Happy Woman`s Day
It`s a sunny spring day in Plovdiv. The sun is out, temperatures are close to reaching 20 degrees and the streets in the centre are full of people. Most of whom walking around with flowers in their hands. It`s Woman`s Day, which is a big thing in Bulgaria and all of the Slavic world.
Woman`s Day is not an official holiday, but it certainly is a day that makes a change from the ordinary. Every year on the 8th of March, women are spoilt by men in particular and potentially even by each other. They can expect plenty of lengthy phone calls from friends and relatives, in Bulgaria or abroad, all wishing them Chestit Osmi Mart: `Happy 8th of March`.
..is disappointed that her boss didn`t call to wish her happy women`s day
Stella (31, photo) tells me that women can expect men to take care of the housekeeping on Woman`s Day. `Men also bring flowers or chocolate. If the 8th of March falls on a working day, male colleagues will surprise their female colleagues with a small present, while the boss is likely to serve the women lunch. It would be quite rude if friends forget about Woman`s Day, it would be like forgetting the birthday of your girlfriend.`
`On every other day of the year, men and women are quite equal in Bulgaria. Teenage girls are likely to step up to the boys with confidence and they can be almost aggressive in the way they dress: high heels, short skirts and a lot of make-up. They usually start behaving a bit more elegantly by the time they turn 20. Most of them get married when they are 22-23 anyway`, Stella says.
Men are usually not the only half of the couple that works. Stella explains: `Our standards are quite different from the Italian or Greek style of keeping the woman at home. Men and women are equally likely to work. Part-time positions are very rare, so oftentimes they will both work fulltime while the grandparents take care of the children. Bulgarian women earn their own money, they learn to take care of themselves, to be independent and to make their own decisions. They are by no means less than men. As another example: it is perfectly acceptable for women to smoke and drink alcohol.`
Asia (30) confirms that a Bulgarian woman is not likely to spend most of her life behind closed doors: `On the professional side, men and women are thought of as suitable to do the same kind of jobs. I myself am an officer in the army. I work as a maintenance engineer for aircraft. But also outside the army, there are many female bus drivers and male hospital nurses. Only a few jobs with special limitations are not available to women. Operating heavy machinery would be a typical men`s job. On the other hand, working in a factory would be considered equally suitable for men and women. Women also find their way into the world of politics or higher-level corporate management.`
`Bulgaria has sufficient women`s rights, which probably explains why the feminist movement does not get much public support. Abortion is legal, but not very common. I don`t know about gay rights, but at the same time, I don`t know about anybody being lesbian. It`s something people don`t talk about. Just like it is almost unacceptable to have a baby without being married. Living together without being married is slowly becoming more common, but will still get eyebrows raised, especially in more rural areas`, Asia says.
Children and careers
Elica (25) thinks that men and women get the same salary if they occupy the same post in a company. `Bulgarian women are fighters`, she says. `They know what they want and they know how to get it.` In Elica`s case, that`s a baby and she hopes to fall pregnant soon. Her friend Nedka (25) already anticipated the event. `Most of the Woman`s Day presents actually end up in the hands of women of older generations: mums. But I expect Elica to be a mum soon and this flower just serves as a bit of encouragement for her`, Nedka says.
Bulgarian women are no longer very fond of getting babies. Birth numbers are falling and the financial disadvantages of pregnancy explain a large share of that. According to Vania (27), pregnancy is one of the biggest threats to a woman`s career: `Women in Bulgaria marry when they are in their early 20s. If you are 25, married and have no children, a potential employer will for sure ask you if you plan to have any babies, and independent of your answer, they may not call you back after the interview.`
Employers do not have too much of a reason to be concerned. Vania explains that the state pays a maternity compensation which represents a part of the most recent monthly wage. The officially declared one. Which can potentially cause problems, because many people receive a big part of their salary the `grey way`. Somebody earning 800 Leva may officially have a salary of only 500 Leva. The rest is paid illegally and therefore exempt from social taxes. And also excluded from the amount on which the maternity compensation is based. A pregnancy can therefore represent a very serious decline in a family`s income.
Another factor that adds to the complication of pregnancy is the non-existence of maternity leave. Vania tells me that any employee in Bulgaria, whether pregnant or not, can request three months of unpaid absence, without losing the job. `After that, the boss is free to fire and/or replace you. As a result, many women take nothing but their three months, because if they stay home for longer than that, they may kill their careers. A mother who stays home for a year or five is likely to be able to find a job when she returns to the labour market. But she shouldn`t expect to work at the same intellectual level again. The higher her level of education, the bigger the potential difference between her responsibilities and salary before and after she had a baby.`
At the end of today, I conclude that Bulgarian women are indeed allowed and expected to have opinions on their own. They can`t get away with a little bit of cooking and some laundry. Economic and social conditions put pressure on women to be true multi-taskers who continuously need to make compromises between work, home, family and ambitions: an impressive performance that is well-worth celebrating once a year.
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