Bulgaria and its leading party GERB have decided not to ratify the Istanbul Convention, a treaty that works to eliminate and protect women from gender-based crimes. The Istanbul Convention, which was entered into force on August 1, 2014, has been ratified into law by seventeen other European countries including Sweden, Albania, and Monaco.
The Council of Europe Convention defines itself on the basis of preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. The group monitors countries so as to hold them accountable for protecting women and preventing crime based off gender. The Istanbul Convention holds the stance that a country must be “understanding that violence against women is a form of gender-based violence that is committed against women because they are women.”
This approach directly contradicts a common practice of gender ideology or “attitudes regarding the appropriate roles, rights, and responsibilities of men and women in society.” Traditionally, these roles put women into practices of the home and child-rearing, while men are expected to work and be leaders of the family. Traditional gender ideology could play a part in Bulgaria’s rejection of the Convention as they are a socially conservative country.
Slovakia followed in Bulgaria’s footsteps and has also chosen not to ratify the decision. They instead highlighted their issues with its constitutional definition of marriage, which includes, or hints towards, supporting gay marriage.
“We can’t pass something at the international level that would be in violation of the Slovak Constitution,” he declared.
Both Bulgaria and Slovakia are highly religious countries. A majority of Bulgarians are Christian Orthodox, while 62 percent of the Slovaks identify as Catholic. Limitations imposed by religion play into the decision, especially in Bulgaria where the Orthodox Church is highly influential and opposed the Convention, which they view as an affront to traditional family values.
The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC), a human rights group, have publicly denounced Bulgaria’s decision not to ratify. Dilyana Angelova, a coordinator with the BHC stated, “the Convention guarantees the highest standards for the prevention of violence against women and its rejection is a serious regression in the field of women’s rights.”
The Convention is the first of its kind in the world and many feel it’s increasingly necessary to ratify due to increasing numbers of migrant women coming into Europe. The Convention focuses heavily on domestic violence, which disproportionately affects women, and clearly states that crimes are often committed against women due solely to their gender.
While Bulgaria has recently been trying to portray itself as a socially liberal country, the BHC has accused the government of restricting the freedom of the press, something that officials have denied accusations of, stating, “Bulgaria is a democracy that values the freedom of the press.”
Slovakia, on the other hand, has openly shown social regression. In 2014, its government defined marriage in its constitution as a union between a man and a woman.
However, despite Slovakia refusing to ratify the Convention, Prime Minister Robert Fico stated, “As 98-99 percent of the convention’s provisions are useful, I also accept a commitment to compare these provisions with Slovak law, and if we feel that Slovak legal practice is less suitable than the international one, we’ll instantly pass all the necessary and relevant legislative changes to ensure that the protection of women, as far as violence, abuse and terrorising goes, will be principally in harmony with the European level.”
While these two ratification failures hit hard for women pushing for protection, hopefully the Convention will bring light to those who have dealt with gender-based crimes and can continue to be a positive reinforcement in reducing that number in the future.
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