Geert Wilders ( second from left), Frauke Petry and Marine Le Pen at congress of the right-wing populist ENF group in the European Parliament in Koblenz, Germany, 21 January 2017. Thomas Frey/Press Association.
Anti-feminist populism is on the rise across large parts of Europe, although its face looks different in different places. Some populists claim to be defenders of women's and gay rights, while others are more explicitly anti-feminist with a top priority to crush "gender ideology" and to reinstate traditional gender roles throughout society.
As the European umbrella of women’s rights organizations, the European Women’s Lobby aims to uncover the anti-feminist workings of right-wing populist parties in order to clearly show how these parties act against the interests of women. We have focused on the largest right-wing populist parties in France (Front National, FN), the Netherlands (Partij voor de Vrijheid, PVV) and Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, AFD), because the recent or upcoming elections taking place in these countries will have major consequences for Europe.
The leaders of these three parties Marine Le Pen (FN), Geert Wilders (PVV) and Frauke Petry (AFD) are also spearheading a joint European anti-European agenda in the aftermath of Brexit. We have analyzed these parties' programs and other statements to draw a picture of their policies regarding gender equality and women's rights.
Interestingly, two of the parties are led by women: FN’s Marine Le Pen and the AFD’s Frauke Petry. Right-wing populist parties are traditionally supported by a large majority of men, but this might be changing. Marine Le Pen has managed to also attract women on a broad front, and in the recent Dutch elections, of the votes cast on PVV, 45 % were cast by women. Frauke Petry has not had the same success: according to a poll in January, 17% of male respondents would vote for AFD, while only 2% of women surveyed would do the same.
The parties' core issues
Alternative für Deutschland (AFD) is the most explicitly anti-feminist party that we looked at. Among their political focus points are the protection of the nuclear family and ending gender mainstreaming and to “terminate the promotion of gender research”. AFD is actively involved in protest movements against gender equality, marriage equality legislation and LGBT rights.
AFD wages war on gender mainstreaming, as it, according to them, undermines traditional gender roles and contributes to the sexualisation of society. AFD is also opposed to a government campaign to promote the use of condoms, and says that the campaign instead should have encouraged abstinence.
"The modern family structures in our country are too 'colorful' [...] gender mainstreaming is a fairy tale and a feminist bible" remarked Alexander Gauland, one of AFD’s founders in December 2013. "Marriage and family are the nucleus and germ cells of civil society and a cornerstone of social cohesion, and therefore deserve special protection from government." Female employment is a "misconceived view of feminism, which favours women with a career above mothers and housewives. The latter often experience less recognition and are financially disadvantaged."
AFD are homophobic. According to their party program they "reject the one-sided emphasis on homosexuality and trans-sexuality in classrooms, as well as the ideological influence of gender mainstreaming. The picture of the traditional family must not be destroyed. Our children should not be the plaything to the sexual orientation of a noisy minority at school."
The PVV is on paper the most "liberal" of the three parties: they present themselves as advocates for LGBT and women's rights, with Islamization as the primary threat. The party’s election program for the recent elections was a one-pager (including their version of the state budget) - a stark contrast compared to the more elaborate election programs of AFD and FN. Women's rights and gender equality were mentioned only by the PVV in their election program point about how public employees should not be allowed to wear a headscarf. Compared with the AFD, the Front National party platform focuses less on gender equality.
The three parties' views on Islam are very similar: all three depict Islam as the number one enemy of gender equality – ironic, especially considering the AFD’s great resistance to gender mainstreaming, and the PVV’s poor track record on defending women’s rights. The parties are all opposed to the right of Muslim women to wear headscarves in public places, and they stigmatize Muslims for not exercising gender equality. The AFD states: "Islam does not belong to Germany". It is "a danger to our state, our Society, and our values".
The FN manifesto consists of 144 points, but only one item entitled "Freedom" covers women’s rights explicitly: "To defend the rights of women: Fight against Islamism that wants to roll back women's fundamental freedoms; establish a national plan for equal pay between men and women and the fight against professional and social insecurity." This highlights the party's attitude to women's rights: they use feminist arguments to present an Islamophobic agenda. The manifesto mentions defending the rights of women, and then goes immediately into how FN wants to fight the real 'reason' behind the threat to women's rights: Islamism. The manifesto subtly mentions equal pay and social security, but compared to some of the other more detailed elements of the program, these points are very vague.
PVV appears obsessed with Islamisation. From their one-page election program, ⅓ of the page is dedicated to de-Islamifying the Netherlands. The party has also produced a report on violence against women in Islam. The report focuses on forced marriage, isolation of women, honor based violence and female genital mutilation – forms of violence which of course must all be addressed. The problem is that the party sees violence against women as merely an Islamist issue. Looking at the party's voting behavior in the Dutch parliament also shows that they do not actually lift a finger for women's rights. The party voted, for instance, against the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, an international convention to combat violence against women, and against a bill to combat female genital mutilation.
