Interview with Annamária Tóth - Being European for the Young Generation of Women in Austria and Hungary

By Capucine Goyet | 26 July 2013

To quote this document: Capucine Goyet, “Interview with Annamária Tóth - Being European for the Young Generation of Women in Austria and Hungary”, Nouvelle Europe [en ligne], Friday 26 July 2013, http://www.nouvelle-europe.eu/node/1722, displayed on 22 February 2020

Business O Feminin has interviewed Annamária Tóth for a study dedicated to the young generation of women in the EU. Annamária Tóth is a project manager at the European Forum Alpbach, Austria's leading international conference committed to European integration, democracy and sustainability. She holds an MA in European Affairs from Sciences Po Paris and studied English and American Studies at the Universities of Vienna and Toronto as well as at Université Paris Sorbonne – Paris IV.

1- How would you define yourself?

Depending on the context, I tend to emphasise that I am a Hungarian living abroad, a convinced European, interested in feminism and gender issues as well as languages.

2- Do you feel European, if yes in which sense? And if not why?

Definitely. I grew up between Hungary and Austria, lived in France, have travelled all around Europe and have friends in all parts of the EU. How could I not feel European?

3- What do you associate the European Union with?

It's a blue flag with yellow stars, the Ode to Joy, the Erasmus programme. I know that most often people say that these things are secondary but I think they mean a lot: they show to people that the EU is part of their lives, no matter if they are emotionally attached to it or not. The most important one of these symbols is the Euro. To me, it symbolises the motto “United in Diversity”: the same on one side, it shows the great diversity of the EU on the other side.

4- Do you speak other foreign languages beside your mother tongue? Which one(s)? What other European languages would you like to learn and why?

I don't really like the expression “mother tongue” because what we understand as such or as “first language” does not really apply to me (and to many other people, I guess). Hungarian is my “mother tongue” but I have had most of my schooling in German and I'm also using it for work. I am equally attached to French as I use it with many of my friends. I studied English and use it at work and with friends all the time. I speak some Italian and Spanish (and most of the time, mix the two). I have always wanted to learn one of the Scandinavian languages, but also Portuguese and maybe Polish. Why? Because. I don't like arguments such as “I want to learn Spanish and not Romanian because more people speak Spanish.” I am rather interested in languages on a linguistic level and in their social and political roles.

5- Would you live in another Member State of the EU? Which one(s) and why?

I could move back to France any time (why? just try some wine and cheese with baguette and you'll know). After nine months in Canada (which I loved), I can say that as long as I am in continental Europe, any Member State is fine to me.

6- How do you see today’s European Union? In the future? 

Today's EU is shaken by the deepest crisis it has ever seen. It has lots of tensions on all levels: ideological, social, political, economic. Many people are frustrated, not only with the EU but with the political, financial and economic establishment. The EU I see is a Union that does not know where to go. While I think that there is no way out of the EU, I am not sure if we will come out strengthened of the crisis. I very much hope so, however, and would wish for an EU that is strongly integrated politically and an example of a culturally diverse, liberal and tolerant society.

7- Your main concerns?

My main concern is that what I wish for the EU won't come true. When we have the highest youth unemployment rates all around the EU, racism in our ever more diverse societies, populism and radical nationalism, euroscepticism or total ignorance of the EU altogether, it is hard to stay idealistic and have utopian views for the EU's future.

8- How would you describe the new female generation (20 to 35 years old) in your country?

It depends on which country is “my” country. I have Hungarian citizenship but almost a foreigner's view on what is happening there. The new female generation might be freer in many ways than my mother's generation, but I think that traditional gender stereotypes are still very present – even though we have to keep in mind that women and men were actually more equal in many ways under communism. The first thing many girls think about when finishing their studies is not how to start a promising career – they rather worry about whom to marry. And of course, these two concepts – career and family – are very often opposed rather than seen as compatible. I am not saying that things are not changing – but change seems to arrive rather slowly.

Austria might be a little different. Much more attention is paid to gender equality, even though things could be better – Austria's gender pay gap is, for example, one of the highest in Europe. However, as far as many of my friends (young, educated, internationally minded women) are concerned, I think that many of us are ambitious and striving for success in work. We very often discuss questions of how to reconcile work and our (future) families, and worry about how that will be possible. Our daughters will tell whether we will have been successful.

Yet another thing are public perceptions about these issues: feminists still seem to be lesbian monsters with hairy legs and armpits (i.e. not “real” women) – which of course raises many more gender stereotypes that we still have to surmount. Similarly, while gendering is for example widely applied in written German, there is still an enormous resistance to it. The same applies to gender quotas. All these small things show that there is still a lot to do and to change both on a political and on an ideological level.

9- How do you feel about gender balance issues? How does it work in your country? To what extent is the issue highlighted?

As with all examples of political discrimination, there are lots of debates and controversies around gender balance issues. Despite all criticism, however, I'm convinced that the only way to achieve gender balance is by proactive policies and quotas. Let me give you an example. In my work, I often have to look for high-level experts on a wide range of issues. Our organisation has committed itself to promoting the participation of women in these expert discussions. But when one woman after the other cancels their participation, you simply do not find any replacement anymore. I know lots of talented, intelligent, and inspiring women but they seem to disappear in the front lines of politics and the economy. How can there be just as many (or even more) women as men at university and how can the women just disappear afterwards? I think that the glass ceiling is still very strong and it will not break unless we decide to break it.

As for how these things work in my country(ies), the issue is, as I've said, not uncontroversial. In Austria, all companies owned partly or entirely by the state have set the goal of including 25% women up to this year and 35% up to 2018; universities want to have 40% female professors; for public service, women are preferred when qualified equally until the line of 45% is reached. Whether or not these goals are met in practice, I think the commitment is already positive.

Hungary, as Austria, has set similar goals in accordance with EU guidelines (this might be another issue, but we often forget to mention how much of the things done in this area is connected to EU influence). However, I am personally more hesitant in believing that the numbers will be met by 2021 (the Hungarian strategy for gender equality reaches from 2010 to 2021). There are several reasons for my hesitation. First, as already mentioned, conservative gender stereotypes are still quite strong in Hungary. Second, the current government only emphasises and strengthens these stereotypes. Third, the lack of childcare facilities coupled with long maternity leave possibilities also discourage women from taking the lead.

10- Is there a European woman you admire the most and why?

Austrian Empress Maria Theresia was a woman whom everyone should admire. She not only reigned over a huge empire, but also had sixteen children. All that at a time when there weren't many women in leadership roles. There are two Commissioners today whom I admire very much. Bulgarian EU Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva is not only committed to the European cause, but also entirely dedicated to her porftolio of humanitarian aid and crisis response. She is an inspiring speaker and a strong woman. I totally support Vivianne Reding's initiatives to women on the board and her campaigns against other gender inequality issues, such as female genital mutilation.

Further reading

On Business O Feminin

On Nouvelle Europe

Sources photos: © Businessofeminin et © Peter Mayr http://www.petermayr.com/

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