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UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice finalizes country mission to Hungary

Hungarian version

Budapest (27 May 2016) – At the end of a 10-day mission to Hungary during which the Expert Working Group held meetings in Budapest, Eger, Bicske and Pécs, its Chairperson Frances Raday delivered the following statement:

“At the outset, I wish to express my sincere appreciation to the Government of Hungary for having invited the Working Group to conduct this country visit and for their full cooperation. I would like to thank all our interlocutors, Government officials at the central and local levels, representatives of State institutions, female Members of Parliament from the governing and opposition parties, and members of civil society, including women’s organisations, academic experts, trade union representatives and individual women who shared their experiences with me as well as representatives from the United Nations.

Context

The visit of the Working Group took place after a series of amendments to the Fundamental Law of 2011, framing the normative environment for women’s human rights in Hungary. The Fundamental Law guarantees that women and men shall have equal rights, without discrimination based on any ground such as race, colour, sex, disability, language, religion, political or any other opinion, ethnic or social origin, wealth, birth or any other circumstance whatsoever. Hungary shall protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman, established by voluntary decision, and the family as the basis of survival of the nation. Family ties shall be based on marriage and/or the relationship between parents and children. Hungary shall encourage the commitment to have children. It further guarantees the right to life and dignity; the life of the foetus shall be protected from the moment of conception.

The provisions for gender equality and for protection of the family are both included in the Fundamental Law. The Working Group recognizes that the family is the natural and fundamental unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State. However, it urges that a conservative form of family whose protection is guaranteed as essential to national survival should not be put in an uneven balance with women’s political, economic and social rights and the empowerment of women. The Group regards the implementation of women’s human rights and the empowerment of women in all fields of life as essential for the welfare of families. It also stresses that the formulation of family should be interpreted as including the diversity of families, recognized under international human rights law, and that it should never be used to undermine women’s reproductive rights.

Legislative, institutional and policy framework

The gender equality policy of the Government, outlined in the National Strategy for the Promotion of Gender Equality – Guidelines and Objectives 2010–2021, could constitute a solid basis for the promotion of gender equality. However, the Working Group observed that the Government has so far laid its main emphasis on promoting the objectives of reconciliation of work, private and family life and preventing domestic violence. The other aspects of the National Strategy, including achieving equal economic independence for women and men, eliminating the gender pay gap, considering the issues of poverty and health in relation to women; reduction of the disproportional participation of women and men in political and economic decision-making; and eliminating gender stereotypes, have not been adequately addressed. The Group underlines that achievement of these objectives is essential to bring about the empowerment of women.

Political and public life

Women’s representation in Parliament, at 10%, has remained as the lowest in the EU and one of the lowest globally, ranking 153. There are no women in the 9-member Cabinet. In Regional Assemblies, women’s representation is 12%, with no Regional Presidents. In local councils, women constitute 20% however this representation is evident mostly in small communities. Currently, the 19% of Hungarian woman MPs in the European Parliament is among the lowest. The extremely low representation of women in Parliament and their absence from the Cabinet represents a clear lack of political will to empower women. Proposals to introduce temporary special measures to increase women’s representation have been rejected in Parliament several times. This is in spite of a public opinion survey in 2010, which showed a 54% majority in favour of quotas for female representation in politics and only 35% opposed. In this regard, the Working Group urges the Government to introduce special temporary measures, as provided in the Fundamental Law, to increase the representation of women in parliament, the cabinet, Regional Assemblies and local councils. This can be achieved either by legislation or by political party policy and, in the current political constellation, the governing party could play a decisive role in engendering change and empowering women.

The Group also observes pervasive and severe gender stereotyping of women which undoubtedly contributes to their low level of political participation. In this regard, the Group was alarmed by the discourse of some public officials who legitimise and justify the low representation of women in politics. The discriminatory and patriarchal attribution of gender roles was epitomised in the speech of the Speaker of the Parliament, at an important political party event in December 2015, that suggested women’s place belongs at home not in politics and that was greeted by a round of applause. When Hungarian women do enter the political arena, they face a strong sexist institutional culture of which we were given several egregious examples. The Group also expresses concerns at incitement to hatred against sexual and gender minorities by politicians and leading Government officials. The Group suggests that the House Rules on hate speech and the Act on the Parliament, which apply a penalty of a fine or exclusion from proceedings where members of Parliament use abusive language or expressions offending the dignity of any national, ethnic, racial or religious community, be amended to include sanctions for sexist and abusive language and expressions affecting the dignity of women and LGTBI persons.