Natalism and safeguarding the nuclear family
According to AFD, working mothers, immigration, "free sex", "gender mainstreaming" and marriage equality legislation threaten the traditional family. AFD wants to "end discrimination against stay-at-home-mothers". They believe that the current government does not value stay-at-home-mothers and that women should work only if the family's financial situation so requires. (Nuclear) family cohesion is strengthened by the woman's desire to limit their individual freedom. To AFD, the nuclear heteronormative family is the only model that can reverse the country's declining birth rate, and having children is hence more of an act for the "fatherland" than the result of a personal decision. In fact the AFD is fostering a classist and racist demographic policy, complaining that high qualified academic women don't have children or too few and too late, and that women from the "socially underprivileged class" tend to have more children. As "mass immigration" holds a high risk of conflicts, the only mid- and long-term solution to the demographic problem "is to attain a higher birth rate by the native population by stimulating family policies."
AFD stands for a "welcoming culture for new and unborn children", which in reality is a deeply anti-liberal family policy. In its party program, they talk about how abortion is trivialized and played down in Germany today, which gives the impression that it would be easy to get an abortion in Germany, while in fact, Germany has one of the most complicated abortion laws in Europe.
In tune with the AFD focus on the nuclear family, FN wants to introduce tax incentives for large (nuclear) families. In its manifesto, FN promotes "natalism" - a policy that views childbirth and parenthood as desirable for society. According to FN, this policy however is exclusively for "French" families – which means that all families not defined as "French" are excluded from their generous family policies. Officially, FN thinks the current French law on abortion should remain, but the issue has caused recurring internal debate. Many within FN want to stop the reimbursement of abortion by the state. Inside FN there is a very traditional current led by Marion Maréchal Le Pen, Marine’s niece, very near the traditional Catholic church, which is against family planning and for the traditional nuclear family.
The PVV, in contrast to FN and AFD does not have an explicitly conservative family policy, but it would make it harder to access abortion.
Same, same, but different
The parties share an Islamophobic view of Islam as the primary threat to women's rights, and they also share an opposition to gender quotas – FN and AFD are explicitly opposed to all forms of gender quotas, and the PVV voted against a proposal on gender quotas on company boards in the Dutch Parliament.
We also see a fragmented picture: many representatives of the AFD stand close to conservative sectors of the Roman Catholic Church , which is extremely conservative on issues concerning LGBT rights, abortion and family policy. FN in 2017 is much milder than previously – and its opinions regarding, for example, LGBT rights are more fluid than the two other parties studied. Le Pen rarely mentions LGBT issues, and officially FN wants to revoke the French marriage equality legislation, but Le Pen's support among gay voters is on the rise. In the same way as (and possibly inspired by?) PVV, FN constructs its argument around a contradiction between Islam and LGBT rights. PVV members want to appear as freedom fighters - but their brand of freedom is certainly not for everyone!
These three parties are only a part of the right-wing populist anti-feminism that is spreading across Europe. At EWL, we and our members continue to keep track of these dark forces and we will continue to develop strategies to resist.
Alternative für Deutschland (AFD) is a right-wing populist party founded in 2013 with the original aim to oppose Germany's membership of the EU. When the number of new refugees in Germany increased in 2014 and 2015, AFD changed focus to instead make resistance to the flow of refugees their core issue. AFD is now represented in nine of Germany's 16 state legislatures, and aims to win their first national seats in the upcoming federal elections (24 September). The party program can be read in its entirety here: (in German), and here (in English).
Front National (FN) is a right-wing populist and nationalist political party in France. Its main policies include opposition to France's membership of the EU, economic protectionism, law and order, as well as resistance to immigration. The party was founded in 1972 and Jean-Marie Le Pen was the party's leader from its inception until his retirement in 2011. He has been convicted of racism or inciting racial hatred at least six times, and charged for anti-semitic remarks. His daughter, Marine Le Pen, was elected as his successor and she has pursued a policy to mitigate the party's image. In the second round of the parliamentary elections, Marine Le Pen gained 35 % of the votes. The electoral program can be read in its entirety here.
Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV) is a Dutch nationalist and right-wing populist party founded in 2006 by Geert Wilders. Wilders is still leading the party and has been convicted for inciting discrimination. The PVV has proposed to ban the Koran, and to close all mosques in the Netherlands. The party is eurosceptic. In parliamentary elections in 2017 the PVV won 13 % of the vote and became the second largest party in the House of Representatives. The one-page-long (!) electoral program can be read in its entirety here.
This article was written with crucial contributions from European Women’s Lobby’s Working Group on Women in Politics.