Gender-political situation in Bulgaria
From 2000 onwards and before EU accession, Bulgaria was a “model pupil” in terms of legislation, guidelines and the establishment of work groups at the ministerial level. In 2005 the Bulgarian parliament approved the roadmap for equal opportunities for women and men. The accessible literature and internet sources suggest that this process has slowed down since 2007. The laws, however, continue to be in place and are therefore included in this summary.
Grandly called equal opportunities policies these measures aim mainly at discrimination on the labour market and not exclusively (and often only in a secondary place) at questions of gender.
Non-governmental organisations such as the Women’s Human Rights Training Institute are very important for keeping the debates on gender equality, equal opportunities and discrimination alive. It is one of the few organisations that still dedicates resources to these issues. Most of the other organisations, though they nominally continue to exist, do not seem to even regularly update their websites. This alone says a lot about the role of equal opportunities policies in Bulgaria since 2007. It has become quiet; the country suffers from unemployment and poverty, leading gender issues to become quickly forgotten. Both the government and institutions have recognised the existence of discrimination against women, the de facto exclusion of other sexual identities and homosexuality from society (even though it has been legal since 2002), the still very conservative role of men, as well as the existence of a massive potential for violence against women. Nonetheless, the implementation of measures against such discrimination and the promotion of equal opportunities prove difficult. It is hard to say whether this is due to a lack of funds, or whether the political structures are at fault.
Equal opportunities legislation
Before Bulgaria’s EU accession, gender equality was written into the constitution and a gender equality act was passed according to EU directives. Policies on Equal Opportunities The state policy on gender equality in Bulgaria falls under the responsibilities of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy since 2000.
Currently, it is the Equal Opportunities Department within the Demographic Policy, Social Investments and Equal Opportunities Market Directorate, which organizes, develops and coordinates the implementation of the state policy in these fields. The coordination and collaboration between the governmental bodies and the nongovernmental sector regarding gender equality issues is achieved through the consultative National Council on Equality between Women and Men. It develops the state policy on gender equality and works for the promotion of gender equality as a part of the State policy by putting special emphasis is put on the implementation of gender mainstreaming in policy making in all sectors. The state policy should guarantee prevention and elimination of gender-based discrimination, equal access to the labour market and economic activities, appropriate measures for reconciliation of work and family life. Education and health care, especially reproductive health, are areas of special concern as well as combating domestic violence and trafficking in human beings.
The activities, which focus on updating the Ministries' priorities, according to the main priorities of the Government, are set out in the annual National Action Plans for Promotion of Gender Equality (since 2005). They are directed towards the whole society and encourage equality in decision making, awareness raising and elimination of gender stereotypes for the roles of women and men.
The measures of the state addressing gender equality in the labour market are included in the National Action Plans on Employment (since 2001), developed by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy and adopted by the Council of Ministers. They include a separate section on promotion of equal opportunities for women and men. In this aspect, the National Action Plan for Employment for the last four years expresses the state policy, which introduces several consistent and special measures for encouraging the participation of women in the labour market, reconciliation of work and family life etc. The established in 2003 Consultative Commission on Equal Opportunities to the Minister of Labour and Social Policy, provides consultancy the Ministry in the development of these policies.
Although significant progress has been made for creating and ensuring equal opportunities for women and men, there is still no separate national strategy dealing with equality between women and men. This puts all elements of the equal opportunities mechanism in a negative perspective. It leads to lack of coordination of the state authorities dealing with gender issues, lack of clear understanding on the distribution of the functions among them and delay in the establishment of the institutions provided for in the legislation. The lack of separate national strategy and plan on the equality between women and men results in lack of specific detailed list of the needed adequate legislative acts to be adopted. (Center of Women's Studies and Policies 'In Bulgaria' Policies of Equal Opportunities)
Bulgaria passed an anti-discrimination act in 2003. This and other gender equality acts can be found at: Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, Government of Bulgaria (Bulgarian and English)
One of the first initiatives, where Bulgaria participates as an EU Member State with a National Strategy and numerous activities organized and carried out by various organizations, is the European Year 2007 – Equal Opportunities for All. The Bulgarian Strategy is entitled „For more inclusive society”, which perfectly describes its main focus and motto. Our efforts are aimed at:
Changing public attitudes to ethnic minorities, which are not to be perceived as a marginal or a privileged group.
