Although the postcommunist period brought an abrupt end to state policies that raised women's political and economic welfare, it also cleared the way for women to participate freely in democratic institutions and the market economy. Perhaps predictably, therefore, the impact that the postcommunist transition has had on women's welfare has also been mixed. Discussing the findings of her book, Katalin Fabian evaluated the gender regime and the growth of women's movements in postcommunist Hungary. She identified the interconnection between women's organizations, welfare policies and the impact that globalization has had on local activism.
Fabian compared Hungary's communist and postcommunist gender regimes by evaluating key elements that impact upon gender equality. By measuring employment, income gaps, participation in high-level political and economic positions, reproductive rights, and the symbolic representation of women in media and culture, Fabian found that women suffer the most inequality in the sphere of politics and economy. Moreover, in the postcommunist period, women have lost the comparative advantage they enjoyed under communism compared to other European countries.
At the same time, the postcommunist period has seen the birth of a women's movement in Hungary. Fabian's qualitative analysis of women's organizations revealed that the focus of women's activism has changed over time. Since the early 1990s, women's groups have directed their attention, in turn, to reproductive rights; family allowance and maternity benefits; retirement age; and domestic violence. The women's movement in Hungary is a relatively small elite that has close links to international organizations, such as the EU, UN and the Council of Europe. Using the themes and norms that emerge from these global institutions, Hungarian women have attempted to address the unique circumstances in Hungary that contribute to women's inequality.
Mieke Meurs praised Fabian's ability to combine quantitative and qualitative analysis which enabled her to capture the complexity of gender issues as Hungary moved through a difficult political and economic transition. Meurs noted the book's wider relevance as an account of how Hungary managed the collapse of communism, and the subsequent collapse and renegotiation of social relations. Once the authoritarian regime was toppled, every aspect of morality and behavior was being rethought, among them gender issues. Thus, an investigation of gender equality offers a glimpse into how a society defines legal and social equality, what drives politics, and how its democratic institutions work.
By Nida Gelazis
Christian Ostermann, Director, European Studies