and less emotional. This can lead to suppression of emotions and fear of prejudices in society, which can result in psychological, health, and behavioral problems and sometimes violence.

There is a lack of educational staff who would teach children and young adults about gender equality. The educational system is not adequately equipped, and school teachers often lack knowledge on this topic. The state fails in this field, but non-governmental organizations jump in.

[Read: Croatian non-profit organizations focused on women’s rights]

Another problem that shouldn’t be overlooked is underage marriages, which primarily happen in the Roma community.

Women’s reproductive rights in Croatia

The birth control pill became available in Croatia in the mid-60s. Health programs during the 70s and 80s taught youth and medical staff about protection against unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

In the past 30 years, policies and ideologies have been unfavorable toward women’s rights and reproductive health. No official state web page provides information about the available contraception and doctor’s advice on the matter. Women must find information themselves, so they are sometimes subjected to unverified or incorrect information.

Croatian health insurance doesn’t cover the costs of most hormonal contraceptives. The birth control pills price varies between 13 and 20 euros, and many couples can’t afford them. Only 10% of women seek gynecologist counseling about contraception and family planning. Almost half of teenagers do not use condoms, less than 20% of women use a spiral (IUD), and only 5% use birth control pills. Approximately 88% of requested abortions are done because the contraception wasn’t used (~2% are minors).

[Read: How to sign up for state health insurance in Croatia]

The PDV (VAT) on menstrual supplies was recently reduced from a standard 25% rate to 13%, but still, many women can’t afford basic hygiene. According to the research of the non-profit organization Pariter from 2020, 1/10 of girls and women can’t afford menstrual supplies, and 1/5 have problems with menstrual hygiene due to expensive hygiene products. They discovered that 78% of high school girls and 40% of college students don’t have gynecologists.

In addition, Croatian doctors are allowed to use priziv savjesti (appeal of conscience). It is an appeal to the conscience of providing health services (including abortion) due to conflict with their ethical, religious, and moral views. 86% of doctors, including 359 gynecologists who work in Croatian public health institutions, use priziv savjesti, and only 49 doctors don’t. Some pharmacists also use it.

Due to this situation, women’s reproductive health, including abortion, medically assisted fertilization, and contraception, is endangered. Many smaller cities don’t have gynecologists and midwives. More than 300.000 women don’t have permanent primary gynecological coverage.

39,5% of abortions in Croatia are currently performed due to fetus abnormalities, 34,6% are abortions on request, and 17,1% are spontaneous abortions. Women often have to travel abroad for an abortion, which they often can’t afford. As a result, an estimated 40% of abortions in Croatia are done illegally.

Women are also subjected to various forms of violence and violation of rights in Croatian hospitals. The Croatian health system does not have clear guidelines for care during pregnancy and childbirth. Health professionals often rely on traditional instead of scientific practices.

65% of women giving birth didn’t receive help from psychologists, lactation consultants, or physiotherapists. Women are often denied adequate analgesia and anesthesia during gynecological procedures.

Violence against women in Croatia

The problem of domestic violence, specifically femicide, is escalating. Croatian laws are not strict enough to protect women. In 2023, 7 women were killed by their ex or current partners or sons. Most killers had a restraining order against their victims at the time.

View our series of posts on domestic violence:

Approximately 71% of people (both women and men) experienced sexual violence at work, and 61% from their bosses. Croatian public transport is another common place where women face sexual violence.

In 2022, 146 cases of online violence were reported, 19 were prosecuted, and 12 were sentenced. The distribution of revenge pornography was defined as a criminal offense in 2021, but statistics on reporting it are still low.

Even though we live in progressive times, women still do not report different types of violence. The common reasons are shame, fear of judicial procedures, violent partners, fear for their lives and children, consequences at work, and financial instability. They often think it is their fault, that no one would trust them, that it is too late, or that it makes no sense to report abusers if they have a reputation and connections with local authorities.

Lack of female managers and wage equality

According to Croatia’s population census from 2021, Croatia had 7,6% more women than men. 60% of graduated students and 57,6% of doctors of sciences are women. Still, 26,9% of women are in management positions.

Gender discrimination against women in the Croatian labor market is closely related to motherhood and age. Pregnant women are often degraded to lower positions, denied a raise in salary, demoted to a fixed-term contract, and sometimes even fired. They often plan their professional life around raising children because of the lack of support from their management. Another fact that should not be left out is that women in Croatia receive 17% lower salaries and 15,1% lower pensions than men.

[Read: How to retire in Croatia]

Role of the Croatian church

The church believes life begins with conception. Medical intervention, such as medically assisted fertilization, is not approved by the church. However, things can get a bit extreme.

As of recently, some religious groups have been gathering at the main city squares. Some gather in front of hospitals and pray for women to prevent them from having abortions. An annual march called Hod za život (Walk for Life) stands for the protection of life from conception to natural death. In 2022, Zagreb’s mayor Tomislav Tomašević banned the installation of their flags.

Role of the Croatian media and online sources

The role of the Croatian media, including private and public TV, web pages, and social networks, in protecting women’s rights is colossal. Lately, more attention in the media (but still insufficiently) has been dedicated to the issues related to women’s rights. This is mostly thanks to the brave women victims of violence who decided to speak loudly about their traumas to point out the irregularities of the system and encourage women in need to seek help.

[Read: Where to get your Croatian news]

Certain media often inappropriately and sensationalistically report on violence against women and women’s rights. Readers no longer trust them, so discrepancies often happen. Recently, a tour guide in a public TV show called tourists who visit Zagreb to catch the breast of Zagorka’s statue for good luck. Not to mention Marija Jurić Zagorka is an icon of Croatian feminism.

However, certain online sources that support women’s rights, like voxfeminae.net, libela.org, and reci.hr, are outstanding. A platform NeON enables reporting of online violence and access to legal and psychological counseling. StopNCII tool enables preventing the spread of misused videos on social networks. The application Safecity for reporting street harassment and violence is available for Android here and iOS here.

Public figures such as politicians and artists should also be responsible for influencing public opinion. Many of them advocate women’s rights, including politician Predrag Fred Matić, singer Mirela Priselac Remi, and writer Slavenka Drakulić. In addition, without public appearances of non-governmental organizations focusing on women’s rights, the movement toward a better tomorrow would be much slower.

[Read: Croatian non-profit organizations focused on women’s rights]

Croatian initiatives focused on women’s rights

The initiative Milijarda ustaje protiv nasilja nad ženama i djevojčicama (A billion people stand up against violence against women and girls) is held on Croatian streets once a year. They send messages about resisting violence, exploitation of women at work, fascism, poverty, war, and discrimination. In addition, CESI initiated an online petition called Nije u redu u uredu! to improve the position of women in the workplace.

Croatia’s biggest women’s rights protest is called Noćni marš (Night march). Every March 8 – Osmi mart or Međunarodni dan žena (International Women’s Day), feminist collectives organize protest marches on the streets of several Croatian cities, including Zagreb, Split, Rijeka, and Osijek. They warn about the lack of women’s, workers and other human rights and the importance of fixing the problem, followed by examples from real life.

If you want to learn about the latest situation on women’s rights in Croatia and feel the massive warm energy of the people who stand up for a better future, surely visit Noćni marš. You will carry this memory as a Croatian souvenir in your heart as long as you live.

View our other women’s rights articles

Udruga Hera

Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.

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