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Bulgaria: time to ratify the Istanbul Convention

[Brussels, 12 January 2018] On 2nd of January 2018, the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Bulgaria adopted a draft decision for a proposal to the National Assembly to ratify the Istanbul Convention. Immediately after the decision was adopted, numerous conspiracy reactions have come up from different sectors of the society, based on false myths and misinterpretations of the text of the Istanbul Convention. Alerted by the Bulgarian Platform, the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) has sent a letter to the Bulgarian Authorities to support Bulgaria’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention and to remind them about their due dilligence obligation to protect women’s human rights to live a life free from violence in Bulgaria. The EWL also calls on the Bulgarian authorities to remove the promotional video of the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU, being unacceptable the fact that it plays around the idea of consent in intimate partner relationships and uses deplorable gender stereotypes and myths around women trying to confuse men.

In our letter, the EWL highly welcomes the adoption by the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Bulgaria of a draft decision for a proposal to the National Assembly to ratify the Istanbul Convention. This Council of Europe Convention on the Preventing and Combating of Violence against Women and Domestic Violence is the most comprehensive treaty tackling violence against women and domestic violence in Europe. The Convention details a set of comprehensive and multidisciplinary measures in a proactive fashion to prevent violence against women, protect its victims and prosecute the perpetrators; being a key tool to improve legislation and policies at national level.

This draft proposal means that, after four years since the entering into force of the Convention, a step forward has finally been made in Bulgaria towards the ratification of this important international standard at national level.

The EWL Bulgarian Platform, representing a wide range of Bulgarian women’s organisations, informed us about the decision taken by the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Bulgarian and warned us about the severe reaction against it that have arisen afterwards on the basis of myths and misinterpretations of the text of the Istanbul Convention. In this regard, the EWL expresses its deep concern about the backlash and political stands against the ratification of the Convention taken by different political parties in Bulgaria, based on conspiracy theories about the text of the Convention.

The EWL urges the Bulgarian National Assembly to adopt the proposal for ratification as soon as possible in order to put an end to violence against women in Bulgaria that in recent years has become increasingly more severe.

It is essential that the Bulgarian legislation takes stocks of all its International Commitments to ensure women´s full enjoyment of their human rights to live a life free from violence. For thousands of women and children in Bulgaria, violence is an everyday matter. The latest data show that one million of nearly 4 million Bulgarian women are victims of harassment at home. For 54% of Bulgarians, sexual violence is a very serious problem. There are many evidences about the large extent of the problem in Bulgaria. When some political parties or media question the need of the Istanbul Convention, they are proposing to backtrack on women’s safety and integrity. It means that they deliberately want to build societies where women’s rights are not respected, where women and girls are considered inferior and their bodily integrity is not protected.

Last year, the European Commission marked 2017 as the year of focused action to combat violence against women. This term, when Bulgaria is leading the EU Presidency, it is the perfect time for the Bulgarian Republic to take a clear step ahead towards the ratification of the Istanbul Convention and the adequate implementation of its provisions to stop violence against women and girls. We also count on the efforts of the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU in the Council of the EU to make significant progress towards the ratification of the Istanbul Convention by the EU in the coming months.

In this regard, the European Women’s Lobby and the EWL Bulgarian Platform urge the Bulgarian Presidency of the EU to remove or modify the promotional video “You can’t help falling in love with her at first sight”.This video is unacceptable as it sends a very problematic and contradictory message that plays around the idea of consent in intimate partner relations when it claims that “Remember here a No might mean Yes” and plays with the wrong and deplorable gender stereotype around women trying to confuse men.

Women organisations all over the world and in Bulgaria that have been calling for years for laws on sexual violence based on consent and the understanding that “no always means no” in all circumstances. In this regard, Article 36 of the Istanbul Convention defines the offense of sexual violence, including rape, on the lack of consent as a constituent element of crime.

The EWL counts on the commitment of the Bulgarian authorities to ensure women’s rights.

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