Motherhood 'strengthens the nation': Vlaams Belang under fire for natalist policies

Motherhood 'strengthens the nation': Vlaams Belang under fire for natalist policies
Left: Vlaams Belang leader Tom Van Grieken. Credit: Belga / X

Far-right Flemish party Vlaams Belang has come under fire for its programme's emphasis on "pushing" women to have children at a young age. The party has hotly denied the framing but its approach to reproduction tallies with that of other far-right parties across Europe.

The party blames existing policy for preventing families from having as many children as they might like to and proposes doubling child benefits for any woman who has children under the age of 30, as well as extending both maternity and paternity leave. "A healthy community welcomes children," its manifesto states. "Choosing to have children is a positive act of self-confidence. When this is repeated, it strengthens the nation as well as the family."

However, many of the incentives proposed by the party only apply to parents who have had EU nationality eight years before the child's birth. One of the parents must have worked or studied for at least three years.

The policies are also intended to hold back mass migration: last year, prominent Vlaams Belang MP Filip Dewinter told Humo that "Europeans are aging and dying out while the African population is growing rapidly. Fortress Europe will not be enough."

Groen protest on Sunday. Credit: Instagram

Belgian political parties on the other side of the cordon sanitaire in place against Vlaams Belang since the late 1980s – have rallied together to denounce the party's reproductive agenda. "We are in the middle of a very conservative revival, with more and more voices calling for women to return to the home," Vooruit leader Freya Van den Bossche told De Standaard.

Groen held a demonstration on Sunday in which female members donned the distinctive Handmaid's Tale outfits to sound the alarm about Vlaams Belang's "authoritarian", "oppressive" view of women, with echoes to the dystopian society depicted by Margaret Atwood's cult classic.

"It is not that far-fetched," said Groen co-president Nadia Naji. "Wherever the extreme right comes to power, women's rights deteriorate."

Reproduction and the right

Vlaams Belang denounced these claims as "misleading" in a press release published on Monday. They argue that their reproductive policy relates to free choice.

"Due to practical and financial obstacles, the balance between work and family is completely lost," said Vlaams Belang vice-president Barbara Pas. "Flemish people who want children cannot realise this desire."

Vlaams Belang's pro-natalism is in line with that of far-right politicians across the continent. It often goes hand in hand with promoting traditional gender roles and a desire to curb migration. Hungary's Viktor Orbán has introduced a lifetime tax exemption for women who have four or more children, certain loans are forfeited for parents with three or more children, parents buying homes enjoy financial support and the government runs its own fertility clinics.

These policies are endorsed by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, Bulgarian President Rumen Radev, and now even Emmanuel Macron, who has led the French government further and further to the right in several domains.

Flemish Minister for Internal Administration Gwendolyn Rutten (Open VLD). Translation: Women are not incubators. Children are not for the nation. People make their own choices, they decide for themselves in complete freedom. No political party has anything to do with that. Boss of your own uterus, boss of your own life.

The 'Great Replacement' theory underpins the natalist policies of Vlaams Belang and its European counterparts. The discredited theory stipulates that elites are conspiring to replace indigenous populations – usually white – with foreign-born ones. This belief is evident in the rhetoric of Orbán (he has referred to Muslims in Europe as "invaders") and Dewinter, who has written a book titled 'Omvolking', a racist term coined by Nazis to denote population replacement.

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