Hungarian women and politics

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.

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28 comments

  1. Right after the 2010 elections I happened to be teaching a small class composed of 3-4 women. Some magazine published a picture of each of the incoming Fidesz government ministers, and I showed them to these ladies, asking them if they could see anything unusual or odd about the photos.
    They didn’t see anything unusual or odd about the photos.
    I said, “They’re all men. Isn’t that strange?”
    They shrugged and gave the classic reply, “This is Hungary.”

    So I think it’s worth bearing in mind that what we might see as a “absolutely horrendous” situation vis-a-vis the number of women in politics here, the general population — including the women — see as “meh, whatever.” Perhaps because of the lingering effect of gender roles or some other reason, there doesn’t seem to be much of an expectation by anyone that there should be more women in politics.

    That said, there’s a notable omission from this post: Ibolya Dávid. For years she was the most popular politician in the country. I realise her party dissolved (or something) but you’d think with what popularity she once had, she could still be a potent political force. Wasn’t she in the first Orbán government? Or is there bad blood between them now?

  2. Well, if we can’t get Bajnai, I’ll take Kalman Olga for Prime Minister; ideally, I’d take Bajnai with Kalman as Deputy Prime Minister.

  3. I’m a little confused about the business of official names. Could you elaborate?

    What are the statistics at lower levels of government–regional, municipality, that sort of thing? Perhaps women would feel more comfortable getting into politics at a local level before running as an MP. At least one would hope MPs would have SOME political experience before entering Parliament…

  4. Off Topic. Eva, I am sorry if it looks I am trying to hijack the thread, but there were two important news the last two days that were not reported in Hungary, and I think it is very important at least for us:

    1. On September 20, 2012, the United Nations paid tribute to Raul Wallenberg at a special event at New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage marking the centenary anniversary of Wallenberg’s birth. As a young Swedish diplomat, Wallenberg saved the lives of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust by providing them with Swedish diplomatic visas, by providing dozens of safe houses and then arranging transport for the Jews to escape. http://www.examiner.com/article/un-pays-tribute-to-holocaust-hero

    2. Swedish MPs join the international condemnation of the glorification of Azeri axe-murderer Ramil Safarov’s crime. An official letter signed by MPs of different political parties in the Swedish Parliament, the Riksdag, has been sent to the Hungarian Ambassador in Sweden, Mr. Gabor Szentivanyi. The letter is published in full and its worth reading: http://www.panorama.am/en/comments/2012/09/22/swedish-aprliament/

  5. buddy :
    So I think it’s worth bearing in mind that what we might see as a “absolutely horrendous” situation vis-a-vis the number of women in politics here, the general population — including the women — see as “meh, whatever.” Perhaps because of the lingering effect of gender roles or some other reason, there doesn’t seem to be much of an expectation by anyone that there should be more women in politics.

    Well, the country in general is like “Democracy? Meh.” The low number of women in politics is a problem primarily because of the different views they could bring into the decision making process. The way domestic violence was handled by the parliament recently was a great example. If men would be normal we wouldn’t need women in politics – they could spend more time buying shoes as Borat would say … 🙂

    This means that women actually need to be educated about their own importance.

    The main argument of these right wing misogynists loonies is that these distorted gender roles are part of the culture. No it’s not. This is like when the Taliban explain why their illiterate women/goats should not go to school.

  6. This looks really bad compared to the more advanced democracies. I don’t know the numbers for Germany but the proportion of women in politics is much higher, especially on the left (and we even have Mrs Merkel in the CDU) and of course the Greens have a strict rule:

    On every Green list the places are alternating between women and men, so no1 is always a woman …

    BTW we just found the Jobbik newspaper “Hazai Pálya” in the mail, I won’t read it even if I could but on turning the pages I found only pictures of men – and two old women …

    And of course the usual propaganda about drugs and the Austrians buying all the land – like in Germany where farmers complain about the Swiss paying more for land in the border region!

  7. buddy :

    there’s a notable omission from this post: Ibolya Dávid. For years she was the most popular politician in the country. I realise her party dissolved (or something) but you’d think with what popularity she once had, she could still be a potent political force. Wasn’t she in the first Orbán government? Or is there bad blood between them now?

    I also like Ibolya Dávid very much and I am sorry that she was destroyed by Viktor Orbán. If Orbán feels threatened by someone that person is finished.

  8. Julie :

    I’m a little confused about the business of official names. Could you elaborate?

    Not surprised. Here it is in a nutshell. Until about 50-60 years ago if a woman got married she had to be called Mrs. János Kovács or in Hungarian Kovács Jánosné. Then the rules changed and women had choices. They could simply keep their maiden name or have the rather cumbersome middle-of-the ground position of combining the two forms and call themselves Mrs. János Kovács Andrea Nagy.

