The missing arc of a backlash?
Thirty years of constitutional debate on ‘women’s equality’ in Hungary
Keywords:Hungary, constitution, gender, equal treatment, backlash, constitutional review
The argumentation in this paper is based on the proposition that constitutions play a key role in defining the approach to women’s social status, not just by determining ordinary legislation and public policy, but also through constitutional review. The focus is on Hungary, a country that is not famous in Europe for a high level of equality between men and women, surrounded by a (liberal) international political discourse which asserts a backlash and claims that women’s equal rights are being curtailed even more during the era of Orbán’s illiberal government. Against this discursive backdrop, the paper highlights a counterintuitive phenomenon: since the democratic transition (1989–1990) all the key constitutional disputes related to equality between the sexes have been initiated by men claiming instances of discrimination against men, as if women were too privileged in Hungary. A relevant contextual feature is that while equal legal standing for the sexes is guaranteed (due partly to the heritage of state socialism, then to efforts related to EU integration), affirmative measures for women are also constitutionally ensured. The Constitutional Court has deployed surprisingly poor-quality reasoning in these disputes, suggesting that it never considered equality between the sexes to be an important issue. This leads us to claim that certain persistent features have characterized this field since the 1990s, not the dynamics of reversal since the 2010s. With our empirical findings, we aim to contribute to the academic discourse in a way that challenges the backlash narrative regarding developments in Hungary from a specific perspective.
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