It is apparent in Viktor Orbán’s Hungary that “the people” do not include women. Women have historically not had political empowerment equal to men in Hungary, but under Orbán this is getting worse. According to the World Economic Forum, which has issued a yearly report of the Gender Gap since 2006, there has not been a female head of state in Hungary and women have not held a percentage of parliamentary seats anywhere near appropriate for representing their population size (2). Women are healthier than men in Hungary, and have just as much educational attainment, including slightly stronger levels of enrollment in tertiary education (2) but they suffer from an almost complete lack of representation in government that is getting worse.
Hungary ranked 82nd on the dimension of political empowerment in 2006 with an overall Rank of 55/115 and a score of .670. It slowly improved year over year before leveling off in 2009 but 2010 was the beginning of rapid decline. By 2014 Hungry dropped to 99th on this dimension and 93/142 overall with a score of .676 and fell to 124th for political empowerment in 2021 with an overall ranking of 99/156 countries and a score of .688 (2). While other countries are improving in resolving the gender gap, Hungary’s inequality is steadily growing under Orbán (5).
The governments contribution to the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in 2014 was a public service announcement with the slogan “You can do something about it, you can do something against it.” aimed at making women aware of how their actions are responsible for encouraging violent acts against them (5). One police department went so far as to remind women that flirting warrants attacks (5). Most officials are Fidesz loyalists so it’s hard to imagine this message not being approved by Orbán himself even if it was not directly from his mouth.
From 1989 to 2010 The Republic of Hungary was a consolidated democracy with a multiparty system, representational government, free and fair elections, freedom of the press, and strong opposition to ruling governments (1). Incumbents lost nearly every national election (the only year an incumbent government won reelection was 2006) and power was peacefully transferred each time(1). The appropriate checks and balances were established and operated efficiently. The Republic of Hungary had strong and credible institutions to protect rule of law and judicial independence (1). Civil rights were protected and human right violations were rare (1). Religious freedoms were not restricted and separation of church and state was respected(1). Members of the media consistently criticized and scrutinized politicians and government officials(1).
Democracy was so well consolidated that in 2004 it applied for and received membership to the European Union (1). Membership brought uncomfortable adjustments to integrate into the European economic system but no leader sought to use public concerns over economic downturn and uncertainty to undermine democratic norms until Victor Orbán was elected in 2010(1). He did not campaign on an illiberal or anti-democratic platform (1). Rather he campaigned as someone “for the people” who would “do the people’s will” and be committed to relieving them of “unfair social burdens(1).” His populist promises found an eager audience and they elected him and Fidesz to power with a two-thirds majority in the legislature, giving them the supermajority needed to make changes to the constitution, including renaming “The Republic of Hungary” simply “Hungary.(1)”
Democracy began declining in 2010 and 2018 was the last year Hungary was determined to be free by Freedom House, which has listed it as partly free since 2019 . It was downgraded from a consolidated democracy to a semi-consolidated democracy in 2015(3). In 2020 its Nations in Transit Report declared Hungary to be a Hybrid Regime, not a democracy (4)
The UN Women’s Council finds an undeniable link between democratic backsliding and attacks on gender equality such as this PSA. Hungary is one of three countries focused on in its 2020 report Democratic backsliding and the backlash against women’s rights: Understanding the current challenges for feminist politics, part of the “UN Women discussion paper series.” In the report Hungary is documented as being a country where “women’s organizations are discredited as ‘foreign agents’ threatening national identity, and the Council of European Convention on Violence is interpreted as an attack on the ideal of marriage and the traditional heterosexual family.” Backsliding of democracy has had a direct and lasting effect on the rights of women in Hungary as Orbán seeks to consolidate power and “promote state projects to enforce heteronormative and patriarchal family models” according to this study, as a tool to cement power for himself and justify democratic erosion for a ‘greater good.’ As theories continue to develop about democratic erosion it will be important to include gender equality in evaluation of these theories.
(1)Bozóki, Anrás. Occupy the State: The Orbán Regime in Hungary. Debatte vol 19 n.3 December 2011. New York: Routledge.
(2)World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Reports 2000-2021. Insight Report. March 2021
(3) Estonia:Nation in Transit Report. Freedomhouse.org
(4)Gehrke, Laurenz “Hungary no longer a democracy:report” Politico. 6 May 2020
(5) Chandler, Adam “How to Not Make a PSA About Rape” The Atlantic 25 Nov 2014Democratic backsliding and the backlash against women’s rights: Understanding the current challenges for feminist politics. UN Women. 2020. www.unwomen.org