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Istanbul Convention: How MPs overcame fear of word "gender" for EU

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The Page collage

Why the Ukrainian parliament has not ratified the Istanbul Convention for 11 years

The Verkhovna Rada, after 11 years of battles over the scary word "gender", passed the Istanbul Convention, albeit with its own reservations. How will it protect the rights of women and why was it not passed earlier?


Why it was ratified this particular time

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

The document entitled the "Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence" requires Ukraine to create a legal framework to combat violence against women.

Ratification should show Ukraine's readiness to implement European legislation.

The convention has become part of a new European package, without which Ukraine will not obtain the status of an EU candidate member. This status was promised to be given to us on June 24.

It is this list that should show countries that doubt Kyiv's willingness to follow the path of European reforms, that we are finally ready to move away from boorish populism and move a little further into the future.

Denmark and the Netherlands were previously mentioned among the doubting countries, and Sweden has doubts as well. Why has Ukraine not ratified the convention earlier?

Past European package and Jesus against gays

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The history of the Istanbul Convention ratification goes back to 2011 and is somewhat similar to the voting for an amendment to the Labor Code at the end of 2015.

The history of passing the so-called "gay amendment", which prohibited discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity, begins in the same 2011: at that time, even before former President Viktor Yanukovych had abandoned the European course, two-thirds of the Party of Regions, according to the late Mykhailo Chechetov, threatened to leave the faction because of the "f*ggot law".

Their position, including that of those who got into the Rada that had been conditionally renewed after the Maidan (some through the Opposition Bloc, some as part of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, some as the MPs from the districts), literally did not change in November 2015. At that time the parliament had to adopt the above mentioned amendment as part of the so-called "European package of laws" that enabled Ukraine to sign an Association Agreement with the EU.

The bacchanalia of "Orthodoxy of the brain" in November 2015 was supplemented by a priest running around parliament, yelling that Jesus personally banned gays, and that was the reason for certain questions to arise about his knowledge of biblical texts and how he got into the lobby at all.

However, under pressure from President Petro Poroshenko, who had to visit the Rada personally, the amendment was passed on the fifth attempt.

Scary word "gender"

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The Istanbul Convention is not directly related to LGBT+ rights, but contains two "tricky" points for people who like to promote themselves using the religious feelings of citizens. This refers to defining the word "gender" and mentioning the same "scary" words "gender identity" and "sexual orientation".

In fact, in 2017, it was they who became the reason for the speeches by a number of MPs from the rostrum. The former lawyer of the Regions Yurii Miroshnichenko, the wife of then Prosecutor General of Ukraine Yuriy Lutsenko, Irina Lutsenko, and even the chairman of the Radical Party Oleh Liashko were among them.

We would not like to be ironic, but it was they who insisted that the convention on the prevention of violence against women violates "traditional Ukrainian values."

What's the story? Firstly, the document defines gender as the socially assigned roles, behaviors, activities, and characteristics that a particular society considers appropriate for women and men. Which already baffles the champions of the so-called traditional values.

Secondly, the convention provides for protecting the rights of victims of violence without discrimination on any ground, such as sex, gender, race, skin color, language, religion, etc., including sexual orientation and gender identity. It was these two concepts that opened new circles of hell in the show "Verkhovna Rada Live" in 2017.

Parliament failed to adopt this document, however, by passing a law on the prevention of domestic violence. The latter appeared amid the "I’m not afraid to tell" flash mob launched by Anastasiia Melnychenko in 2016. It is often compared to the #metoo American action against sexual violence, but it appeared a year after the Ukrainian one.

However, the provision that a person has the right to protection from domestic violence, regardless of their and their partner gender and orientation was scratched off from the law. At that time the MPs said that this would lead to the legalization of same-sex marriages, although these things, again, were not directly connected. They were nor able to cross out the "scary words" from the convention.

2022 — Reservations about family

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Despite the significant progress made in the development of public opinion over the past 6 years (for example, about 60% of respondents surveyed by the KIIS support equality of rights for LGBT+ people in Ukraine), this time the Council of Churches was concerned as well.

