Hungarian Parliament Rejects Treaty Protecting Women Against Gender-Based Violence

Hungarian Parliament has moved three steps back in the struggle for gender equality, as it passed a declaration refusing to ratify a landmark treaty designed to fight violence against women. On May 5, Parliament announced that it would not be ratifying the Council of Europe Convention on Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (otherwise known as the Istanbul Convention), which it had previously signed in 2014. The convention is the first legally binding instrument focused on protecting against domestic gender-based violence, and is a “milestone in the history of women’s rights protection,” reports New Europe. It sets a list of minimum standards for state parties to uphold for protecting against this kind of violence, and it has a monitoring body to uphold the carrying out of these standards.

Hungarian politicians claim that the convention promotes “destructive gender ideologies” and “illegal migration,” because it does not define gender based on sex, and it allows measures for protecting refugees fleeing from violent persecution based on their sexual orientation or gender.

Hungary Today reports that Hungarian female MPs (of whom Hungary has one of the lowest proportions in Europe, according to the Guardian) in opposition held up signs with sexist quotes that male MPs had said in sessions previously. David Vig, Amnesty International’s Hungary Director, condemned the declaration, saying that “Today’s decision not only puts women and girls at risk but sends a damaging message to perpetrators that their acts will not be persecuted.”

He also noted the government’s less than exemplary history in combating domestic violence in the country, saying that even before the current pandemic the government has had a “shameful record of investigations and prosecutions” of cases. Indeed, the government has been criticised in the past for its protections of women’s rights, with the European Commission of Human Rights in 2019 saying that Hungary is “backsliding” on women’s rights. According to non-government Organizations Women for Women against Violence, in 2018 one in every five women in Hungary were in a physically abusive relationship. These numbers are set to look worse, as the new data from the UN predicts that domestic violence is set to leap by 20% during the global lockdown due to COVID-19.

Hungarian Parliament is shifting to a homophobic and xenophobic narrative to justify this refusal to ratify, rather than combating the very real crisis that the country has with domestic violence. As it becomes more apparent that lockdowns of some measure are going to continue for the foreseeable future, more protections are needed to protect women in abusive relationships and against violence. This will only become more difficult as people are confined to their homes, and victims are not offered any reprieve or chance to escape. Hungary has stepped back in the progress of history and sets a dangerous precedent for the country’s future.