On Oct. 12, 2018, Hungary’s prime minister decided to officially start defunding and removing gender studies programs from all Hungarian universities in the 2019 academic year.
“Let us arm ourselves with the weapon of knowledge and let us shield ourselves with unity and togetherness,” said Malala Yousafzai, a well-known advocate for female empowerment and education, to the United Nations in 2013. Five years later, these words are still as relevant as ever. As bigotry and misunderstanding damage our world and hurt the people around us, the most prevalent solution is education. Yet, just this past month, academic education on identity and sexuality has been crippled in Hungary. The prime minister, Viktor Orban, declared that receiving degrees in gender studies would be banned for college students beginning next year, thus ceasing the continuation of education on an important subject in today’s political and social climate.
“The government’s standpoint is that people are born either male or female, and we do not consider it acceptable for us to talk about socially-constructed genders, rather than biological sexes,” stated a spokesperson of the prime minister. While it may be hard for some to believe that such an ignorant statement could be so brazenly made in today’s society, it becomes more understandable when looking at the actions and decrees carried out by Viktor Orban, the alt-right leader of Hungary. Seemingly seeking control over every aspect of Hungarian life, he has taken over more than 500 Hungarian media outlets and has shut down any publications that voice dissent against him.
Orban himself has made past statements seen by many as reflective of his own sense of ignorance and bigotry. “They are not honorable, but unprincipled,” he once declared, speaking of what he regarded as Hungary’s enemies. “…they are not national, but international; they do not believe in work, but speculate with money; they have no homeland, but feel that the whole world is theirs.” With words such as these, Orban has come to be seen as a threatening figure to peace and equality in Hungary. His choice to remove gender studies degrees, therefore, seems to come as no surprise. Syeda T., a freshman biology major, remarked, “It is the duty of leaders to encourage respect for all individuals. They are expected to speak on behalf of every one of their citizens, regardless of gender, race or religious affiliations. The Hungarian prime minister’s behavior is purely disgusting and disrespectful.”
This new law means that plenty of people will be forced to suffer the consequences of Orban’s decision. Students who were already working toward a gender studies degree will most likely still be able to receive them, but the degrees will have had their accreditation removed. Some even believe that the removal of the gender studies major will lead to people currently in that field being regarded in a negative social light. Additionally, professors and staff who work within gender studies departments will be losing their jobs. At a time in Hungary when alt-right government officials are abusing their power to perpetuate and encourage ignorance and hate, it seems that an education in gender studies is needed now more than ever. Aviva C., a freshman undecided major, added to this idea. “I think it’s important for people to learn about women and gender studies in order to expand their perspectives on topics that affect every person,” she stated.
This decree made by the Hungarian government gives us a worrisome idea of what the future could look like if ignorant people are continually allowed to lead our governments and have control when they shouldn’t. Dr. Fuqua, the director of the Women and Gender Studies Department at Queens College, added, “Given the recent decision by the Hungarian government to eliminate women and gender studies programs and degrees and the closer-to-home Kingsborough Community College (CUNY) actions to eliminate the thriving Women and Gender Studies program there, as well as the daily political assaults on women’s and gender rights in the wider U.S., QC’s Women and Gender Studies Program is especially fortunate to enjoy administrative support and encouragement not only for our students, but also for our faculty and staff. The mission of the WGS program here is all the more important in our current times if higher education is not to suffer the fate of Hungary and other authoritarian nations and regimes.”