A Mothers’ Day gift à la Fidesz-KDNP: Rejection of the Istanbul Convention
Hungarian victim support organizations PATENT Association and NANE Women’s Rights Association were concerned and outraged to learn that on Monday, directly after Mothers’ Day, KDNP issued a political statement calling for the rejection of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention). The Convention was signed by Hungary in 2014, but has not been ratified since, despite the fact that the Convention’s provisions would be vital for the protection of victims and the prevention of violence.
A representative of the governing coalition party (Hajnalka Juhász, KDNP) called on parliamentary groups to join in rejecting the Convention’s ratification. Fidesz swiftly assured the Hungarian public that they agree with KDNP’s statement, which gained traction with unusual speed at next day’s (Tuesday’s) parliamentary debate and vote, resulting in a decision against the Convention’s ratification.
This means that those of us who had been hoping that at one point, the provisions of the Convention for the protection of women would improve the safety of Hungarian women must now part with that notion. If only the governing parties would have reacted so quickly to the fact that the number of domestic violence cases has doubled during the lockdown.
KDNP and Fidesz cite two main arguments against the Convention, one of which is devoid of sense, while the other directly opposes the protection of the most basic human rights:
- One, as usual, bandies about the concept of “gender ideology”,
- The other objects to the fact that the Convention prescribes the provision of asylum to women and girls fleeing from gender-based persecution (such as genital mutilation) instead of deporting them back to danger.
According to the first objection, which has become commonplace by now, the Convention includes the concept of gender, and articulates that violence against women is gender-based instead of framing sexual-, intimate partner-, and domestic violence as a non-gendered issue (and thereby denying its realities). Fidesz has explicitly called the Convention’s reference to gender “unconstitutional.”
The Convention defines gender as "the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men" (Art. 3(c)). In the light of recent events, it seems especially cynical to question whether different "socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men" exist. László Kövér (Fidesz), Speaker of the National Assembly of Hungary, referenced these differences only a few days ago, exclaiming that he finds “those MPs whose personal identification number begins with the number 2 [i.e. women] especially pathetic” when they express outrage in Parliament, behaving “in a way that is offensive to male sensibilities.”
The difference between the governing parties’ opinion and the standpoint expressed by the Convention and women’s victim support organizations is not about whether they know that there are socially constructed and expected gender roles that consider women primarily as birthing-machines and service staff subordinated to their husbands, euphemized into nostalgic visions of motherhood and lovely housewives. The difference of positions consists in whether they want to enforce adherence to these expectations, or in terms of the Hungarian discourse, the “feminine calling” or “principles of womanhood” (“női princípium”). As PATENT Association has already expressed in response to a previous statement by László Kövér: the finest example of what he calls “gender-madness” is in fact provided by the ideologues insisting on the maintenance and enforcement of gender roles and norms, and the unequal power-relations between the sexes inherent in them – not by those who name these power-relations and identify them as the root cause of violence and discrimination against women.
Politicians of the governing party also take issue with precisely this: the identification of different types of violence against women (sexual, relationship, and domestic violence) as violence that is gender-based and rooted in gender as a social construct. Only those who pleasantly forgot István Varga’s (Fidesz) quip in 2012 that women would not be beaten if only they gave birth to enough children can deny the evidence of this correlation. To show that they do not completely disregard domestic violence, KDNP reminded the public that the current governing parties were the ones to introduce intimate partner violence as a separate offence under the Criminal Code. However, they failed to mention is that this was against their original intention, and only occurred due to the national outrage in response to István Varga’s unfortunately honest words, uttered during the initiative’s debate (which was actually relegated to a barely covered nighttime Parliamentary session). They also fail to mention that the Act was finally adopted in a rather minimalist form and is barely applied ever since.
Saying that one opposes violence against women but rejects a “gender approach”, as KDNP’s politicians do, is an empty statement. It is simply not possible to effectively address violence against women without realistically examining it in its social context and admitting that this type of violence has its roots in societal gender roles, norms and gender-based power dynamics. It is not the “gender-based approach” that is “unconstitutional”, as Fidesz claims; but denying the existence of these power relations, reinforcing them while “addressing” violence against women in words alone, leaving female citizens without protection, even assisting perpetrators in further abusing victims via bureaucratic and institutional means.
The other charge governing parties level against the Convention, that it would support “illegal immigration,” is also incorrect – and is a testament to their complete lack of compassion even in the face of brutal violence. The chapter under critique (Chapter VII.) establishes that in accordance with the spirit of the Geneva Convention, states party to the Istanbul Convention must recognise gender-based threats as a legal ground for asylum. That is, those opposing this provision would, for instance, rather deport girls and women fleeing countries where the state condones FGM (female genital mutilation), and rather have the women and girls requesting asylum for the sake of their most basic physical safety undergo this torture back in their origin country, than provide them with asylum.
Even though the UN has long been urging states to recognise gender as a legal ground for asylum, the Istanbul Convention’s explicit provision to guarantee this remedies a lasting blind-spot in international refugee law. Again, it requires extraordinary cynicism for the government to shrug off the protection of girls and women fleeing atrocious risks and requesting asylum by referencing “those illegals”.
The Hungarian government states that the national legal and institutional system in effect provides adequate protection to women and children who fall victim to violence, rendering the ratification of the Istanbul Convention unnecessary. This shows a clear denial of the situation in Hungary. Deeming the current, barely existent Hungarian system of victim protection and support sufficient is outrageous and takes the Hungarian people for fools, when hardly a day passes by without a preventable case coming to light, where someone lost their life as a result of domestic violence due to the incompetence and limitations of the justice system and/or the social service infrastructure; and when even the increased risk during the lockdown was not enough for the Hungarian government to instate any further protective measures.
We are baffled by the increasingly intense misogyny exhibited by the governing parties and their politicians in the past weeks. However, we would like to call their attention and the attention of the Hungarian public to the fact that half of the electorate are women, and a fifth of these voters have experienced gender-based violence against women. This alone may be a good reason to take them into account – and for all of us to demand being taken into account.