    One more thing if the husband has the right to use “Dr.” (physicians, lawyers, and nowadays Ph.D.s the wife if decided to go under Mrs. János Kovács could add the title to her own name: Dr. Kovács Jánosné.

  9. wolfi :

    This looks really bad compared to the more advanced democracies. I don’t know the numbers for Germany but the proportion of women in politics is much higher, especially on the left (and we even have Mrs Merkel in the CDU) and of course the Greens have a strict rule:

    The percentage of women in the Bundestag is quite decent: 32.9%. Germany is 22 on the list.

  10. Eva: The way you present the statistics on the educational level of female members of the parliament seems to me to indicate that you consider a higher education, preferably the classical liberal arts education, a prerequisite for being a suitable member of the parliament. I hope my interpretation is wrong.

    In my country there is a shortage of politicians who have no higher education. This is a matter of concern. The political scene is increasingly crowded with people who have degrees in economy, law and political science, have no idea about the life of ordinary people and have never had jobs in business. In the past we have had great prime ministers who left school at fourteen but that is not likely to happen again.

  11. Jean P :

    Eva: The way you present the statistics on the educational level of female members of the parliament seems to me to indicate that you consider a higher education, preferably the classical liberal arts education, a prerequisite for being a suitable member of the parliament. I hope my interpretation is wrong.

    No, your interpretation is correct. I explained in my previous post why I am sorry that Hungarians in general go to professional schools straight out of high school. I also quoted at length a description of what we consider in North America a “liberal arts” education and what it is good for. If you listened to some of the Hungarian politicians you would be horrified at the narrow-mindedness they exhibit.

  12. revolution :
    Is the revolution happening?
    Dorottya Karsai is amazing. So are many other women in MILLA.

    Just, unfortunately, Milla or at least the deciding circles in Milla still don’t want to get their hands dirty with party politics or even by cooperating with any parties. Which I think is a big mistake, given the situation in Hungary. To top off their non-cooperation with Szolidaritas regarding the demonstrations of 23rd October, they actually use runic letters in the invitation (runic letters being the obsession of jobbik and other fashist groupings). Two years ago they were a big hope, by now I’m rather disappointed.

  13. Maria :

    revolution :
    Is the revolution happening?
    Dorottya Karsai is amazing. So are many other women in MILLA.

    Just, unfortunately, Milla or at least the deciding circles in Milla still don’t want to get their hands dirty with party politics or even by cooperating with any parties. Which I think is a big mistake, given the situation in Hungary. To top off their non-cooperation with Szolidaritas regarding the demonstrations of 23rd October, they actually use runic letters in the invitation (runic letters being the obsession of jobbik and other fashist groupings). Two years ago they were a big hope, by now I’m rather disappointed.

    I so agree with you. Right from the beginning LMP made certain statements that mafe me believe that contrary to what they claim, their politics is very much the same, and in some respects is worst then anything I have seen. Yes, they do have some great initiatives, but for me the way how they go about it, is like a teenager, who tries to claim independence through rebellion to anything the parent says, but go about his/her business doing the same when their friends call for it. My best example is my daughter, who for the no way would watch movies I recommend (she makes her own films, buy her own camera, etc.), then out of the blue tells me a scene from a fantastic movies she watched with her friends. I name the movies, she acts surprised that I even know. I tell her that she wants to see it again, it is in basement either on Blue ray or regular dvd. LMP is actually very close to Jobbik in some of their ideas with the exception of being inclusive. THeir better ideas do not have to much of a foundation and if there for any strange reason they would end up running the country, I am not sure where would they start.

  14. Jean P :
    In my country there is a shortage of politicians who have no higher education. This is a matter of concern. The political scene is increasingly crowded with people who have degrees in economy, law and political science, have no idea about the life of ordinary people and have never had jobs in business.

    Well. I will not vote for people with no higher education. Being “ordinary people” (poor?) just doesn’t cut it for me. I prefer hands-on business experience but I don’t believe it is necessary.

    One of the biggest duds in the Orban cabinet is Lászlóné Németh, Minister of National Development. She has only a high school diploma. Her background is trading rattan furniture for years. She cannot get more “ordinary” then this. When she is inquired in the parliament she always asks here undersecretaries to answer, but she can do it only a few times, so time to time she has to speak. Oh, my … it’s horrible. She reads quickly some neutral garbage from a paper and that’s it. Like Kadar’s parliament. This woman is responsible for a 600 billion HUF a year budget. Perfect strawwoman for Simicska and Co.

