Hungarian MP Bernadett Szél (centre) holds a siren-horn next to Agnes Kohalmi (in protest against a ‘slave law’ that loosens labour rules. Photograph: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images
When the speakers took the stage to address the crowds of protesters in front of Budapest’s imposing parliament building on Sunday, they had two things in common. They were all staunch opponents of Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s far-right prime minister. And they were all women.
In a country where Orbán’s populist politics have a distinctly macho flavour, and debates about women often come in the context of child-bearing and family life, the political opposition is being voiced in a united and distinctly female front.
“We wanted to send a message that female parliamentarians, and women in Hungary, should be heard,” said Ágnes Vadai, an MP from the Democratic Coalition, who said it was a conscious decision from opposition parties to send female MPs to speak to the crowd.
Hungary’s protests were sparked by a so-called “slave law”, passed by the Hungarian parliament last week, which allows employers to demand more overtime from their workers and delay payments for up to three years. A showdown in parliament, in which female MPs blocked the speaker podium and blew whistles in protest at the law, was followed by a series of street demonstrations.
Several thousands protests marched to Hungarian state television headquarters following the women leaders’ speeches on Sunday. A group of MPs camped out inside, unsuccessfully attempting to get a list of demands read on air. Several parliamentarians were roughed up by security guards and tossed back on to the street during the vigil. “I had a feeling they wouldn’t touch a woman. They did,” said Bernadett Szél, an independent MP who was ejected from the building