On 22 May 2021, the Czech sociologist, feminist, former dissident and co-founder of the NGO Gender Studies Jiřina Šiklová passed away at the age of 85. We pay our respects to an impressive woman whose life and work was and remains an inspiration far beyond the Czech Republic.
“The value of one’s life is not measured by its length, but by its depth and content. When we read somebody’s biography, we do not judge it by the thickness of the volume, but by the richness of its content”, Jiřina Šiklová once said. The numerous books that will be written about her own life will unquestionably be not just thick, but also filled with rich content.
Jiřina was born in Prague on 17 June 1935 and studied history and philosophy at the Charles University, where she went on to support the creation of the Sociology department in 1965. As a dissident, she signed Charta 77 and organised the secret transport of forbidden exile literature between Czechoslovakia and the West, for which she was imprisoned in the early 1980s. She was released after a year, amid international pressure. Forbidden to continue her academic career, the sociologist was forced to work as a cleaner in the library of the Charles University and in the hospital.
After 1989, Jiřina created a new social work professorship at the Charles University in Prague, which she headed up until 2000. She created the region’s first gender library in her home. In 1991, she founded the non-government organisation Gender Studies, which is active to this day and an important strategic partner of the Prague office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, and helped to establish Gender Studies as an academic course of study. We can look back on many excellent joint projects and highly rewarding collaboration, very much characterised by Jiřina’s unmistakable style.
After the fall of the Iron Curtain, she became active in many areas of political and societal life and supported the Czech Greens, standing as a candidate for the European Parliament elections of 2009 and for the elections to the Czech House of Deputies in 2010.
Jiřina was always deeply committed to respect for human dignity and the upholding of human rights. She fought for a fairer society, gender democracy and diversity. All her life, she spoke out fearlessly against all forms of hatred and discrimination targeting minorities. In fact, she lived her life in accordance with Heinrich Böll’s own philosophy: “Involvement is the only way to stay relevant”.
We will greatly miss her clear analytical perspective, deep commitment and sense of humour and will always remember her with affection and gratitude.
Dr. Ellen Ueberschär, President, Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, Berlin
Adéla Jurečková, Director, Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, Prague office
Eva van de Rakt, Director, Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, European Union office in Brussels
Milan Horáček, former Alliance 90/Greens Member of the German Bundestag and of the European Parliament, first Director of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung office in Prague
This obituary was first published in German on boell.de.