Executicve Summary WP3

Enlargement, Gender and Governance (EGG)
EU Framework 5, Project No: HPSE-CT-2002-00115
Work Package 3 (Executive Summary): Hungary
By Eva Eberhardt
This report focusses on the activities of women and women’s groups from 1989 and
during the transition period to date. The methodology employed was to interview a
sample of women who were/are instrumental and/or in the position of facilitating and
furthering the debate or the activities around issues of equality and/or women’s rights.
In Hungary, the political changes of 1989 gave an impetus to the development of civil
society organisations/groups; they did not, however, boost the formation of what
could be called an independent women’s movement. Searching for reasons and
explainations for this uneven development of civil society groups and, thus, for the
lack of women’s movement, was the underlying tenet of the interviews.
The organisational structure of social movements largely depends on the realm of
ideas that characterise a certain period of time. The regime change or "velvet
revolution" in Hungary was a long process, full of trials and tribulations that,
hopefully, might still produce stable solutions in the long run. The participants and
onlookers of this political and societal change could observe that neither democracy,
nor the specific, new rights it entails, come automatically with the structural
transformation of the economy and the institutional order. Rather, the institutional
design rests upon and expresses the dominant interpretations of democratic principles
and the prevailing political commitments of particular people in power. Although the
influence of thee EU accession process is obviously determinant with respect to the
requirements that must be fulfilled beforehand, the crystallisation of the type of
democracy that Hungarians make for themselves is inevitably predicated upon
cultural and historical factors.
The interviews that serve as the basis of this report reveal the various tendencies and
underlying discourses of one crucial aspect of the democratisation process: the
expansion of women’s rights. Historically, we have seen a shift in tendency from
social issues towards cultural preoccupations. While the pre-89 period was defined by
a concern for social equality, the subsequent endeavours are directed either to reestablish traditional, albeit conservative values and lifestyle, or to fight for human
rights as the foundation for women’s rights. The political domain still has to be
conquered by Hungarian women: the arduous task of campaigning against general
political conservatism that sustains the misapprehension of gender equality and
undermines the social significance of women’s emancipation.
While discussing each topic and assessing their implications, attempts were made to
distinguish between two sets of ideas, objectives and solutions. On the one hand,
those issues were identified that continued to strengthen the social position of women
with their assumed female characteristics, thus protecting the traditional roles of
women. Then, those tendencies were pointed out that are striving to achieve a more
radical notion of gender equality by challenging the very bases of the Hungarian type
of gender classification that stuck with the categories of femininity and female roles.
These two kinds of approaches lead, respectively, to affirmative or transformative
types of remedies.1
The first group includes arguments and measures that assign duties to women in the
economic, political and private life either on the basis of local cultural givens, socialhistorical antecedents, economic conditions, or simply on assumptions that women’s
ambitions and working styles are entirely different from men’s because of their
particular psycho-sexual constellation. The second group of interviewees, in turn,
comprises a more dynamic position that believes in the transformability of both the
ingrained and static differences between women and men, and of the social,
economic, or cultural structures, that are dutifully trying to promote the status of
women. None of the interviewees represent an extreme version of either of the above
attitudes. They are located on two opposite poles of a spectrum, represented by the
two theoretical stances.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the creation of a framework for a successful
women’s politics must combine both of the above approaches. The strategies
reinforcing a familiar conception of gender identity could be effective in mobilising
These categories are borrowed from Nancy Fraser's formulations of "affirmative" and
"transformative" strategies of recognition.
women and women`s groups, while the strategies questioning the essential difference
between the sexes could be helpful in initiating major changes of social and personal
As for the present situation, the latter approach with its more political and
progressive tendency has far less support and a narrower scope of action than the
former. Time will tell how successful the impact of EU’s gender politics will be in
fermenting Hungarian political life and in shifting women’s consciousness to a
progressive and pro-active conceptualisation of their own conditions.