Bratislava, Slovakia – For the second time this year, Slovak lawmakers refused to ratify the so-called Istanbul Convention, a Council of Europe international treaty on women’s rights and gender equality.
Slovakia rejects ratification of Istanbul Convention
On Thursday, the Slovak Parliament – including lawmakers from the ruling Smer party, the Slovak National Party (SNS), Sme Rodina and Most-Hid – passed a resolution rejecting the Istanbul Convention, whose main focus is to combat violence and discrimination against women, stating: “It’s in conflict with the constitutional definition of marriage, which is worded as a union between a man and a woman”.
A 2014 constitutional amendment effectively bans same-sex marriage in Slovakia by defining it as a union between a man and a woman.
“One of the main shortcomings of the text is its definition of gender”, the resolution further stated, referring to the controversial article 3 of the convention, which defines gender as “social roles, behaviours, activities and characteristics that a particular society considers appropriate for women and men”.
Slovak MP’s also claimed that it “does not agree with the European Union becoming a party to the Council of Europe Convention”, a move supported by the new EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, “without previous unanimous agreement of all member states of the EU”.
“A regrettable step backwards”, according to Council of Europe
Marija Pejčinović Burić, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, a pan-European organization of 47 member states, called Slovakia’s decision “a regrettable step backwards”. “European governments should do more to end violence against women, not less”, she urged. “The Council of Europe and the European Union have made sustained efforts to dispel misconceptions and misunderstandings about the convention and I call on all responsible politicians at the national level to do the same”.
Although the treaty isn’t legally binding, its critics across Europe have portrayed the Istanbul Convention as a push to force member states to adopt a certain set of measures, including the introduction of same-sex marriage.
The vote of Slovak lawmakers came on the same day as a resolution passed by the European Parliament urging EU Member states to implement the treaty. There are currently seven European states that have signed but haven’t ratified the Istanbul Convention: Slovakia, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary and the United Kingdom.
Violence against women in the spotlight after gruesome Bratislava murder
A few days after electing its first female president in history, the Slovak Parliament already rejected the Istanbul Convention last March, on the grounds that “some parts of the convention could be incompatible with the Slovak Constitution, as they allow for the introduction of same sex marriages”, former Prime Minister and Smer chairman Robert Fico said at the time.
According to some reports, nearly one quarter of Slovak women (23%) said they already experienced some form of violence from an intimate partner. An opinion poll carried out three years ago also showed that as many as 40% of respondents consider that rape can be justified in some circumstances.
A few weeks ago, the brutal murder of a 34-year-old woman in Bratislava reignited the debate on insecurity, gender discrimination and the safety of women in Slovakia.