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Gendering democracy. Can attacks on gender bring more gender equal democracy in Hungary?

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Monday, November 6, 2023, 1:30 pm – 3:10 pm

The Inequalities and Democracy Workgroup of the CEU Democracy Institute cordially invites you to its public seminar. This seminar is co-organized with the De- and Re-Democratization Workgroup.

If you would like to attend, please register here.

Please keep in mind that external guests will not be able to enter the building without prior registration.


In times of democratic erosion protests intensify and become important spaces for democratic participation, arenas breeding new democracy norms, practices, and discourses. Struggles for democracy open windows of opportunity for reframing democracy and its institutions, for rewriting patterns of in(ex)clusion of marginalized groups. Hungary’s process of de-democratization too is accompanied by an upsurge of protests responding to democratic erosion. At the same time de-democratization also comes along with increasing attacks on gender and sexual equality. The question this paper asks is whether politicization of gender equality as part of the de-democratization process could paradoxically contribute to a better incorporation of gender equality claims in pro-democracy struggles. As gender equality becomes increasingly politicized, we analyze whether pro-democracy protests become more gender inclusive political spaces compared to the exclusionary legacy of pre-2010. Building on qualitative analysis of a selection of 19 prominent pro-democracy protests, this paper analyses overtime changes in descriptive, symbolic, and substantive representation of women and gender equality in these protest spaces. We analyze the responsiveness of pro-democracy protests to strengthening attacks on gender equality and assess whether changes in inclusiveness stick over time. We argue that in the current context pro-democracy struggles give increased space for gender equality. Exceptionally inclusive protests that take place during peak periods of attacks disrupt the legacy of gender exclusion and have the potential to become political junctures and shape subsequent protest patterns. Such protests however remain incidental and their longer-term impact marginal. Overall, while patterns of descriptive and symbolic representation improve, progress in substantive representation of gender equality remains marginal. Gender equality is not linked to democracy by mainstream speakers and remains largely absent from core protests documents. The substantive representation of gender equality as an aspect of democracy is linked exclusively to the occasional feminist activists on stage. We find that multisectoral coalition-based protests tend to be more gender inclusive, while protests connected to feminized sectors remain conspicuously silent on gender equality.

The seminar starts with a 25-minute paper presentation followed by comments from the discussant. Discussion open to the audience follows. To actively take part in the discussion, please read the draft paper beforehand. The paper is available upon request from the authors. 


Andrea Krizsán is Lead Researcher for the Inequalities and Democracy Working Group and Senior Research Fellow at the Democracy Institute and Professor at the Department of Public Policy and the Gender Studies Department. She is interested in understanding inequalities and social justice related policy change in countries of Central and Eastern Europe. She works on different equality policy fields including gender equality policy, policies on gender-based violence, policies addressing ethnic inequalities and intersectionality. Her current research analyzes the politics of policy backsliding in times of democratic erosion and forms of civil resistance to such reversal. Her most recent book with Conny Roggeband is on opposition to the Istanbul Convention and its consequences (Palgrave 2021).

Dorottya Fekete completed a degree in Gender Studies at the Central European University, prior to which she studied MSci International Relations and Global Issues at the University of Nottingham. Her research background is in the field of gendered labor market inequalities. In her MA thesis at CEU, she examined the reasons behind the feminization of public work. As a Research Assistant at the CEU Democracy Institute, she worked on two projects with Andrea Krizsan: Political Advice in Electoral Democracies and Gendering democratization. Currently, she is working on a project called Sustaining Civil Society in the Context of Multiple Crises as part of her PhD at Södertörn University. Her research looks at the mobilization of feminized occupation groups in Hungary and Sweden. 


Andras Bozoki is Professor at the CEU Department of Political Science and Research Affiliate at the CEU Democracy Institute. His main fields of research include democratization, de-democratization, political regimes, ideologies, Central European politics, and the role of intellectuals. In 1989, he participated at the national roundtable negotiations. He was President of the Hungarian Political Science Association (2003-05), then in 2005-06, he served as Minister of Culture of Hungary. He also served as the chairman of the Political Science Committee at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (2011-17). He was visiting professor at various universities around the world, including Columbia University, Nottingham University, Tübingen University and Bologna University, and he also taught at his native Eötvös Loránd University. He is the (co-)author of almost 20 books, and his articles were published in seven languages.


Zsuzsanna Szelényi is the Program Director of the CEU Democracy Institute Leadership Academy, a foreign policy specialist, and the author of ‘Tainted Democracy, Viktor Orbán and the Subversion of Hungary’. Before joining the CEU Democracy Institute, Szelényi worked as a Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy. She was also a Fellow of the IWM’s Europe’s Futures program, focusing on autocratization within the European Union. In 2012, Szelényi co-founded the opposition party ‘Together’ and served as a Member of Parliament in Hungary from 2014 to 2018. During her tenure, she addressed foreign policy, migration, and constitutional affairs. With extensive experience in promoting democracy, Szelényi worked at the Council of Europe from 1996 to 2010, focusing on democracy development in Europe, including conflict regions like the Western Balkans and the Caucasus. From 2010 to 2012, she collaborated with international organizations in North Africa and Central and Eastern Europe. She began her career as a member of the liberal Fidesz party in 1988 and served as a Member of Parliament from 1990 until her departure from politics in 1994 to pursue a professional career.  Szelényi holds a GMAP in International Politics and Economics from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, as well as MAs in Psychology from the University of Eotvos Lorand and International Relations from Corvinus University.