In the judiciary, women are very well represented including in leading positions. Women constitute almost 50% of judges of the National Supreme Court and 69% of the judges of all courts. Out of 15 members of the Constitutional Court, who are appointed by Parliament, there is only one woman. The Group recommends that a better gender balance be achieved in the process of making new appointments to the Constitutional Court.

In eliminating discrimination against women and empowering them, women’s civil society organisations must play a vital role, embracing the various aspects of women’s lives, including both service and welfare objectives as well as transformative political and economic agendas. In line with the findings of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders following his visit in February 2016 regarding harassment and stigmatization of beneficiary organizations of the Norwegian NGO Fund, we noted that this included women’s NGOs which have a transformative agenda and NGOs which represent LGBTI and minority interests have suffered incidents of harassment and have been marginalized and accused by senior Government representatives and politicians of having politicized and hostile agendas. Indeed it was reported in the media in 2013 that the four major women’s transformative human rights NGOs were included in a Government blacklist of 13 NGOs. According to academic research, Government funding of NGOs has been directed mainly to women’s NGOs with nationalist and conservative agendas. Consequently, the Working Group insists that the major women’s transformative human rights NGOs be empowered to play a vital role, to receive a fair share of the funding allotted to civil society organisations and to be fully included in Government consultations and monitoring.

Economic and social life

During our visit, we observed that women’s participation in economic and social life is also shadowed by a stereotypical and patronizing approach to women, which pervades attitudes and speech, such as referring to women as “the weaker sex”. The low representation of women in some media programmes renders them almost invisible. In TV and radio news programmes, only 20% of those interviewing or being interviewed are women. The Group welcomes the monitoring role played by the National Media and Infocommunications Authority and the imposition of fines for violating women’s dignity in the context of sexual violence reporting.

Right to education

As regards school education, our Expert Working Group welcomes the fact that Hungary has achieved a high level of education for both boys and girls, newly compulsory from the age of 3 onwards, with completion of secondary education considerably higher than the OECD average. Regarding the content of the school curriculum, the emphasis on elimination of gender stereotypes has been severely diminished in the context of a reported shift to conservative family values. Religious or, alternatively, ethics education is compulsory from 6 years old throughout secondary school and we were informed by interlocutors from the education sector that the new school books contain many gender stereotypes, depicting women almost exclusively as mothers and wives, and, in some cases, depicting mothers as less intelligent than fathers. The Group strongly urges the Government to remove all gender stereotypes from school text books and to introduce effective teaching programmes in schools and in teachers’ training studies to eliminate ethnic and gender based discrimination. 

Roma children are largely segregated in schools which are of an inferior standard and continue to be placed disproportionately in schools for pupils with learning disabilities. In contrast, our Expert Working Group praises the cultural enrichment program and excellent education for Roma children in the Gandhi High School, visited by the Group, which amongst other things provides an exemplary model for re-integrating those girls who have experienced early pregnancy. The School has a success rate of almost 100% in placing its graduates in either tertiary University education or vocational frameworks. Of these, 50% of the graduates enter University, with a majority of girls. The Group was deeply concerned to hear that Roma women reported experiencing multiple discrimination and hostility on university campus. The Group urges the Government to increase their investment of resources in the education of disadvantaged children, including Roma children, to ensure that Roma girls and boys are not being segregated in inferior educational institutions, and to invest resources in educating Roma girls and giving them suitable employment opportunities.

Women complete tertiary education at a rate higher than men.  Nevertheless at the highest levels of academic degrees and rankings, there is a severe decline in women’s share of academic posts: women hold 37% of PhDs, 14% of university professorships, 3.5% of the members of the Academy of Sciences and hardly any rectors of universities. The Working Group recommends that the Government build on the excellent educational achievements of women and girls, by providing mentoring for women students in the pursuit of PhD degrees and by the promotion of qualified women to professorships and rectorships. The Government can play a direct role in this respect as rectors are appointed by the Minister of Education and are in turn responsible for setting the agenda for gender balance on their university staff. Furthermore, women students are concentrated in the Humanities and the Group recommends encouraging women students to participate in diverse disciplines.

Family and work

Promoting family and integrating work with family has been the central concern of the current Government’s gender policy. The motivation for this policy seems to have been primarily linked to the express constitutional guarantee for protecting the family as the basis of survival of the nation and to the low birth rate. Amongst the measures to increase the birth rate, the Government instituted in 2015 a programme for housing grants plus loans for families with three children or more and we were informed that this includes single parent families.

