Bulgarian EU Presidency begins with criticisms of Istanbul Convention

One of the first decisions of the Bulgarian Council of Ministers at the beginning of the EU Presidency was the adoption of a draft proposal to the National Assembly for ratification of Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention).

Scene from peaceful demonstration to support the ratification of the Istanbul Convention

One of the first decisions of the Bulgarian Council of Ministers at the beginning of the EU Presidency was the adoption of a draft proposal to the National Assembly for ratification of Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention).

The decision was difficult because eight ministers voted against, including the Minister of Education. Some politicians, media, citizens and civic organizations have campaigned against acceding to the Convention, claiming that with the document “Bulgaria would legalize the third gender”, that the state will be obliged to recognize “homosexual marriages” and that the children will have to be educated about “transgender” at school.

In connection with these debates and the campaign against the ratification of the Convention, the National Network for Children, the Alliance for Protection against Domestic Violence, P.U.L.S. Foundation, Animus Association and many other organizations, have come out with positions that refute the misconceptions about the purpose, meaning and the content of the Convention and explain the importance of its signing. These misconceptions are based on ignorance, misunderstanding, misinterpretation or deliberate manipulation of the public opinion.

Here are some questions and answers on the main topics of the debate:

What is the main purpose of the Convention?

  • The document aims, first of all, to “protect women from all forms of violence and to prevent, pursue and abolish violence against women and domestic violence.”
  • Among the other stated objectives of the Convention are “to contribute to the elimination of all forms of discrimination”.
  • The Convention requires for each State to set up a monitoring mechanism and to provide financial and human resources for its implementation.
  • The term “third gender” in the Convention is not mentioned, and the word “third” is mentioned only twice in the document as “third parties”. The Convention aims to break the gender stereotype in terms of social functions rather than biological sex. The Istanbul Convention does not address the issue of gender change or sexual self-determination.
  • The Convention will not oblige Bulgaria to accept gay marriages, as the nationalist circles suggest, and the word “marriage” is used only in the context of “forced” marriages.
  • Children and students will not study “homosexuality and transgenderism”, as alleged by the Convention’s opponents. It states that “The Parties shall, where appropriate, take the necessary steps to incorporate capacities on issues such as gender equality, non-stereotyped roles, mutual respect, non-violent conflict resolution interpersonal relationships, gender-based violence against women, and the right to privacy in formal curricula and at all levels of education. ”
  • The fierce debate in the public space has contradicted the extreme right-wing views of political parties, groups and organizations. Protests in support of the Convention, as well as counter-protests for its rejection, are foreseen. Bulgaria can thus fall among countries that have neither signed nor ratified the Convention, such as Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

What is the real benefit of signing the Convention for Bulgaria?

  • Introducing official state statistics, which is not currently available in Bulgaria, for cases of domestic violence and gender-based violence;
  • Criminalization of “persecution”, rape in marriage, changes in the limitation period of these crimes, which is not yet the case in Bulgaria;
  • Ensure an effective investigation into cases of domestic violence and gender-based violence;
  • Introduction of specialized free services for the protection of women and children victims of violence that are not fully developed in the country and has whole regions where there are no crisis centers for women and children who have experienced violence;
  • Introduction of an obligation for the abuser to visit specialized programs, including social and psychological counseling, and establishment of such programs in Bulgaria.

The National Network for Children, together with a group of experts and organizations in the field of domestic violence and child protection, declare a firm support for the ratification of the Convention and will join the peaceful demonstration supporting the ratification of the Istanbul Convention on 11 January at the National Assembly square in Sofia.