  15. A footnote to Mutt’s comment. You can’t have uneducated duds in parliament with an IQ of 100. The parliamentary rules themselves are very complicated. I for one would be lost if I happen to find myself in the Hungarian parliament. The language of the laws is also tricky and their exact meaning is not always obvious to the uninitiated.However, if one doesn’t have to do more than pushing the right button, I guess Viktor Orbán can put a lot of obedient followers there for that purpose while the top Fidesz leaders figure out how to run a country that they find desirable.

  16. Not sure I can go along with this line. Many highly intelligent people in Hungary are denied a higher education through either the interminable length of Hungarian degrees and the need to support families, or the lack of a secure family support network. And, of course, unfortunately opportunities are even more limited in some cases due to ethnic bias. Furthermore, increasing numbers will be unable to AFFORD a university degree under current proposals. Also, so much of the Prussian system in operation here is about telling examiners what they want to here rather than carrying out original research and thinking for oneself. A university education here does not equal intelligence, neccessarily, and the lack of one does not equal ignorance and/or stupidity. Many of the most eloquent and high-achieving politicians, around the world and throughout history, came from hard working class backgrounds without a hint of any dreaming spires.

  17. According to the Eduline there are 30 something MPs that have no college education. Almost all of them are right wing politicians. This number doubled in the 2010 election compared to the years before. I don’t know how many of these came from party lists but apparently the voters prefer people with college degrees.

  18. Maria :

    revolution :
    Is the revolution happening?
    Dorottya Karsai is amazing. So are many other women in MILLA.

    Just, unfortunately, Milla or at least the deciding circles in Milla still don’t want to get their hands dirty with party politics or even by cooperating with any parties. Which I think is a big mistake, given the situation in Hungary. To top off their non-cooperation with Szolidaritas regarding the demonstrations of 23rd October, they actually use runic letters in the invitation (runic letters being the obsession of jobbik and other fashist groupings). Two years ago they were a big hope, by now I’m rather disappointed.

    Milla & LMP…indicative of a country of prima donnas..

  19. A news item regarding women in politics. The new Norwegian cultural minister is a 29 year old muslim woman, Hadia Tajik.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadia_Tajik

    Do you remember that stupid Orban speech when he said people can work together in the Scandinavian countries but this half-Asian bunch is incapable? He got that right indeed.

  20. London Calling!

    I, like Julie, am confused with how women are addressed and how they address themselves.

    So thanks for the explanation, Eva. It’s still pretty barmy and archaic though!

    Whenever I go to a supermarket, I always engage the checkout assistant by name. In England they all wear their first name on a badge – men and women.

    In Hungary I try and look for their names – but often it is simply not there. What’s the point of this? They should be wearing ‘their’ name.

    There is a great psychological message here: Woman are a ‘possession’ or ‘chattel’ of their husbands.

    They are not members of society in their own right,

    Mostly when I say “Hello Susan” – or “Hello Mohammed” to the checkout person – it is 90% mostly a woman in England – they always beam me a smile – and the conversation is always pleasant – sometimes banter occurs especially with older women and men – and the whole transaction is conducted in a much better spirit. When it comes to entering my PIN – I always call out a number while entering it – and the resulting ‘warning’ always turns into a laugh when I say I am an unusual bloke – able to to do two things at once.

    Using their first names is an acceptance that we are all equal – I have often said to them that customers should wear name badges too.

    If they do not wear a name badge (quite rare now) I ask them for their name, please – and when I say “Hello Karen” as a response – very often they ask me my name – and I know then ‘I have made contact’.

    Simple courtesy and fun to make the world go round.

    Imagine when I do it in Hungary? It is rare – but it has happened – “Hello Aniko” (because there is only ONE name on their badge) – and I know I will get a smile – I mention ‘Angol’ while pointing to myself – and they look at me with compassion! But it is rare.

    I have embarrassed myself – but not much – by picking the most likely name as a first name – from their badge, only for my partner to laugh and explain that that’s her husband’s name! So what is the point of wearing your husband’s name? Strange, very strange indeed! Surely it’s a name badge about you – not your husband – why would I want to know his name?

    In England we have the designation ‘Ms’ as in Ms Susan Smith – as an option for woman who don’t wish to show their marital status – but the use of the male name in a partnership address went out of the window decades ago.

    Once, when I appealed to neighbours at 4:30 in the morning in Hungary to stop a dog barking next door – who’s garden extended under my bedroom window – and who had barked constantly for two days – I walked along the street calling ‘Hello’…’Hello’….. ‘Hello’ without being able to speak a word of Hungarian.