Public awareness of the existence of discrimination in certain community by the very group at risk members, which reinforces the preconditions for multiple discrimination.
Perceiving people with disabilities as full-right members of the society, who have specific abilities.
Removing gender barriers for personal and professional development. In the area of equal opportunities in social, economic and political life, certain success has been achieved: the political and social rights of women and men have been protected, the equality in employment is promoted, the remuneration of labour and social insurance, professional qualification and career growth, private and vocational life reconciliation, the right of parental leave, social investments in children and family, responsible parenthood, gender roles and new family parents are also promoted. (See also Rosiza Georgieva "Implementation Results of the Republic of Bulgaria in the Equal Opportunities Policy", PDF, 5 pages, 116 KB, English)
Current political discourse
Discourses reflected in government and also NGO policies have not changed much over the last years; they have only become harder to detect and focus on the multiple discrimination faced by Roma women and at reducing violence against women and domestic violence against women and children. There are also attempts to change the understanding of the role and the image of men in society. Labour market policies have also been a field for important efforts, owing to the high unemployment rate in large parts of Bulgaria. Human trafficking and the trafficking of women are on the agenda of UN activities in Bulgaria.
Parties, civil society organisations
EU Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, October 2006 (PDF, 5 pages, 144 KB) : "… underlines the importance of the role of the social partners in the field of social dialogue and the sector of civil society and non-governmental organisations especially with regard to the promotion of gender equality and combating all forms of discrimination; calls on Bulgarian authorities and on the EU to ensure appropriate financial support for civil society structures in general and for NGOs working in the field of gender policy in particular.”
Many associations focus on equal opportunities from numerous angles. Most of them stem from women’s organisations or initiatives created by women. An overview of the most important NGOs can be found here: Equal Opportunities For Women And Men, Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, Government of Bulgaria (Bulgarian and English).
Non-Governmenta Organisations (NGOs)
“More than 100 are the NGOs which shape the women’s movement in Bulgaria. The united efforts, coordinated work and consolidation of the NGOs can be seen in the established national networks and national forums organized by the women’s NGOs. The united efforts, coordinated work and consolidation of the women’s NGOs can be seen in their initiatives, established national networks and national forums.
NGOs have played a tremendous role in addressing gender equality issues and continue to act as major factors in the process of bringing closer the concepts of equality for women and men, awareness raising, implementation of the principle of equality, changing patterns and stereotypes, promotion of measures for elimination of discrimination, etc. The number and diversity of NGOs addressing gender issues manifest the resolution and readiness of the NGOs sector to bring forth the problems and disseminate the concepts of equality between women and men throughout the Bulgarian society and to work hard to achieve proper understanding and identification of gender issues from authorities, institutions and citizens.“ (Center of Women's Studies and Policies)
Women's Alliance for Development (Bulgarian and English):
The alliance participates in different projects, works against discrimination and for equal opportunities for women. Their goals are described on their website. The website is not up-to-date and it is unclear how active the alliance is or can be.
Center of Women's Studies and Policies (Bulgarian and English):
The centre publishes its own studies and is anchored in a Balkans-wide network of women’s organisations. Their website offers endless information on and links to current projects and activities in Bulgaria related to equal opportunities.
The Bulgarian Fund for Women (Bulgarian and English):
The fund is an independent organisation dedicated to securing resources for the establishment and strengthening of women’s rights organisations. They aim to combat discrimination in society at all levels and in all forms.
They are very active in their projects. Currently they are starting a programme on development and gender directed at young people.
37B, P.Parchevich Str.
Tel.: +359 2/ 986 47 10
Fax: +359 2/ 981 56 04
Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation (Bulgarian, English and French):
Through studies, courses and advocacy the foundation aims to establish social and gender justice for women. Their website offers numerous further links, upcoming gender-related events and relevant action partners.
About 205 of the members of the Bulgarian parliament are women.
Equal opportunities policies are anchored in the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy.
Equal Opportunities Department (Bulgarian and English):
Here there are links to all the important actors (government and NGOs). Not much has changed since 2007. The government’s goals are described here (in English), laws are available and intentions are spelled out. There are no current measures or campaigns.
