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.


Should girls be forced to wear a veil as school uniform?

October 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

Burkhas were back in the British press this week. Outraged pages in the more conservative broadsheets report on three British schools where girls wearing the veil whilst walking to school is compulsory. The niqab will be worn in these institutions travelling to and from school, for girls aged between 11 and 18.

Moderate Islamists have warned that this is likely to damage relations between Muslim and non-Muslim communities, and the chairman of the Muslim Education Trust of Oxford said it was setting a “dangerous precedent” and meant that the children were being brainwashed at a young and impressionable age.

The site of a woman clad from heard to toe in black is a disturbing site for those not familiar with it, and for younger teenagers to have to wear such a garb can hardly be comfortable or convenient. On the other hand, if it is their choice, and is genuinely not enforced, then the polarisation of women who follow this practice is equally abhorrent, and talk of banning the burka in countries such as the Netherlands  disgusts me.

It is difficult to measure to what extent the decision is made independently – in this case it is of course an enforced rule as it equates to school uniform. Most students resent uniform in some way or another, generally because it restricts their ability to express themselves and explore their individuality during their teenage years.

This uniform does the same but on a religious premise, seeking to make the female students hide their emerging sense of self under a gown which isolates and segregates them from non-Muslims of their own age. The lack of social interaction and the sharing of ideas and experiences is what makes this practice particularly sad.

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