    I had my partner (in England at 3:30am) on the phone ready to explain to ANYONE who I could raise about the barking dog. I was so resolved that If I was to be denied sleep for two days – then they would be too. I had a flight to catch in not many hours and I was at the end of my tether.

    Finally a woman emerged from further along the street who explained to me – via my translating partner in England – that the women next door was a recluse and deaf – and was the mother of the house occupants next door up.

    So I thanked her and asked her name – I said “I’m Charlie” and I had already pointed to the phone saying my partner’s name. And she gave me the ‘format’! When I said she had said “Miklos something” to my partner she explained that she wasn’t actually giving me her name! – and to a neighbour?

    But I was very grateful – to Mrs Husband’s Name!

    (My little incident ends peacefully btw! (I was ready to commit murder!) The son of the house eventually emerged – sleepily and wearily! – and said he would move the dog to the other side of the house. They had clearly put him there because they couldn’t stand it either!
    I got a few hours kip – but only a few. And an introduction in the crazy naming convention in Hungary.)

    Stand up as equal citizens, Oh! Hungarian Women! You a re not a possession of your husband. You are not his chattel! Start a simple revolution now!

    Regards

    Charlie

  21. Eva S. Balogh :
    A footnote to Mutt’s comment. You can’t have uneducated duds in parliament with an IQ of 100. The parliamentary rules themselves are very complicated. I for one would be lost if I happen to find myself in the Hungarian parliament. The language of the laws is also tricky and their exact meaning is not always obvious to the uninitiated.However, if one doesn’t have to do more than pushing the right button, I guess Viktor Orbán can put a lot of obedient followers there for that purpose while the top Fidesz leaders figure out how to run a country that they find desirable.

    “Uneducated duds with an IQ of 100” very neatly describes a vast number of MPs since 1990, and probably before. Most of them have never piped up; the ones that did — e.g. Torgyan Jozsefne — became figures of public ridicule. So, Orban can indeed staff the Parliament with obedient morons, so long as all the talking is left to Rogan, Lazar, and the ever-grinning Szijjarto. However, it must be said that “obedient morons” describes many of the MSZP’s MPs as well. Is there any hope, then?

  22. Charlie – as so often with these issues of male/female equality, the pressure to maintain the old system seem to come from the women. I’m sure that, if Hungarian women wanted to change the ‘maried woman’s name’ convention, they would do it easliy. But they don’t because they seem to think that the old way is the ‘right’ way.

    I suspect this is more an issue of maintaining the culture, rather than one of sexual equality.

    Incidentally, this business of putting ‘Dr’ at the front of the woman’s name if her husband is a Dr (but she isn’t) is utterly confusing to us külföldi. I spent several years thinking the woman we bought our flat from was a doctor – and wondering how on earth someone as thick as her could possibly have gained a PhD!

    And it gets even more bizarre – my sister-in-law’s sister is a doctor and is married to a doctor, so her name has ‘Dr’ at the beginning AND in the middle!!

  23. “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.”

    This is one of the most damning things I’ve ever read about Hungary. Not just because it shows the political system up in a bad light, or because it shows the distance women (and men) still have to travel in Hungary, but because it reveals the real depths of the dysfunctionality of the Hungarian male.

    The average Hungarian man simply never grows up (or is never allowed to). Of course this is true to some extent in all societies, women invariably mature earlier and more completely than men (probably because they have to because they spend all their lives supporting the men), but I’ve never come across anywhere (in Europe, at least) that is as bad as Hungary.

    These men in parliament think they are so important, so powerful, but in reality they are just spoilt little boys.

  24. Sorry, it seems you have to start the video yourself. But you will see a Hungarian writer, Kossuth Prize winner etc etc, explaining how a good clout sorted out a relative. Astonishing.

  25. Kingfisher :

    If you have the stomach for it, watch this video:

    http://poldi.blog.hu/2012/09/24/verni_csak_pontosan_szepen?fb_action_ids=4496844822153%2C4491979260517&fb_action_types=og.recommends&fb_source=other_multiline&action_object_map={%224496844822153%22%3A427531720638651%2C%224491979260517%22%3A117543748395520}&action_type_map={%224496844822153%22%3A%22og.recommends%22%2C%224491979260517%22%3A%22og.recommends%22}&action_ref_map

    Awful! It is really amazing what kind of characters can be found among the overzealous Christians.

    I have also have a gem for you. Dr. Tamás Halász (KDNP) talking about domestic violence. Or rather that such thing simply doesn’t exist in “families.” Only among those who are not officially married or who are in the middle of a divorce. He is one of the many very stupid men and women in parliament. And he has a law degree and made sure that the audience knows that he is very familiar with Roman law.

    http://atv.hu/videotar/20120924_szabad_szemmel_2012_09_23

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