Critical thinking is threatened by attacks on gender studies

2020-08-01 | Christin Sandberg padlock


In Romania, Hungary and Brazil, the governments have banned gender studies. In countries such as Poland and Italy, the same academic discipline has been severely attacked. A wave of harsh propaganda is sweeping through the world, in which this field of academic research is being painted as based on ideologies and theories that are directly harmful to children.

Purna Sen from UN Women, one of many speakers at a webinar titled ”Global Attacks On Gender Studies and the Dismantling of Critical Knowledge”, organized by the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT), whose members are professional communicators or researchers in media and communications in 54 countries, told:

”The attacks on gender studies are part of a push back on academic freedom and critical thinking in general worldwide.”

She added:

”At the same time, we can see a shrinking space for civil society, and these constant attacks on both academia and civil society organizations is part of a worrying development that we at the UN Women must follow closely.”

Carolyn Byerly from Howard University in Washington DC reminds us about the fact that feminist perspectives and gender studies have always been the target of hatred and attacks throughout history, but that there has been an escalation in several countries in recent years.

”We’ve seen that the attacks have stepped up during the past two, three years, and the central focus is the political agenda.”

False promises

Anikó Gregor, sociologist and assistant professor at Faculty of Social Sciences, ELTE University in Budapest, Hungary, warns against demonizing older white political men in Eastern Europe as the culprits for all evil and told:

”Gender studies are seen as part of a package of ’western values’, which also includes the belief in free market ideology, which many in Hungary have begun to doubt or simply lost confidence in.”

She underlined: ”What is actually happening in Hungary now must be seen in a broader political and economic context including the democratic development of the last 40 years. The adaptation to "western values" has meant a ’western development’, that is a democratic development, based on free-market policy, which has proved to be a reconstruction of the economy based on false promises of prosperity for all.”

”Instead, we have seen a development in which people work for starvation wages under poor working conditions”, Gregor told.

”The Master programs in gender studies have been banned, but you can continue to discuss and research based on gender or on gender equality in other disciplines. However, we still cannot discuss social classes in Hungary”, she added.

Andrea Pető, professor of gender studies at the Central European University in Hungary who has closed down her workplace and moved to Austria where she will continue teaching, told that something positive that has come out of this is that the field of gender studies never have received as much attention as now

”I went from haven’t ever been noticed in my job to having journalists from all kinds of media outlets lining up outside my office waiting to interview me about my workplace and our research.”, she told and added:

”Actually, that led to more applicants than ever.”

However, Pető is disappointed that the institutional infrastructure that was supposed to support the gender research and also the academic intellectual and critical discourse was not strong enough to be able to stop the banning of gender education.

”What happened in Hungary showed that the EU and the UN organizations failed, that they weren’t able to do anything to stop what happened”, she says.

Chance to act

One of the explanations, according to Pető, is the lack of knowledge and failure to understand global transversal organizations such as the World Congress of Families and other similar organizations, whose strategies and content are directed towards a policy transfer.

”It is about understanding what they do, how they work and how they can be stopped.” She told.

”But now we have a unique opportunity to act with newfound power, thanks to the attention and the newfound interest.”

Even in Romania, according to Loredana Ivan of the National University of Political Studies and Public Administration in Bucharest, it is important that feminists and gender researchers from the academy "step down from their ivory tower and enter the mainstream public discourse."

”Those who have done so have shown that their opinions and arguments are neither extreme nor a threat, which the hate propaganda makes it appear as, and it has increased both interest in the issues and the support”, Ivan told.

In Romania, the Senate has voted in favor of an amendment to the Education Act, which bans gender studies at all educational institutions in the country. Loredana Ivan describes how the support within the academy has been very weak.

”Many prominent academics in Romania have publicly expressed their support for the ban”, she said, adding that she is observing a pattern of strong traditionalism with elements of racism and sexism emerging among the intellectual elite in her home country.


Skriv ut


Du måste vara inloggad för att kunna lämna en kommentar.