Women attained limited suffrage in 1918 (voting for the first time in 1922); and full suffrage in 1945, but as in other communist states, civil rights of both men and women were symbolic, as the system was an authoritarian one.
Women’s Rights and the Legacy of Communism in Hungary
by Borbála Juhász, president of the Hungarian Women’s Lobby
It’s an interesting time to be a woman in Hungary. As we approach the 60th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian people’s uprising against the Soviet-installed communist state, there is hardly a woe—or perceived woe—to be found that the government hasn’t drawn women into somehow.
There’s the blame narrative: Hungarian women aren’t having enough children to reverse the declining birth rate; Roma women are having too many children, threatening Hungary’s ethnic bloodlines. And there’s the victim narrative: In the lead up to the recent referendum on refugees, migrants were presented as dangerous rapists and polygamists.
Under communism, Hungarian women were exploited for political and economic purposes as well. Although some Western scholars have described the socialist state’s approach to women as “state feminism,” this is a misinterpretation. Feminism was a “bourgeois” movement, and therefore had no legitimacy in a system that had the “dictatorship of the proletariat” as a model. In fact, communist leaders banned all feminist organizations in 1949, creating one large, communist party led organization—the Democratic Women’s Alliance—instead. Independent feminist voices were silenced.
Equality between women and men in the communist-era workplace was less a result of a progressive state ideology than a logical outcome of a productivist economic model: women were required by law to be employed, so they were employed. The stereotypical poster image of the woman tractor driver was mostly state propaganda, a forcibly imposed public representation of the “emancipated” woman working on a collective farm. It became a cliché of socialist imagery but wasn’t truly a tribute to women. And while women were promoted in the workplace and in some decision making bodies – notably never in the decisive one, the Politburo – they remained “domestic slaves” at home and violence against women was never discussed.