How will Hungary’s new family policy affect women?

How will Hungary’s new family policy affect women?

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has introduced a seven-point plan to increase Hungary’s population without depending on immigration. The Family Protection Action Plan aims to encourage women to have more children by offering subsidies and loans – including a lifetime exemption from paying income tax to women who have at least four children.

The country’s population is falling by 32,000 a year. The average number of children a Hungarian woman will have in her lifetime is 1.45, below the EU average of 1.58.

Announcing the plan during his State of the Union Address earlier this month, right-wing nationalist Orbán said: “There are fewer and fewer children born in Europe. For the West, the answer is immigration. For every missing child there should be one coming in and then the numbers will be fine. But we do not need numbers. We need Hungarian children.”

The plan’s seven points are:

  • a lifetime personal income-tax exemption for women with four or more children
  • a low-interest loan equivalent to $35,700 for women under 40 who are marrying for the first time, to be cancelled once they have three children
  • housing subsidies worth $125,000 for young people who agree to
    have three children
  • repayment of $14,280 of the mortgage loan for families with three children, and an additional $3,570 for every subsequent child
  • a pledge to create 21,000 nursery places over the next three years
  • a subsidy of $8,925 toward the purchase a seven-seat vehicle for families with three or more children
  • child care allowance for grandparents

The expert’s view

Dr. Noa W. Nogradi is an activist and researcher in gender injustice and violence against women based in Budapest. She currently works for the PATENT association, a women’s rights NGO focusing on violence against women and reproductive rights. We asked her what the plan means for women in Hungary.

“Gender injustice is quite grave in Hungary. There are significant disparities in the distribution of household and unpaid care labour between women and men. Occupations where women are overrepresented (e.g. nurses, teachers, public servants, social workers) are extremely underpaid. Women that have children are typically either dependent on their male partners, or do not earn enough to support themselves and their children should they become single.

Single mothers are amongst the worst-off, and they barely receive support from the state. Divorce is very risky: procedures are lengthy, costly and women likely end up in a worse economic position. Additionally, about one in five women have experienced intimate partner violence (that also involved physical violence) in their lifetime. Violence against women is insufficiently prosecuted, with law-enforcement and judicial professionals frequently engaging in victim-blaming, minimising the weight of violence, disbelieving victims, pushing mediation to ‘resolve the conflict’, and applying inconsistent and random rules for the admissibility of evidence. Child custody processes and arrangements routinely disregard histories of abuse, and the state often enforces compulsory visitation for violent fathers.

More details have emerged since the plan was announced, which suggest that the plan is designed to benefit (upper)middle class and already wealthy families rather than those facing economic hardship. Further details are expected to come out in due course on eligibility, and I hope the Hungarian public will also be kept updated on this, and women will not believe they can rely on these kinds of support (in case they marry and birth in the required way), only to realise that they and their partners are not of the economic standing to be ​granted them.

It is clear that the government is trying to send a message of returning to ‘traditional values’. The announcement and its framing also reinforces that the government considers women primarily to be birthers, mothers and housewives.

This is no news after the 2015 Fidesz party congress, where László Kövér, speaker of the Parliament, announced that “we do not want the ‘gender-craze’ [which is to] turn the country into a society of man-hating women and of feminine men terrified of women, and where family and children are viewed as a barrier to self-realisation [… Instead, we want] men to be men [and want] our daughters to consider birthing grandchildren for us as the highest degree of self-realisation”. The message was also connected to the theme of migration, the same way as the current speech was.

The only one out of the seven points that is tangible already (without further specifications of who it will actually apply to and in what way), is the promise of increased nursery spaces. They already fell short on a similar promise, failing to meet a promised increase by 2018, and now they made another one – we shall see. As the nursery workers’ union has already noted, it would also be necessary to not only increase the number of spaces, but to increase the pay and number of nursery carers and improve their working conditions.

It is clear that they are trying to incentivise marriage, birthing and women becoming housewives, especially among white, employed women. The policies might place pressure on women who would otherwise not rush into marriages to marry and produce children earlier than they otherwise would have planned, and more children too.

I certainly find that promoting women as vessels for population growth is harmful in a wider sense, and I believe that where a government does this, it refuses to consider its female citizens as citizens of full standing in their own right.”

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