Hungarian government takes steps to encourage women to have babies

January 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

Hungary Parliament Building, Budapest

A really interesting story on the Guardian website – originally from Le Monde –  on the declining birth rate in Hungary. The population has dived to 10 million, with a fertility rate of 1.27 births per woman forming one of the lowest in Europe.

A number of factors can go towards explaining this of course – in the 1990s abortion rights were heavily restricted so of course the birth right was higher, and under Communist rule, which ended in 1989, women were seen as an essential part of the workforce, both as workers but also as mothers. The pressure to reproduce was heavily emphasised by the state. Women’s rights groups have sprung up in the last 20 years, namely the Feminist Network which was founded by 50 women in 1990, but it could still be said that the post-Communist years have seen women exercise the freedom to challenge their roles from wives and mothers.

Hungarian women are being offered a massive three years maternity leave in a bid to encourage women to have babies – along with plans to improve part time jobs which currently only account for 3% of employment.

Look across to neighbouring Holland, and part time jobs account for 30%.  The problem here is more the challenges of careful town planning to cope as family numbers grow in a densely populated country. The fertility rate is 1.66 births per woman in Holland.

The maternity leave system is also different in the Netherlands – while woman only receive six months leave for pregnancy, she receives full payment of her salary in that time and excellent workplace-related rights. And, crucially, fathers in Holland get good paternity rights too.

Neighbouring Hungary could learn a lot from these lessons – as could the majority of countries in the EU. Make it easier for families to cope with the financial stress of childbirth, make it easier for women to return to work, and for men to take time off to also care for their children. Share the burden between men and women and the whole country suffers.

Otherwise women are condemned to a choice of either family or career.

Egypt bans sex education – and women are the losers

November 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

As criticism pours on the news that sex education has been banned from Egyptian schools, Egyptian women in particular, face a double impact of the fallout from this bad news.

Ordering schools to stop teaching male and female anatomy, STDs and reproductive biological facts will leave severe gaps in the younger generations knowledge.

Women will suffer as being less equipped with reliable, factual knowledge to protect themselves. Information about pregnancy will be less widely available, as will teaching the skills to prevent STDs or to know when something is wrong with your health. It pushes these subjects firmly back into the taboo world of rumour and shame.

Secondly, men will also be far more poorly educated in these matters and more likely to spread disease, make poor sexual choices and even commit sex crimes. And this inevitably has yet another negative impact on the country’s women. Egypt already has a big problem with sexual discrimination and harassment. One young woman told the BBC in a report on the country last year ; “We are almost not living. If you are always at risk of being sexually harassed everywhere, what kind of a life is this?”

Banning sex education is a massive leap backwards for men and women to form healthy, safe, equal relationships. The ludicrous new curriculum has even removed teaching on pollination and fertilisation and anatomical illustrations of the male and female reproductive systems, and will affect students aged between 12 and 17. In a country where a growing majority of Egypt’s population is scraping by on less than $100 a month, information about population growth is important.

It’s the most populous country in the Arab world – but it’s poor. There are few laws to protect the equal rights of women – women are barred as serving as judges, for example, even those who are fully qualified. Only three women serve in the 27-seat cabinet.

“Definitely there will be social and health consequences,” says Dr. Amal Abdel Hadi, an outspoken advocate of reproductive health rights. “There will be more misconceptions about sex, marital disharmony and sexual harassment… and the prevalence of STDs will increase.”

A public awareness study of HIV/AIDS conducted in 2008 revealed that less than 2% of women among the poorest fifth of Egyptians, and about 16% among the richest, knew the basic facts of the disease.

These figures are terrifying. And it fits worryingly well into the context of Arab countries where only five have included reproductive health in the public school curriculum. And that doesn’t even mean its being actively taught.

With a rich wealth of internet at their fingertips, young men and women will certainly find plenty of other sources ready to inflict information about sex – namely their peers, religious extremists, forums, pornography. Wouldn’t it be better, safer and more productive just to teach them some facts?

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