The Istanbul Convention is a treaty of the Council of Europe which took effect in 2014. At first glance, it seems to be a very good thing since it is about “preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence”.

But is this an important and overdue step or a hidden attack on the family?

The current debate over the Istanbul Convention reveals a deep division in Europe regarding the approach to sexuality, marriage and family.

The Council of Europe is not an institution of the European Union and therefore its’ treaties have no binding character. The Istanbul Convention would just be a self-commitment, but, of course, with a high symbolical and metapolitical effect on the states policies and laws. Moreover, if the European Union adopts the Convention, it can impose it on all its’ member states.

Imposing gender ideology

Critics claim that the Istanbul Convention would undermine the natural meaning of man and woman and thus the essential basis of marriage and family. The Convention does not acknowledge the objective biological notion of sex, but replaces it with the concept of gender theory. Thus gender is understood as the “the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men” (Art. 3, c). The Convention also refers to the term “gender identity” (Art. 4, 3), by which LGBT activists mean the possibility of subjectively assigning gender according to one’s feelings.

The German writer Birgit Kelle comments: “This contradicts not only scientific insights and the views of the majority of the world’s population, but also all other definitions of ‘gender’ in previous EU treaties and national constitutions. The Convention has thus created a pre-programmed collision between national and European legislation.”

Undermining marriage and family

Futhermore the Convention wants states “to promote changes in the social and cultural patterns of behaviour of women and men with a view to eradicating prejudices, customs, traditions and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority of women or on stereotyped roles for women and men” (Art. 12, 1).

This may sound like an important decision considering the many discriminations against women in various cultures nowadays. But these vague and ambiguous phrases might be abused for extensive anti-family policies. Therefore the lawyers of ADF International warn: “Based on this language, the historical binary view of mankind and of marriage, long held by all civilizations, may be stigmatized as a tradition based on stereotyped gender roles and thus something that should be opposed at all levels, including in law, policy, and education.”

Undermining parental rights

The Convention also aims to impose its’ ideas on children: It states that the idea of “non-stereotyped gender roles” should be taught “in formal curricula and at all levels of education” (Art. 14, 1) as well as “in informal educational facilities, as well as in sports, cultural and leisure facilities and the media” (Art. 14, 2).

This could cause conflicts with parents, says ADF: “In opposition to these well-established standards, mainstreaming gender as a social construct, combined with the Istanbul Convention’s stated goal of eradicating customs and traditions could infringe upon parents’ right to direct the upbringing of their children in accordance with their moral and religious convictions.”

Critical voices in Eastern Europe

No wonder then that in spring 2018 tens of thousands of people in Croatia took to the streets protesting against the Convention. Yet the Croatian parliament also ratified the Convention. So far 34 European states have ratified the Convention, while many states in Eastern Europe are still missing.

The parliaments of Hungary and Slovakia have already decided not to ratify the Convention because of its dangers for marriage and family. In Bulgaria the constitutional court even ruled that the Istanbul Convention would not conform to the Bulgarian constitution. In Latvia and Lithuania there are similar debates going on.

Petition of international pro-family organizations

Recently the Polish government joined the critics announcing that its constitutional court will reassess the Convention, too. Furthermore the Polish NGO Ordo Iuris organized an international petition to prevent the European Commission ratifying the Convention. So far the petition has been signed over 52.000 times. Over 20 European pro-family and pro-life organizations support the initiative.

The petition’s initiators state: “The EU commissioners must receive a clear signal that introducing extremely ideological solutions aimed at undermining family and marriage under the guise of combating violence is completely unacceptable!”

But Ordo Iuris does not just want to criticize the Convention, but has already drafted a constructive and positive alternative, which will be analyzed in the next part.