Women in Hungarian Politics

Women in Hungarian Politics

Overview Women’s involvement in modern Hungarian politics has a rich history that began over 200 years ago. In the Kingdom of Hungary, discourses on women’s roles, rights, and political access, along with feminist movements, have developed within the context of extremely traditional gender roles, and more recently, Communist doctrine on women’s place in society. The post-communist era in Hungary has produced a number of organizations to address the needs of the nation’s women and mobilize female voters, and several universities now have gender studies programs. Pre-WWI In 1790 a man named Péter Bárány petitioned the National Gathering of Hungarian Noblemen to grant female nobles the right to observe parliamentary proceedings. He argued that these women would be better prepared to raise politically active, patriotic sons, but the assembly did not accept his petition.1 The first women’s organization to form in Hungary was the Pester Women’s Charitable Society, founded in 1817; by the end of the nineteenth century there were several hundred similar organizations throughout the kingdom, although, for the most part, they had little involvement in politics.2 When women gained access to secondary education in the mid-nineteenth century, the large presence of active women’s groups helped win the students a more academic curriculum, rather than one that focused on being a wife and mother. In 1895 women were first allowed to study philosophy, medicine, and pharmacy at the university level.3 In addition to the advocacy of women’s groups, these advances were due, in part, to the Hungarian push to elevate its status as a power in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and present itself as an increasingly modernized region.

In 1904, Rózsika Bédy-Schwimmer (Rosika Schwimmer), a pacifist and women’s rights advocate, founded the Association of Feminists.4 The group pushed for women’s suffrage and helped bring the issue to a parliamentary vote on three separate occasions, although each attempt was unsuccessful. The Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage was founded in 1910, and in 1913 the 7th Congress of the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance met in Budapest.5 The Association of Feminists worked closely with the city council of Budapest to establish a women’s aid office and day care centers; they also published a journal on women’s issues that helped to raise public awareness of women’s concerns.6 Other groups active in the early twentieth century included female members of the Social Democrats, and the National Federation of Women Clerical Workers, which sought improvements in the rights of female professionals.7 Between the Wars Following World War I, an independent Hungary began to define itself in a “national framework,” and the women’s movement shifted to fit into this new framework effectively.8Following the brief Communist seizure of power by Béla Kun in 1919, feminist groups, and other organizations considered revolutionary, became smaller, covert, and less influential; finding themselves in similar circumstances, some feminists, Communists, and other radicals formed working relationships. Hungarian women won partial suffrage and the right to serve in parliament, while the emergence of a party system of government gave women a new, socially accepted avenue for recognition and involvement. Women were particularly active in the National Unity Party and the Christian Women’s Camp.9 As their political opportunities expanded, Hungarian women were simultaneously gaining attention and support in a very traditional role: as mothers and caretakers of the nation’s children.10 Beginning in 1941, women’s groups began to diverge further, due mainly to political events leading up to World War II.11

Communist Era Women were seen as a vital part of the productivity of the state, both as mothers and wives of male workers, and as workers themselves. Although women were included in the blue-collar workforce in a more equal way under Communist rule, they generally were placed under greater male control, especially concerning reproductive rights, sexuality, and family life.12 Women did see some gains under Communism, despite remaining subordinate to men; they received greater access to secondary and university education, especially in technical fields.13

Post-Communist Era Beginning in 1989, women’s and feminist groups formed and established strong organizations which have worked to address the needs of Hungarian women. The post- communist economy has been particularly hard on blue-collar women who, in addition to providing income, are responsible for maintaining a home and caring for the family. Another important issue for women in the early 1990s was the restriction of abortion rights by conservative political parties. The Feminist Network, which emerged in May 1990, has been a leader in carrying on the movement for women’s equality, and the Federation of Young Democrats has been an important political party for female youth and women’s movements.14


1. Judit Acsády, “Remarks on the History of Hungarian Feminism,” "Hungarian Studies Review Special Volume: Women and Hungary" (1999), published online at http://www.oszk.hu/kiadvany/hsr/1999/acsady.htm.

2. Ibid.3. Ibid.4. Ibid.5. Ibid.6. Ibid.7. Ibid.

8. Andrea Peto, “Hungarian women in politics, 1945-51,” in "Power and the People: A Social History of Central European Politics, 1945-56", eds. Eleonore Breuning, Jill Lewis, and Gareth Pritchard (Manchester University Press, 2005), chapt. 16.

9. Ibid.10. Ibid.11. Ibid.

12. Laszlo Kürti, “Hungary,” in "Eastern Europe: Politics, Culture, and Society Since 1939", ed.Sabrina Ramet (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), 76-77.

13. Sharon L. Wolchik, “Women and the Politics of Gender in Communist and Post-Communist Central and Eastern Europe,” in "Eastern Europe: Politics, Culture, and Society Since 1939", ed. Sabrina Ramet (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), 286.

14. Chris Corrin, "Magyar Women: Hungarian Women’s Lives, 1960s-1990s" (New York: St.Martin’s Press, 1994), 7-8.

External LinksCentral European University-Budapest Gender Studies Website [http://www.gend.ceu.hu]

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