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Why ratification of the Istanbul Convention, a tool to prevent domestic violence, is being blocked?

Kyiv, March 10, 2017.

In November 2016, the Ukrainian Parliament considered but failed to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention). The MPs sent the respective draft law back for re-consideration. Second round of discussions and approval is to come; however, no exact date is known. UCMC explains the reasons behind the non-ratification of the international document, the convention’s meaning as well as each actor’s position.

Why Ukraine needs to ratify the Istanbul Convention

Ukraine signed the convention back on November 7, 2011. It is expected that its ratification will set respective legal mechanisms to counteract domestic and gender-based violence. Ratification was also one of the recommendations that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) suggested to Ukraine. Convention also needs to be ratified as an act of harmonization of the Ukrainian legislation with that of the EU’s, in the light of the prospects of Ukraine’s EU membership. It is also Ukraine’s direct commitment towards the Council of Europe.

Why the Convention was not ratified immediately

Ratification was postponed, in particular, because of the words “gender” and “sexual orientation” in the text of the document. According to some of the MPs they ruin “Ukrainian identity” and “basics of Christianity”.

Why the Church Council was included into the discussion and what their position is

At the parliamentary sitting the MPs decided to include representatives of the All-Ukrainian Church Council (inter-confession union that includes representatives of the Christian, namely Orthodox, Greek-Catholic and Catholic churches, as well as Judaic and Islamic religious communities).

In the opinion of the Church Council the Istanbul Convention and the notions of “gender”, “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” in particular may become a tool to promote new “gender roles” and same-sex relationships in Ukraine.

Position of the civil society

Last year 90 per cent of the 38 thousand calls to the hotline of La Strada Ukraine, the international women’s rights organization, were with regard to domestic violence. Law enforcement agencies fail to produce an adequate response to domestic violence. If the perpetrator does not leave traces, police’s hands are tied. If sexual violence occurs in marriage it is not considered to be a rape. The state also fails to provide assistance to the victims. The only way to get things moving is to ratify the Istanbul Convention set to counter domestic violence against women and children. It was stated by Kateryna Borozdina, representative of La Strada Ukraine during a press-briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. According to her, the Istanbul Convention “is meant to protect women and girls from all sorts of violence, regardless of the fact who committed the act of violence, whether their boyfriend, partner, husband or anyone else.”

Convention will surely not resolve all the problems; however, it foresees that the crisis centers and hotlines for victims will be established as well as information campaigns will be launched. “Currently the state does not create shelters for victims. Such initiatives exist at local level, but they are few. National legislation does not translate into results and does not help to prevent violence. Local initiatives are few. The only way out left is to make the state stick to its international commitments,” said journalist Olha Vesnianka.

Ratification is now at risk due to the resistance from the Church Council. They are concerned with the fact that domestic violence is gender-based. “It is an abnormal situation when the Church Council influences the work of MPs. Our state is a secular one. We are speaking about equal rights. The Church Council does not represent the vision of a certain part of the civil society. It’s just that their vision is shared by some of the MPs,” emphasized Olena Shevchenko, head of the INSIGHT NGO. “If we stay silent now, the opportunity for many women who cannot protect themselves will be lost,” said Oksana Pokalchuk, director of the Amnesty International Ukraine.

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