Marie Haisova is spearheading a movement to address the poor state of the urban environment in the Czech Republic by empowering women to take a leading role in the transformation of urban landscapes.
The New Idea
Alarmed by the poor state of the environment in urban areas in the Czech Republic, Marie Haisova has launched an aggressive campaign to plant trees and reduce pollution in the capital city of Prague and other major urban areas such as Brno. Marie has linked this project with another of her concerns--the passivity and marginalization of women and their lack of representation in the Czech environmental movement.
In response to both challenges, Marie has developed a program that specifically targets mothers of young children and encourages them to become involved in a neighborhood campaign to plant trees on their streets and organize local campaigns for new parks and green areas. She has found that most mothers are concerned about the environment their children grow up in and that all of them would like to see the provision for a more beautiful and healthy urban environment. Once the city environment has changed, people have an immediate, first-hand experience of successfully improving the area in which they live in and this fosters confidence and feelings of self-worth to many women who have not been active as citizens before.
After the regime change many problems appeared related to the destruction of the human environment which could be directly related to the post-communist goal of reaching a desired level of social, economic, and material success at all costs. Prompted by western advertising and the media, people designed ideas on how to measure success. The tendency to accept the western norms often created problems like the boom in automobiles and the decline of public transport, growing waste disposal problems and consumerism. It is a vicious cycle. Social devastation, crime, and drugs go hand-in-hand with an ugly environment, causing the human community to be shattered or crippled. It has become more and more clear that the market economy marginalizes environmental issues and creates a different atmosphere from one that cultivates independent thinking and the personal engagement needed in the co-creation of the human environment. Decision-makers in non-profit organizations as well as in state structures have become accustomed to making guarded statements and proposing limited solutions to problems rather than educating others to share experiences and take on personal responsibility for the implementation of real and lasting solutions.
According to Marie, Prague is one of the least green cities in all of Central Europe. In planning the city, there was very little attention given to preserving green areas and tree-lined streets are almost non-existent. The previous regime paid little attention to environmental issues in urban areas and typically based its decisions solely on a centrally produced plan that did not factor in the environment. The environmental problems of the cities only worsened with the political transformation as more and more space in cities was sacrificed in the name of “western-style” development. Open spaces that could be converted into “green” areas have instead become new office buildings and parking lots.
As a vehicle to spread her idea, Marie founded the organization AGENTURA GAIA, which receives support from the European Union’s PHARE program. GAIA has two primary goals: the first is to actively engage women in a campaign to plant trees and restore green areas in urban centers throughout Czech Republic. She reaches out to the women through local mother’s clubs and elementary schools and encourages them to become involved in the campaign. Marie has found that women are more likely to become involved when other women approach them and when they perceive the activity as woman friendly. The program provides training and leadership building seminars for the women so they can effectively launch a campaign in their neighborhoods. The pilot project has thus far resulted in two successful campaigns in two quarters of Prague and Marie’s work has received a lot of attention from the media and local city officials.
Marie and her colleagues at AGENTURA GAIA have designed three main projects. The aim of these projects is to promote the idea that culture expresses itself not only in film and the fine arts, but also in the world in which we live.
The Green Community Project: The goal of this project is to renovate the devastated flora in Prague. GAIA successfully managed the renovation of plants and trees in two areas of Prague in cooperation with local and city authorities and neighborhoods.
The Women and the Environment Project: The goal of this project is to build women’s self-confidence by establishing “Women’s Clubs” and providing leadership training programs. These clubs analyze women’s positions in and influence on society in terms of promoting a more sustainable and natural way of life. The clubs published their first book, Roses Among Thorns, several years ago.
The Money or Life Project: The goal of this project is to look for alternatives to the consumer life style. GAIA published several reflections related to this topic and advertises the “softer” more feminine values (such as sharing and cooperation). Outside of Prague, Marie has initiated a program called “He, She and the City”, which operates through an art workshop that improves the aesthetic, ecological and social environment of a natural park near the castle in Hostavice. The aim here was to involve women, men, and children in the work that traditionally fell to women. In another city, Klatovy, Marie initiated the project “We and the 21st Century”, where she intends to build a model garden around a nursery school, integrating cultural and art programs focusing on gender and roles in educational programs.
Another part of the GAIA program is the Project “Praja 2000” which focuses on the mapping of historical parks and gardens in the city. In the next stage, Marie plans to renew the rest of the gardens, especially the ones around the city center, and provide alternative architectural designs for the new parks on the banks of the river Moldau.
Marie is an incredibly energetic person who has that special capacity to gather people around her and activate them in whatever she is doing. She has published extensively in newspapers on environmental issues. She studied in Klatovy, and then finished a degree in music at The People’s Conservatory in Prague. In the 1970s she studied philosophy. In the early 1980s she worked as a typist on the Samizdat Press (illegal) for Charter ’77. After some years at home raising her children, she went back to the Bohemian School of Management. After the Velvet Revolution, she worked for two years as President Vaclav Havel’s private secretary. In 1992 she took the job as Assistant Deputy Manager of a Czech insurance company. In 1995 she became the director of the ecological organization Green Circle. She has a long list of public activities and interests, but all arise from the common ground of engagement in environmental issues and empowering women in the realm of public life.