EWL News

Riots not diets

[Budapest, 4 July 2017, contribution by Borbála Juhász, Hungarian Women’s Lobby] During the 2017 General Assembly the CEEBS Task Force of the EWL gathered again to discuss developments in the past year. The Task Force was born a few years before from the realisation that many things are common in the ex socialist states (with the one exception of Turkey, also a member) of the European Union regarding women’s rights and gender equality, as well as their social and economic realities.

Representatives of eleven countries and two other umbrella organisations (one of migrant women and the International Council of Women) shared their updates on the political situation in their regions, and all spoke about growing nationalism, militarism, xenophobia (in the form of „anti-migrant” sentiments) and shrinking space for civil society organisations, especially women’s rights organisations. In most of Eastern Europe this means not any more latent, but open anti-semitic and anti-Roma discourse, sometimes from political parties. Human rights defenders, including women are attacked in the online space or in real life, in the street in some countries.

Feminism always stood up for pacifism, overarching, international sisterhood above the hate mongering ideologies of nation states and saw through its propaganda, so no wonder it is seen as a potential enemy in times when patriarchal discourse of „border defence” „ siege”, „ war” are ripe. This, however, does not mean, that all women, just because they are women, are feminist, and do not support xenophobic, nationalistic parties. The voting behaviour of women was one of the questions discussed, just one sliding door away from the meeting of the Women in Politics Task Force.

We discussed the usual laments: attacks on sexual and reproductive rights of women by big, mobilised civilian forces pairing off with politicians and churches, gender equality institutions being totally dependent on changing political climate, the growing tendency of „gender ideology” explanations confusing personal gender identity issues with women’s everyday experience of economic and social oppression etc.

A discussion followed about how neoliberal economic policies based on austerity, taking away from women and families, are also embraced by (so called) left-wing parties in these states, which causes a disillusionment also in everything else connected with the left-wing ethos, including human rights. In the meantime, the right-wing (although following a pervert redistribution from the poor to the middle class) embrace family policies that actively support women who live in (middle class) families with children. Although this is purely motivated by demographic interest in (ethnic) population growth, it is becoming to the voters perceived as leftist policies.

After sharing our stories, we turned towards possible solutions, an increased knowledge sharing of best practices from the regions among different task forces of the EWL and other women organisations and we strategised about better communication. This was helped by Alex Hicks, a professional communication expert in a wonderful and fun workshop on messaging (sic. Not massaging!) Creating a bank of stories would not be a problem, since we have a bundle of stories.

The title of the article also came from within the group, promptly summarising our state of affairs: the political situation is dire for women’s rights gained, we should concentrate on protecting these by power, as more of it is taken away: Riots not diets. Unless, „diet” is meant by its old Latin meaning: parliament, where we need much more women who stand up for women’s rights, why not 50-50 as a start (as opposed to the humble 10 % in the Hungarian parliament)?

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