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21st Jun 2021

Poland and Hungary push back on 'gender equality' pre-summit

  • European Council president Charles Michel was criticised for not defending Ursula von der Leyen when she was snubbed a seat at meeting with the Turkish president (Photo: European Parliament)

The phrase "gender equality" has been removed from the declaration on social issues to be adopted by EU leaders at their social summit in Porto later on Friday (7 May) after Poland and Hungary opposed the expression.

The phrase was replaced by a reference to a previous document, the European Pillar of Social Rights, which includes "gender equality".

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The latest compromise is part of a trend that has been going in the EU, with mostly Hungary and Poland, sometimes joined by Slovakia, Bulgaria, pushing for "gender equality" to be deleted from different EU texts.

The nationalist-conservative governments in Budapest and Warsaw have attacked LGBTIQ-rights and women's rights at home, and their efforts at EU level have caused worry among several member states.

An earlier draft of the "Porto Declaration", seen by EUobserver, read that leaders will step up efforts to fight discrimination and "work actively to close gaps in employment, pay, and pensions between men and women, and to promote gender equality and fairness for every individual in our society".

The latest version of the declaration, to be adopted later on Friday by EU leaders, says that leaders will step up efforts to fight discrimination and "work actively to close gender gaps in employment, pay, and pensions, and to promote equality and fairness for every individual in our society".

This latest text also refers back to a previous document, the European Pillar of Social Rights, in which is gender equality is one of the key principles.

Arriving at the Porto summit, Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban said men and women should be treated equally, but the "only difficulty is to use the term gender".

"We, Christians, consider gender as an ideologically-motivated expression, whose meaning is not clarified at all, sometimes it means something between men and women, we would not like to mix up an ideological dispute with our strong commitment to equality between men and women," he said.

The efforts by Budapest and Warsaw to eradicate language on gender equality or LBGTI have not been always successful - but have been systematic in nature.

Warsaw and Budapest argue that the term gender is not used in the EU treaty.

"Poland always underlines how important legal clarity is, and that we should stick to treaty regulations. Treaty of the European Union very clearly refers not to gender equality but to equality between women and men," a Polish official told EUobserver.

Hungary's permanent representation to the EU did not respond to a request for comment.

But rights groups argue the effort to delete the term undermines years of progress.

"Attacking the term 'gender' is a strategy widely applied by anti-human rights actors to undermine advancements of women's rights, sexual and reproductive rights, and LGBTI rights," said Katrin Hugendubel, advocacy director of ILGA Europe, a group campaigning for LGBTI rights.

"For a few years now, we see the Polish and Hungarian government systematically challenge the term 'gender' in any council text, and therefore eroding women and LGBTI people's rights. When gender equality is erased from language, it is erased as a principle. We call on all EU member states to stand strong, and speak out against the attempted erasure of gender and the principle of gender equality," she added.

At Friday's Porto summit, leaders are expected to recommit to social values and an inclusive recovery after the Covid-19 pandemic that triggered an economic downturn not seen since the second world war.

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The efforts by the two nationalist-conservative governments, which have both attacked LGBTIQ-rights and women' rights at home, is causing angst among several member states, who see it as a possible roll-back on gender rights.

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A new report on gender equality in the EU makes it clear: improved gender equality in decision-making is the main driver of progress in the EU. And most progress so far is due to outliers Sweden, Denmark and France.

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