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Hungary, Poland and the alleged promotion of women’s health

Last week, Hungary, like Poland, joined the Geneva Consensus Declaration on Promoting Women’s Health and Strengthening the Family along with the United States, Belarus, Brazil and 27 other countries.

Only signed by governments led by men, as Hungarian NGO Patent Society has pointed out, the Declaration seeks to “promote women’s rights”, and is yet another prime example of a conservative initiative adopting language used for the mainstreaming of human rights and social progress.

Let’s go over some policies that could genuinely serve for the promotion of women’s health and for the strengthening of the family:

  • Normalizing and creating better access to health screenings, including STDs, STIs, breast- and endometrial cancer, and postnatal depression.
  • Funding research into endometriosis, intersexuality, the effects on contraceptives, or how diseases and health conditions can manifest differently in the female body (including mental health disorders, stroke and heart attacks). 
  • Acknowledging the unpaid (and often invisible) labor that women provide, and working on bridging this gap and the wage gap alike.
  • Eliminating period poverty
  • Improving sex-ed and awareness-raising about sexual health.
  • Ensuring that contraceptives are accessible for everyone, regardless of social or economic barriers. 
  • Normalizing paternity leave and childcare. 
  • Providing part-time work options for parents and child benefit, free school meals for those in need. 
  • Making mental health services more accessible, not just in the sense of fighting against the stigma, but also for the economically disadvantaged, to prevent burnout and reduce depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. 
  • De-stigmatizing adoption and infertility and the choice to not have children alike. 
  • Improving adoption procedures, ensuring that no child is lost in the system, offering courses on childcare for parents (adoptive and non-adoptive alike). 
  • Recognizing same-sex partnerships, including same-sex couples and rainbow families in family policies; ensuring that they have the same rights and benefits as all spouses do.

If you’re wondering how many of the above-suggested policies are present in the Declaration, I have a swift answer for you. None.

Promoting Women’s Health and Strengthening the Family

The Declaration claims to promote four pillars: (1) better health for women, (2) the preservation of human life, (3) strengthening of family as the foundational unit of society, and (4) protecting every nation’s national sovereignty in global politics.

It starts out nice enough, with affirmations of equal rights between men and women “at all levels of political, economic and public life”. Yet it soon shows its true colors by highlighting that there is “no international right to abortion, nor any international obligation on the part of States to finance or facilitate abortion”, adding that children need special safeguarding before and after birth. It also highlights how women play a critical role in the family and in the development of the family and society. These passages are all cited from declarations, conferences and other texts published by the United Nations. They are also taken out of context.

Paragraphs that present the double (or triple) burden of women and their invisible, unpaid labour is turned into a declaration reaffirming conservative gender roles. The importance of the nuclear family is also reiterated several times, again pushing the traditional family model: a husband, a wife and their own biological child, optimally children.

Hungary introduced a Constitution that defines family as such a union, thus excluding same-sex couples. Just a few weeks ago, it also made adoptions for single persons more difficult. Same-sex couples cannot adopt together at all. 

However, the Hungarian government claims that they do not plan on modifying the current abortion-regulations. So what is the reason behind signing this declaration? 

The Christian-conservative Hungarian government could be making an empty gesture to its voters, with no policy change to follow. But it could also very well be another step towards the infringement on women’s rights. A few months ago, the government has adopted a declaration that rejects the Istanbul Convention, claiming that it promotes “destructive gender ideologies”, even though the word “gender” only appears in the glossary as a definition. The government has also recently banned legal gender recognition for trans and intersex people, despite the objection of national and international bodies.

Hungary, Poland and democratic backsliding

But is it really a surprise that a government, that has been pushing a “Family First” agenda that only approves a white, Christian, conservative, heterosexual married couple with at least one child as a family, would sign such a declaration?

The Christian-conservative Hungarian government could make an empty gesture to its voters, with no policy change to follow. But it could also very well be another step towards the infringement on women’s rights. A few months ago, the government has adopted a declaration that rejects the Istanbul Convention, claiming that it promotes “destructive gender ideologies”, even though the word “gender” only appears in the glossary as a definition. The government has also recently banned legal gender recognition for trans and intersex people, despite the objection of national and international bodies.

Or Poland, who just banned almost all terminations (with some very narrow exceptions)? The US, where even miscarriages could land women in jail in some states? Or Belarus, where most notably, women have been protesting for weeks against the presidency of Lukashenko? Or is it Brazil that astonishes us, where it is estimated that every two seconds a woman in Brazil is subjected to physical or verbal attack

It’s not only the signature that binds these countries together. All of them have been experiencing serious democratic backsliding over the years. This means the degradation of government accountability, citizen’s rights, and their power to influence policy. It also means a backlash against cultural and social changes, including social rights movements: policies are questioned, attacked, and often repealed.

Combine this with the lack of representation of women in politics, and what you’re brewing is a gradual deterioration of the rights of women.

By Luca Dudits

This article was originally published on Lazy Women. Art by Dorottya Juhasz.

Lazy Women is a growing team of writers and creatives, from a wide range of nationalities, disciplinary backgrounds and lived experiences, who have gathered to give voice to their own understandings of the female experience and its relation to the public/private dichotomy. Its mission is to challenge the negative connotation of laziness and reclaim it by providing a platform that can be used to make public the many creative, literary and academic endeavours women around the world pursue in the private sphere, and therein often considered inherently less valuable than monetized or public work.

You can follow them on, InstagramTwitter and Facebook, and don’t forget to check out their website: lazywomen.com

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