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Istanbul ratification still nowhere in sight


The Slovak Spectator, 19. 4. 2018

The international document preventing violence against women was one of the reasons why a former justice minister left the government.

Thousands of people protested against the international convention to prevent violence against women, but the government ratified it anyway. That is last week’s news from Croatia, where the protest in the city of Split on April 12 did not stop the parliament from giving the green light to the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention. Slovakia signed the convention under the government of Iveta Radičová in 2011 but the governments that followed, all led by Smer, have been reluctant to ratify the document, along with nine other EU countries.

The issue had been on the table recently, just before the murder of a journalist and his fiancée thrust Slovakia into a major political crisis that pushed aside all other issues, including the convention on preventing violence against women, to the margins of public discourse. Before then, Slovakia had had its own protests against the Istanbul Convention staged by conservatives who see the document as a symbol of “gender ideology” and liberal attitudes regarding women and family. Much like elsewhere in Europe, there has been a lot of distorted information about the document in Slovakia, including the falsehood that it promotes same-sex marriages. “As long as I am prime minister and the questions over the interpretation are not satisfied, I will never agree to ratifying this document,” then PM Robert Fico said about the convention back in February.

Fico has not been prime minister for over a month now but the Peter Pellegrini government is apparently going to keep the line on this matter. Moreover, Fico is still the head of the ruling Smer and the ruling coalition still consists of Smer, Most-Híd, and the SNS. The latter has been known as the main opponent of the Istanbul Convention, sustaining traditionalist attitudes. In the past, SNS leader Andrej Danko said he would not remain part of the government for one second if they were in conflict over the Istanbul Convention, Sme daily reported. In fact, the Istanbul Convention was one of the things Danko listed on April 18 that he needed to discuss with PM Peter Pellegrini.

Adriana Mesochoritisová, activist and member of the Government’s Council for Human Rights, National Minorities and Gender Equality, said that the better protection of women against violence requires the ratifying of the convention. Slovakia is a shining example of a country where there are many good laws that are not implemented and become toothless, she added.

Šarlota Pufflerová of the Citizen, Democracy and Responsibility (ODZ) non-governmental organisation, which advocates for human rights, says that the ratification of the Istanbul Convention would mean Slovakia would have another, very concrete obligation to fulfill with its already-existing commitments. She noted that governments have been reluctant to promote gender equality in Slovakia. “But the question is not whether Slovakia wants it or not,” she said. “We have already committed ourselves to do all this, because we have ratified the UN Convention that has precedence over our laws, and even our Constitution.”

“The core of the problem of gender-based violence on women is that gender stereotypes prevail in society,” Pufflerová believes. “The point is that this should start changing.” Another thing is that states must be ready to spend a sufficient amount of money to support the policies aimed at preventing violence against women. Pufflerová noted that most of the projects in this area are financed from foreign sources, mostly the EU and Norwegian Funds.

Pufflerová believes there is resistance against the convention because stereotypes still rooted in society are often fostered by churches, which want women to remain in a subordinate position, to obey men, and to do whatever the man tells her to. “This is at odds with the democratic principles dominant in our Constitution,” Pufflerová said. “Equality, not marriage, is dominant in our Constitution.”

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Michaela Terenzani, Radka Minarechová
© The Rock, 2016
The article was compiled by The Slovak Spectator staff, Slovakia’s only English-language bi-weekly, on April 19, 2018 at 11:22 in the section News.