Right-Wing Populism, Gender, and Social Policies in Hungary and Poland

Monday, 16 July 2018: 11:15
Oral Presentation
Dorota SZELEWA, University College Dublin, Ireland
After the fall of state-socialism, conservative attitudes towards gender roles dominated public debates in most of the East European countries. As aspiring to EU membership, Hungary and Poland reformed their legal systems adopting anti-discrimination law and the principles of gender mainstreaming. And yet, the legacy of this initial anti-feminist turn continued to influence social policies in the direction of re-familialization.

But a more profound backlash against gender equality took place quite recently, when right-wing populist parties formed governments in these two countries. In the context of demographic decline, women started to be predominantly perceived through their reproductive functions. In Hungary, pro-natalist policies favouring cash transfers were intensified under the slogans of ‘demographic revolution of the middle class’, with blaming women for falling fertility rates. In Poland, aligned with the Catholic Church, the new government has openly attacked the notion of gender, while limiting access to emergency contraception, IVF treatment, and allowing the repeated attempts to introduce a complete abortion ban.

The goal of this paper is to analyse recent reforms and discourses about gender roles as produced and activated by the right-wing populist governments in Hungary and Poland. My research strategy would be to apply the framework of discursive institutionalism, pointing to the role of crucial actors and ideational path-dependencies. My argument is that the recent developments in these policies and discourses are in line with the conservative climate for the development of social policies that already emerged during the period of transition and can be interpreted as re-building and strengthening national identities. Finally, as previous studies often focussed on Hungarian Polish comparison due to differences in their policy mixes, with Hungary being labelled ‘public maternalism’ and Poland – ‘private maternalism’, this paper demonstrates how the recent reforms contribute to transformation of Polish version of maternalism from ‘private’ to ‘public’.