Measures for integrating work with family have been extensively developed. Maternity leave for 24 weeks, paternal leave for five days and parental leave for up to three years are paid at a high percentage of salary, funded by national insurance. The Group recommends that, in line with ILO Conventions, the minimum mandatory leave for women should be 14 weeks and that, thereafter, the choice of whether the remainder of the 24 week leave under the Hungarian legislation is taken by the mother or the father be left to the decision of the parents. Furthermore, in order to encourage fathers to take the leave, it is recommended that an independent paid child care leave be allotted exclusively to fathers, in line with the recommendations of the Working Group in its 2014 Report on Economic and Social Life. Furthermore, the Group recognizes that the Government has introduced generous provisions in child benefits to enable parents, especially of larger families, to choose how to arrange their work-life balance: tax relief is granted for a period of up to five years (with the third child). A small fixed sum of child benefit is paid to all parents.

Our Expert Working Group notes that both the maternity leave percentage payment and the relief from income tax are very effective for middle or high income but not for low income parents. Measures should be taken to support the capacity of low income women with children to work in the modern economy, in which two wages are required, for all but a small percentage of high earners, to maintain a good standard of living or avoid family poverty. The Group calls upon the Government to introduce measures which are equally relevant for parents with smaller families and to find ways of making them applicable to low income families, as for instance, in subsidies and not only tax deductions.

The Group greatly appreciates the kindergarten program, which is intended to provide free day care from the age of three months to six years, including free meals. However some low income parents complain that they are required to pay for meals because they do not satisfy the criteria. Furthermore, despite Government efforts, only 17% of children beneath the age of three are in fact in child-care institutions and interlocutors indicated problems with availability of kindergarten places, adversely affecting low income families who cannot finance private care arrangements. The Group appreciates the Government’s efforts to continue to increase the availability of crèche places for children from 0 to 3 years old and calls on it to ensure that crèche and kindergarten places from 0 to 6 years old are, in accordance with its own policy, in practice free for all but high income parents, irrespective of the number of their children.

According to ILO statistics, women’s labour force participation rate at 47.4% remains low, with a high gender gap of 15.7%, and the gap between mothers’ and non-mothers’ participation in paid work is the second largest in the EU . Government interlocutors informed us that according to their data, women’s labour force participation rate is now 58% and the gender gap has decreased. The reasons for women’s lower gender force participation are multiple: insufficient childcare facilities, the difficulty in finding part-time or flexi-work, the difficulty to reintegrate in the labour market after taking long child care leaves, the early exit of older women from the labour market, the disproportionate allocation of unpaid care duties to women, with women carrying out 80% of household and caring tasks and only 2.5% of fathers taking child care leave. As regards the impact of Government policy, both rhetoric and the maternity and parental leave measures adopted impart mixed messages, on one hand, projecting the idealised role for women to be in the home with ideally three children and, on the other hand, recognising the economic necessity for women to work. The Group recommends that, along with continuing to encourage part time employment for parents of young children who want it, the Government should recognise that part time work may not provide either the necessary income or job prospects which many women need and should seek to encourage provision of flexi-work and home based work.

The standard calculation of the gender pay gap is 15% as per Eurostat data, which is below the EU average, although other much higher or much lower rates have been produced. Legislation provides for equal wages for work of equal value and, while there are a very few cases in the Equal Treatment Authority and the labour courts on the right to equal pay for equal work, there seem to be no cases on equal pay for work of equal value and there is no institutional provision for promoting pay equity through gender neutral job evaluations. The Group recommends that in order to reduce the gender wage gap, the Government provide institutional assistance for promoting pay equity through gender neutral job evaluations, as recommended by the ILO and the Working Group.

Furthermore, discrimination against women in employment is usually not pursued as an independent cause of action in the court system and there is little visibility and awareness of women’s right to enforce their right to equal treatment and opportunity, in all aspects of the employment relationship. The Group suggests awareness raising amongst employees, lawyers and judges as regards the legal right not to be discriminated against in employment and to incentivize women to take actions against discrimination in employment, by improving the remedies for this offence, for instance by giving the Equal Treatment Authority the power to issue enforcement orders against the employer. It also suggests that both the courts and the ETA be given the power to award exemplary damages in cases of discrimination in employment.

Our Expert Working Group welcomes Hungary’s high ranking rate in the EU of women in management positions, who constitute 40%. Nevertheless, a recent research showed that, in 86 top companies, the number of women CEOs was only 9% and at the two highest levels of management 17%.The number of women on company boards is, in spite of the high level of women with tertiary education, 18%, as compared with the EU average of 23%. In the agricultural sector, 26% of managers in family farms are women although 70% of family farm workers are women. The Group draws the attention of the Government to good practices in some countries to increase the number of women on corporate boards, public and private, through a quota system and to provide special financial assistance or Government procurement contracts to women-owned businesses.

