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The Haider House Rules

First Austria’s new, ultraright-wing government took aim at immigrants; then it moved on to women. Barely a day after officials of the new coalition government took office last February, they slashed the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and sent the country’s women’s groups scrambling.

The ministry, which funded approximately 180 organizations and served as a clearinghouse for women’s concerns, was abolished along with other progressive ministries, such as those for labor and the environment. The budget and responsibilities of the women’s ministry were incorporated into the Ministry for Social Affairs and Generations.

Since the end of World War II, two parties have dominated Austrian politics: the conservative People’s party and the progressive Social Democrats. For decades, the latter has run the country and paved the way for the establishment of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in 1990.
“The new government says it will make policy for women, so there’s no need for their own ministry,” says activist Eva Rossman. Since Joerg Haider, the former leader of the Freedom party (a coalition member), has called feminist empowerment a mistake, it’s doubtful women’s issues will be a priority.

“Basically,” says Verena Kaselitz, an advocate with the Austrian Women’s Shelter Network, “this means ‘back to the stove’ for women.” Rossman adds: “The new government does not want to give money to women’s groups since many have been protesting and criticizing the new coalition.”

Meanwhile, at press time, demonstrations against the new government were rocking Austria almost daily. Although officials appealed to women to wait and see how the closure of the ministry pans out, “there is no sign whatsoever that women’s protests against the new government will die down,” says Kaselitz.

Action Alert: To support Austrian women’s groups and call for a reinstatement of the ministry, send a letter to President Thomas Klestil > Hofburg, A-1010, Vienna, Austria > e-mail: thomas.klestil@hofburg.at; or write to Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel > Bundeskanzleramt, Ballhausplatz, A-1010, Vienna, Austria > e-mail: wolfgang.schuessel@bka.gv.at.

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