At the same time, the MPs, at the suggestion of the President, did their best to reassure the religious figures by ratifying the convention with their own reservations. In particular, Ukraine promised to criminalize gender-based violence without changing the Constitution, the Family Code or other laws relating to the institutions of marriage, family and adoption.

In addition, Ukraine will not provide only at the state level compensation for victims of domestic violence until it brings national legislation in line with this requirement.

At the same time, compensation will be given to victims of serious bodily injury or health damage insofar as the damage is not compensated from other sources, for example, from the funds of the offender or insurance.

Gay marriages: Why Convention has nothing to do with it

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

Specific statements by MPs over the past 10 years that it is the Istanbul Convention that will oblige them to legalize gay marriages or "gender identity" are quite ridiculous. There are enough documents leading to that much more clearly.

Back in November 2015, the Cabinet of Ministers approved an action plan for implementing the National Human Rights Strategy for the period until 2020, and there, among other aspects of the fight against discrimination, same-sex partnerships and adoption permits for transgender people are mentioned.

Also, according to international documents, Ukraine has pledged to recognize marriages of citizens concluded abroad, and the ECHR already has several cases from same-sex partners who entered into such marriages in countries that allow them for foreigners.

Consequently, sooner or later Ukraine will either bring its legislation in line with European standards, or will pay large compensations to its own citizens. But the Convention on gender-based violence has nothing to do with it.

Fear of losing the electorate: Why it is bizarre

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Actually, the MPs’ main fear whenever the issue of LGBT+ appears somewhere, even if it flashes briefly in the document, as in the Istanbul Convention, is the possible loss of voters who will not accept the voting.

And indeed, if you read individual comments on social networks that look like the same playbooks, then it seems that Ukraine has set foot on the road to hell, on the edge of the abyss to Gehenna, gays are already dancing in pairs at same-sex weddings, and half of the population is quickly adjusting gender to avoid the army.

Such messages, as far from reality as possible, are the result of both Russian propaganda (by the way, in Russia, the flash mob "I’m not afraid to tell" resulted in a law decriminalizing domestic violence) and populist politics that were conducted by Ukrainian politicians themselves.

This is the same playbook that scares you that if the land market is legalized, all the land will be taken away from Ukrainians, and after the gambling market is legalized, all citizens instantly fall ill with gambling addiction. Experience has shown that this was a lie.

Moldova and Georgia: No collapse happened

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Countries such as Moldova and Georgia, also having a significant religious influence of the church on politics, have ratified the Istanbul Convention.

Tbilisi did this back in 2017, and there were no electoral consequences for passing the document. In Moldova, where there had been rallies against the convention from pro-Russian parties and there had been significant denials of the church due to the fact that the Convention allegedly denied the existence of a man and a woman, discussions about the convention ceased two weeks after its adoption.

Interestingly, the first state to ratify the convention with family law reservations was Croatia in 2013. The mechanisms of the European Council do not prohibit this. There were protests against the ratification in the country, but after passing the document, they ceased. This did not change electoral moods and preferences.

Violence against women: Topical subject for a long time

Photo: coe.int

Photo: coe.int

The ratification of the document has already been welcomed by Marija Pejčinović Burić, Council of Europe Secretary General, the website of the Council of Europe reports. She stressed that signing the document was especially important for Ukraine because women are especially vulnerable during the war.

Quote"This is a big step forward in protecting women and girls from all forms of violence, both in Ukraine and in other countries," Marija Pejčinović Burić stressed.

Even according to the official data of the State Social Service of Ukraine, there were more than 284,000 complaints about domestic violence in 2021. Most of them were from women — 233,210. Most often, appeals were recorded in the city of Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk and Lviv Oblasts.

This reflects not so much the geography of violence, but the geography of conscious appeals of citizens, because a significant part of the victims of domestic violence do not seek help and do not believe that the perpetrator will be punished.

Therefore, the convention ratification is an important step not only on the way to the EU, but also to overcome gender-based violence that has not ceased after adopting the law in 2017.

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