Roma women are subject to intense multiple discrimination in their social and economic lives. Tragically, Roma young people who have completed tertiary education encounter discrimination in the job market and most of them fail to find employment at the academic or vocational level they have acquired. The women are also, in many cases, subject to restrictive conservative attitudes of Roma communities.  Against this background, I was greatly impressed with the remarkable leadership and success stories of some Roma women, who have succeeded in forging careers as professionals, entrepreneurs and regional civil servants. The Group visited the Older Persons Home in Eger which had a program funded by the EU to employ Roma women  and noted positively  the fact that, after termination of the EU grant, the women became fully integrated in the staff and the Home continues to employ them in a regular position. The Group recommends the introduction of additional funded programmes to integrate Roma women as well as women from other disadvantaged backgrounds into the regular workforce, by subsidising their first few months of salary, similarly to the highly successful “Woman is the Chance” program.

Right to Health

Our Expert Working Group was concerned to learn that unemployed persons,  who cannot afford to pay an insurance premium, no longer have insurance coverage for health care, including preventive screening for breast cancer or ovarian cancer. The Working Group notes that this means that, since a high percentage of women are not employed, they are at risk of not being health insured. The Group urges that basic health care be comprehensively insured and that this should cover preventive screening.  

As regards women’s reproductive health, the Group was informed that there are barriers in access to emergency contraception as a prescription is required. Against the background of the constitutional protection of life from the moment of conception and the Act on the Protection of Foetal Life, we have been informed by interlocutors that women who require an abortion are in many cases subjected to hostile counselling during a mandatory waiting period of 3 days, contrary to the recommendations of the WHO and of the Working Group in its 2016 Report on Health and Safety.

Furthermore, refusal of service providers on grounds of conscience to perform a termination of pregnancy is not regulated by law in accordance with the jurisprudence of international human rights treaty bodies , statements on sexual and reproductive health and rights by international and regional experts and the Working Group’s 2016 Thematic Report on Health and Safety.  The Working Group urges the Government to make sure that legal abortion in Hungary is not obstructed by unnecessary waiting periods, hostile counselling or conscientious objection. Furthermore, the Group was informed that there is a high number of abortions in Hungary, 1 out of 3 pregnancies as compared with 1 out of 5 in the EU. Therefore, the Group urges   the Government to ensure that women’s access to contraception is affordable and accessible for all women and girls.

It was reported by interlocutors that Roma women are being segregated, in some medical facilities and this, in the view of the Group, must be prevented. Furthermore, increasing rates of early pregnancy of Roma girls exposes them to significantly increased health risks of maternal mortality and obstetric fistula. In order to prevent early or unwanted pregnancies, the Group recommends introducing sexuality education, based on scientific evidence and human rights, in the national curriculum for primary and secondary schools and access to family planning services and free contraception.

The data on C-sections at the rate of 33.4%, episiotomies at 90% and non-use of medical abortion methods all indicate over-medicalisation which is not in accordance with WHO indicators. Government interlocutors informed us that the Ministry of Human Capacities is surveying the reasons for this phenomenon. The Group hopes that the Ministry will produce operative guidelines to reduce the resulting danger to women’s health of over-medicalisation.

Violence against women

The Group appreciates the 2013 revision to the Criminal Code defining and prohibiting domestic violence including physical, psychological and economic violence. We were informed by involved authorities that the prohibition covers non-marital intimate relationships, including same-sex relationships.  It seems from the information gathered during the visit that an effective system has been put in place since 2009 for issuing restraining orders. However, some Government interlocutors agreed that longer periods of restraining order should be allowed. In spite of the improvement in the legal provisions for preventing domestic violence, we were informed by Government interlocutors that, in 2015, 88 women were killed in the context of domestic violence, representing 43% of all murders.

Our Expert Working Group received data from the Criminology Institute from the 1990s showing that 90% of cases of sexual abuse were not reported. There is no more recent official data available but it was reported to the CEDAW Committee that Hungary has one of the lowest reporting rates for rape among 33 European countries. Government interlocutors reported that there has been a great increase in reporting. The Government should continue to conduct awareness raising campaigns to encourage reporting and to give gender sensitive training for law enforcement actors. We also recommend that  law enforcement actors should systematically refer victims to screening and health care schemes including emergency contraception. I believe that attempts are being made to address the tendency by law enforcement actors to blame the victim, as demonstrated when, in a past video  by the police to educate girls to protect themselves against sexual predators, the blame was, deplorably, attributed to the victim by stereotyping dress and flirtation as causes for violent attacks. The victim support services reported on training programmes for police to avoid re-victimization of the victim.

