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“The Feminine Principle” – The Role of Women in Social Activism

“The Feminine Principle” – The Role of Women in Social Activism

On September 27th, Transparency International Hungary (TI-Hungary) and the Hungarian Women’s Lobby organized a joint event on the role of women in social advocacy. Opening speeches revealed that institutions dedicated to promoting equal opportunities in Hungary are performing poorly. This also contributes to the fact that women still suffer from discrimination in many areas.

 Contrasting public figures such as Ákos Kovács (female principle = belonging to someone, childbirth, motherhood) or László Kövér (the “good Hungarian” has 3-4 children and 9-16 grandchildren) according to Miklós Ligeti, the legal director of TI Hungary, the “feminine principle” can also be viewed as a source of motivation as it raises the question of how women in leadership positions fulfill their principles. Réka Sáfrány, president of the Women’s Lobby, also agreed that the conservative and sexist state representatives restrict women’s rights, contrary to the fact that they should be the ones seeking to promote them.

The event’s keynote speaker, Julie Bindel, a British feminist activist, researcher and publicist at The Guardian, presented the main findings of her book which addresses human trafficking within the prostitution industry and its correlation with corruption. According to her, prostitution is a global pandemic and a social disease that affects every community in the world. The only positive is the worldwide resurgence of active feminism and modern campaigns, which strengthen women’s rights. In her speech, Bindel argued that the proposed solution of legalizing prostitution and decriminalizing sex trafficking, which is being popularized by the media is in fact false. The expansion and legalization of prostitution on an industrial scale will only lead to more corruption and further crimes against women. “Legalization only makes sex trafficking more dangerous, corrupt and violent,” Bindel said, which is supported by consequential examples occurring in Germany and the Netherlands. Faced with the demoralizing consequences of the sex industry, the governments of these two countries are seeking to reverse legalization. Julie Bindel emphasized that “a world without prostitution is infinitely better than a world with.”

In her lecture, Judit Wirth, a Hungarian women’s rights activist, summarized the experiences of the past decades since the democratic transition in Hungary, describing the international and domestic situation of women’s rights. She pointed out the apparent disproportionality of the fact that in 2014 out of the 13 NGOs which got blacklisted by the government 4 happened to be women’s organizations. Judit Wirth argues that women’s rights organizations are exposed to government attacks just as much as human rights organizations and that members of both groups have been marginalized in recent years in terms of advocacy. She pointed out that women’s rights are also human rights, and that women’s perspectives must, therefore, be present in all human rights aspirations.

Subsequently, prominent female civil activists spoke about the driving force behind their work, their views on women’s rights, human rights, and environmental issues, as well as the challenges posed by the shrinking civic space. They discussed the very narrow gender stereotypes that have posed constraints on women for centuries by defining what is considered shameful and feminine. According to Antonia Burrows (Közkincs Community Library), the demoralizing gender definition presented by Hungarian politicians represents a false advantage, which undermines gender equality in the long run. In response, Angéla Kóczé (CEU) argued that establishing cooperation based on transnational solidarity could help disadvantaged social groups. Veronika Móra (Hungarian Environmental Partnership Foundation) argued for the need to empower female leaders to be more actively involved in decision-making and the provision of financial support. Márta Pardavi (Hungarian Helsinki Committee) gave positive examples of how local communities could be encouraged to show solidarity and cooperation despite the authoritarian tendencies fueled by populism.

The NGO leaders agreed that the support for local initiatives is of paramount importance within a context in which public institutions are generally hostile towards civil activism.

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