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Hungary rejects Istanbul Convention on gender equality and women’s rights

Budapest, Hungary – The Hungarian Parliament voted on Tuesday to reject the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, a non-binding Council of Europe treaty to promote gender equality and combat violence against women.

Hungary rejects ratification of Istanbul Convention

Backing a proposal presented by Fidesz’ junior coalition partners the Christian Democrats (KDNP), the Hungarian Parliament rejected the ratification of the treaty because it promotes “destructive gender ideologies” and would facilitate illegal immigration, according to the declaration adopted by MPs.

The declaration was adopted by the Hungarian Parliament – which has the single lowest share of female members in Europe – with 115 votes in favour, 35 against and three abstentions.

Its “ideological approach is contrary to the Hungarian legal order” and would “speed up or simplify” immigration to the EU, according to KDNP MP Lorinc Nacsa, quoted by the Guardian. Hungarian officials claim that signing the convention would force them to accept asylum-seekers who fled their country due to persecution on the grounds of their gender or sexual orientation. They also refute the treaty’s definition of gender as a “social construct”.

According to a government statement, “the valuable parts of the convention, when it comes to protecting children and taking action to counter violence against women, are properly embedded in Hungary’s legal system”.

After the vote, opposition politicians, particularly female MPs, accused the government of waging a war against women and sexual minorities. Some of them also held up in protest posters and banners in Parliament featuring the sexist comments and invectives made by their male colleagues over the years, including: “Why don’t you shut up, girly?”, Who is looking after the child?” and “The fact that you’re pretty doesn’t mean that you’re smart”.

In November last year, the 13 MEPs from the ruling Fidesz party refused to back a European Parliament resolution calling on EU member states to ratify the Istanbul Convention and on the European Commission to add the fight against gender-based violence in its list of priorities.

The timing of the vote, which had been postponed by the government for the past six years, may also not have been chosen at random. As the Hungarian Spectrum notes, the vote was probably designed as a “payback for the recent assertive attitudes of the women of the opposition which was directed primarily against the inefficiencies of the government’s handling of the pandemic”.

Female Hungarian lawmakers hold protest banners in Parliament after the vote rejected the Istanbul Convention
Female lawmakers hold protest banners in the Hungarian Parliament following the vote on Tuesday. Credit: Peter Hoppal’s Facebook page

Council of Europe treaty reignites debate on gender discrimination

The Istanbul Convention, one of the world’s first and most-comprehensive international documents to combat all kinds violence against women (domestic violence, genital mutilation, marital rape, etc.), was first presented in 2011 and signed by most EU member states, including Hungary in 2014.

A number of European governments, however, have refused to ratify the treaty ever since, saying it would facilitate illegal migration and promotes the “gender and LGBT ideology”.

Since coming to power ten years ago, Hungary PM Viktor Orban has passed a number of legislation which rights group say significantly reduce the rights of sexual minorities and discriminate against LGBT people. In 2010, the constitution was changed to define marriage as the union between a man and a woman, while gender study courses were effectively banned from being taught at universities in 2018.

A few weeks ago, the Hungarian government also presented a draft bill to end the legal gender recognition of trans people in a move critics claim would only further marginalize transgender people in Hungary.

Last year, the debate over the Istanbul Convention also raged in neighbouring Slovakia who, likewise, refused to ratify it, citing concerns over its definition of gender as “socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men” (article 3).

Six EU countries have signed but not yet ratified the convention: Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Latvia and Lithuania.

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