The Group recommends that the positive legislative and institutional measures taken to prevent domestic violence should be accompanied by the development and implementation of a comprehensive national strategy, a unified data base for analysing numbers of complaints, restraining orders, prosecutions, convictions and sentences, in cases of gender based violence, and should bring about the ratification of the Istanbul Convention as soon as possible.

Prostitution is not as such prohibited however it is punished as a public administrative offence for breach of the peace where conducted in prohibited areas or where the person in prostitution does not have an up to date medical certificate. The Group was informed that a significant number of girl children were arrested and hundreds fined for prostitution in 2014. When they do not pay the fine they are detained in correctional facilities. Hungary is essentially a country of origin and transit for human trafficking. We were informed that Roma women and girls are 40% of the trafficking victims for prostitution. Interlocutors informed us that tools have not been successful in identifying trafficking victims, especially at the points of entry at the border and in detention centres for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers and indeed it was confirmed by Government sources that no victims of trafficking have in fact been identified except by the authorities in other countries of origin or destination. The Group urges the Government to develop tools for identifying women and children being sexually exploited, whether or not in the context of trafficking. All use of punitive measures must cease, including as an administrative offence, and counselling, retraining and reintegration programs should be developed.

Interlocutors informed us that migrant women, who succeed in entering the country, are as a rule in transit for a very short time. The Group visited the reception centre at Bicske for refugees and asylum seekers and observed separate accommodation for women, with a majority of female social workers and medical officers. The Group expresses its deep concern at reports it received that minimal sanitary and healthcare conditions are still not being provided in the transit zones at the Serbian border, with aggravated consequences for women and girls. The Group urges the Government to promptly adopt and implement measures that will respond to the urgent needs and preserve the basic rights of migrant women and girls at the Hungarian borders. 

Conclusions

The current Government has demonstrated its readiness to cooperate with the international human rights mechanisms, as recently demonstrated in the UPR and the visits of other special procedures. We want to reiterate our sincere gratitude to the Hungarian Government for its invitation to our Expert Working Group to conduct this visit and for engaging in a frank and open dialogue on the issue of gender equality and women’s empowerment. Nonetheless, our Working Group regrets that women are significantly disempowered in Hungary’s political life. Underlying this situation is the pervasive and flagrant stereotyping of women, with repeated statements by some public figures that women are unsuited to political power and insistence on woman’s role as primarily wife and mother. This is aggravated by multiple discrimination and xenophobia regarding minority women who are virtually invisible in the political system.

In the economic sphere, measures have been introduced to facilitate the integration of work and family. However, the Government has, in spite of its recognition of the economic need for women to go out and work, based this policy on the idealisation of women’s role as stay-at-home mothers, thus creating an irreconcilable dilemma for women. Furthermore, the support measures introduced by the Government in practice largely benefit women who are middle income or above and do not solve the dilemma for women who are low earners, including Roma women.

There can be no success in empowering Hungary’s women in the political or the economic spheres without addressing the discriminatory stereotyping, the sexist rhetoric against women and LTBI and the disproportionate burdening of women with almost sole responsibility for unpaid care work. Transformative change required for eliminating discrimination against women in practice and for empowering women should be developed by the Government through education of its children to gender equality and human rights, through its national human rights institution, the courts and the media and should ensure the viability of NGOs dealing with women’s transformative human rights. In all these contexts, the Working Group strongly encourages the Government to give full effect to the guarantee of equality for women and men in the Fundamental Law and to all aspects of its National Strategy for the Promotion of Gender Equality.

These preliminary findings and conclusions will be developed and presented in a more comprehensive report to the Human Rights Council in June 2017.”

ENDS

The UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice was created by the Human Rights Council in 2011 to identify, promote and exchange views, in consultation with States and other actors, on good practices related to the elimination of laws that discriminate against women. The Group is also tasked with developing a dialogue with States and other actors on laws that have a discriminatory impact where women are concerned. The Working Group is composed of five independent experts: the Current Chair-Rapporteur Frances Raday (Israel/United Kingdom), the Vice-Chair Alda Facio (Costa Rica) and the other members Emna Aouij (Tunisia), Kamala Chandrakirana (Indonesia), and) Eleonora Zielinska (Poland). 
Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/WGWomen/Pages/WGWomenIndex.aspx 

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Tarki representative national survey

(Fodor 2011)

Act on Act on the Protection of Foetal Life para 14 no physician or other health care worker may be required against his will to perform a pregnancy termination or to participate therein, except if the pregnant woman’s life is endangered.

See E/C.12/POL/CO/5, CEDAW/C/POL/CO/6 and CEDAW/C/SVK/CO/4; A/HRC/29/40/Add.3