Over 140 public organisations, institutions and citizens participated in the discussion on the bill for ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, organised by Speaker of Parliament Tsveta Karayancheva. The debate took place in the Aula of Sofia University “St Kliment Ohridski”.
At the opening of the event, the Speaker of Parliament said that the aim was to hear as many opinions and views as possible on the ratification of the Istanbul Convention. Tsveta Karayancheva also said that the transcript of the discussion would be published on the website of the Parliament, so that all citizens interested in the issue could read the opinions.
Minister of Justice Tsetska Tsacheva said that the Istanbul Convention was the first instrument to provide a comprehensive legal framework protecting women from all forms of violence, including domestic violence. Its key message is to prevent gender-based violence and physical aggression in the counties parties to the Convention, she added.
The Convention is based on the premise that violence against women cannot be eradicated without investing in equality between women and men, said Tsetska Tsacheva. In her words, only effective gender equality and change of attitude can prevent such violence. She emphasised that under the Convention, the term “gender” was not meant in any way to replace the terms “women” and “men”. The Convention encourages the effective implementation of policies on gender equality, added the Minister of Justice.
Tsetska Tsacheva said that according to the Convention there was no obligation for legal recognition of a third gender in the national legislation. Pursuant to the Bulgarian Constitution, marriage is a voluntary union between a man and a woman and therefore, there is no leeway for recognising same-sex marriages concluded in other countries, she emphasised.
If MPs think that the bill for ratifying the Convention with reservations is not enough, there is the possibility of adopting an interpretative declaration with it, said the Minister of Justice. According to Tsetska Tsacheva, it will be useful to have such an interpretative declaration in order to reassure those who have reservations to the Convention.
Ombudsman Maya Manolova also supported the idea of discussing and adopting an interpretative declaration with the Istanbul Convention, which would state that the convention would be implemented according to the provisions and principles of the Constitution, and clarify the Bulgarian understanding of gender-based social roles.
Maya Manolova supported the Convention and said that violence against women was a big problem for the Bulgarian society, because one in four women in Bulgaria was victim of domestic violence. The Ombudsman said that there was a positive element in the debate on the Convention, namely, that the issue of violence against women and domestic violence was being raised to a high level and the problem would not be whitewashed. This is the core of the Convention, and not fears of the third gender, said Maya Manolova.
Bishop of Stara Zagora Kiprian read the address of the Holy Synod of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which urged the National Assembly not to ratify the Istanbul Convention, as it introduced concepts in contradiction with the orthodox faith, national traditions and legal system.
British Ambassador Emma Hopkins urged everyone to focus on the real goal of the Istanbul Convention: to protect women from violence. She said that as ambassador she would be interested to hear the arguments in this debate. UNICEF representatives pointed out that prevention of violence against women was possible and essential and urged Bulgaria to ratify the Istanbul Convention. Organisations working with women victims of violence called upon the MPs to think about those 23 women who had lost their lives the previous year, and to ratify the Istanbul Convention.
The Confederation for Protecting Children’s Rights decisively opposed the document, especially the provision on educational programmes in schools and kindergartens about stereotyped roles of men and women. Parent organisations also spoke against the ratification of the Convention.
Over 30 representatives of organisations and citizens contributed to the discussion.