Equal Opportunities Department
Tel.: +359 2/ 987 20 19
Fax: +359 2/ 986 13 18 ,
From the website:
„For that purpose we grant funding through the National Action Plan for Promotion of Gender Equality, which unites the joined activities of the Government and the non-governmental organizations. Regarding social inclusion, we implement programs and projects for drop-outs and early school leavers – trying to grow teenagers’ awareness for the benefits of education – and for prevention of early pregnancy, which hinder the personal development of the teenage girls. Regarding the integration of ethnic minorities’ women we support women’s organizations (NGOs) of ethnic groups that make efforts to overcome the traditional customs and practices with negative influence on women’s personal development. Our activities for social inclusion of women on the labour market are aimed to:
Provide best possible conditions for increasing women’s economic activity by creating adequate social infrastructure, encouraging their realization in synergy with their family and professional responsibilities;
Applying flexible forms of employment, supported by a system, assisting long life learning
Developing preventive measures against the discrimination on the labour market that will eliminate the obstacles and barriers hindering their professional realization (stereotypes, customs and beliefs in the respective community).
In close co-operation with non-governmental organizations, Bulgarian Government proposed a Draft Bill on Gender Equality, which is currently discussed at Bulgarian Parliament. The draft bill envisages the Gender Mainstreaming approach to be implemented in the temporal positive measures for labour market inclusion and integration and for overcoming women’s social isolation of. Special attention is paid to the women of ethnic minorities and the women from rural regions, where the unemployment rate is very high. Considering factors as differences in the language, low educational and professional level, cultural and religious barriers and customs, etc., we have started to apply measures to promote integration through literacy, awareness, knowledge and better vocational training.
Promote gender equality and empowerment of women (Millennium Development Goals in Bulgaria):
Goal 3 aims at elimination of gender in-equality. The adaptation of this goal for Bulgaria focuses on the achievement of two key targets: the political and economic equality of women. In order to achieve these two targets Bulgaria needs to eliminate income differences between men and women, and increase women’s participation in decision-making and governance. Concrete goals and indicators from 2001 to 2015 are:
Eliminate the disproportion between the incomes of men and women – Percentage of the pay of women compared to the pay of men to become 80%.
Ensure the participation of women in governance – women’s share in the number of parliamentarians in the National Assembly and in Municipal Councils to reach 40%.
The development of policies and mechanisms for equal opportunities is an EU accession requirement for Bulgaria. Such policies may be based on:
Promoting political sensitization to gender equality
Creating national machinery on gender equality
Monitoring gender equality indicators
Reporting on achievements in gender equality in Bulgaria
Universities and institutions
Gender Studies Center at Sofia University:
Sofia university offers different degrees in gender studies. Teachers are from different subject areas and there is a strong interdisciplinary focus.
Gender Education, Research and Technologies:
The mission of GERT is to initiate and implement, independently or in partnership with other NGOs activities targeted to enhance gender equality and social & gender justice in all spheres of social life, including access to and benefit from new technologies. The organisation’s most prominent member is Jivka Marinova (who is also part of the network KARAT and is known thanks to her numerous lectures and publications).
Bulgarian Association of University Women:
An association dedicated to promoting and supporting women in scientific and university careers.
Availability of sources:
There are no longer as many sources as 2007. Many sources are either no longer up-to-date, have not been developed or are only available in Bulgarian. Nevertheless, access to relevant legislation and government officials is easy. The website of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, Equal Opportunities for Women and Men is extensive and informative, offering an abundance of texts, studies, further information and examples. Most of this information is available in English.
There is no current related literature.
Citation of relevant sources:
Sources were listed in the corresponding context.
Bulgarian speakers can also discover a very active LGBT-scene here. Even though some websites have gone offline, there are still some that are active: here and bglesbian. They are not outwardly political and more concerned with contacts, exchange of experiences and tips for visiting places in Bulgaria.
There is an interesting link to an article on women and power in Bulgaria: Damengambit in der Politik (in German)
This study was conducted by Tanja Berger und Pamela Dorsch and comissioned by the Gunda Werner Institute of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in 2010.
All images, except marked otherwise: Public Domain CC0