Since we seem to be in the swing of things, why don’t we continue with the topic of women? This time women in politics.
I’m sure that you’ve all heard complaints about the number of women in the Hungarian parliament. Alas, the numbers haven’t changed in any statistically significant way in the last twenty-two years. In the first freely elected parliament, out of 386 members of the House only 28 were women (7.25%). Then, in 1994, an entirely new set of politicians–socialists and liberals–dominated the House. The ratio didn’t improve dramatically (43 women or 11.13%). Then came the Fidesz-Smallholders’ dominated parliament (1998-2002) when the number of women dropped to 32 (8.29%). Between 2002 and 2006 there were 35 female members (9.06%). By the end of the 2006-2010 session there were 40 women in parliament (11.14%). Although it was a pitifully low number, it was still better than what followed after the 2010 elections. The number of women in parliament shrank from 40 to 35 (9.06%).
These numbers are absolutely horrendous. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s statistics, of the 144 countries listed, Hungary ranks 118th! Here are a few of the countries that are doing worse: Malta, Brazil, Bhutan, Benin, Ghana, Ukraine, Botswana, Nigeria, Tuvalu, Georgia, Egypt, Oman, and Yemen. Of course, there are a few where there are no women at all. For example, the Solomon Islands and Saudi Arabia.
In Europe the Nordic countries lead the way with 42%, while the European Union average is 23.4%. Even the Arab states are ahead of Hungary: on average the percentage of women in their parliaments is 14.9%. And Sub-Saharan Africa is doing significantly better with 20.4%.
What amazes me is that there seems to be no attempt on either side of the political spectrum to change this situation. The only exception was a proposal by two former SZDSZ members of parliament, Klára Sándor and Bálint Magyar, to introduce a system by which women would have an equal opportunity to compete for parliamentary seats on the party lists. As it stands now, since men are in the majority in the top party leadership and these men assemble the party list, women candidates are placed so far down on the list that they have virtually no chance of winning.
The socialists and liberals are only slightly better than the right in this respect. MSZP with a fairly large parliamentary delegation between 1994 and 2010 had about 20 women members on average over the years. In 1998 when with the help of József Torgyán Viktor Orbán won the elections, there were only 10 women in a large Fidesz delegation. Between 2002 and 2006 there were nine. In 2010, right after the elections, out of 226 Fidesz members of parliament only 22 were women, but that was before the decision was made to create a separate Christian Democratic caucus. As a result 2 out of the 22, Rózsa Hoffmann and Dr. Erzsébet Lanczendorfer, moved over to the Christian Democrats. Today only 8.84% of Fidesz members of parliament are women.
In 2010 MSZP started off with five women out of 48 members, but then they lost three of them. Katalin Szili became an independent while Ágnes Vadai and Erika Szűcs joined the Demokratikus Koalíció. Today MSZP has only two female members of parliament, Dr. Mónika Lamperth and Ildikó Lendvai. Both are old hands in politics. They have served as MPs ever since 1994. I mention these two women’s experience because one of the most striking things about the Fidesz women in parliament is that the majority of them (65%) had no previous parliamentary experience. They are newcomers. Admittedly, there are many new members among the men as well, but only about 55% of them had no parliamentary experience. So the women’s inexperience further adds to their subordination and lessens the weight of their opinions. To finish up the wall of shame, Jobbik has 3 women out of 45 members and the Christian Democrats have 2 out of 37.
The only party that has a respectable proportion of female MPs is LMP. They have 15 members, 6 of whom are women. Originally there were only 5 women among them but a few days ago one of their male members resigned and the decision was made to replace him with a woman. Thus 40% of the LMP delegation is made up of women–in essence a Nordic statistic.
What are the main characteristics of Fidesz women as opposed to the women in MSZP, LMP, and DK? First and foremost, they are less well educated. There are at least three who have no higher education at all. There are several who are elementary school teachers. Many finished only “főiskola,” a three-year program, instead of university. I found only one woman in the caucus who has a law degree. Several majored in economics and there are a couple of physicians. I found only two Fidesz female MPs who studied subjects that could be considered to fall under the category of the classical “liberal arts education.”
Another observation is that most of them were born and studied outside of Budapest. I counted at least 14 out of the 20. It also struck me that many Fidesz women picked a rather complicated combination for their official name. For example, Bábiné Szottfried Gabriella. That to me signals a more conservative, traditional mindset. This custom can result in rather funny combinations. Here is one: Czunyiné Dr. Bertalan Judit. This particular MP teaches Hungarian linguistics and literature at the college level. So she has a Ph.D. but her husband obviously doesn’t. Another better known Fidesz MP is Pelczné Dr. Gáll Ildikó. There are others who are quite satisfied with being no more than – né. For example, Józsefné Mágori.
It is hard to know on what basis Viktor Orbán picked the new members of parliament. The ones with experience are Ilona Ékes, Dr. Márta Mátrai, Dr. Ágnes Molnár, Pelczné Ildikó Gáll, Gabriella Selmeczi, Dr. Erika Szabó (who started her career in SZDSZ), and Mária Wittner. The freshman class of women just seems designed to keep the numbers from sinking into oblivion.
So far, the Fidesz female MPs don’t disturb much water. On the other hand, Ildikó Lendvai of MSZP, Ágnes Vadai of DK, and practically the entire female contingent of LMP are very active. The male Fidesz and Christian Democratic members hate them for it. These women are the ones who receive most of the abuse from the right side of the aisle.