Croatian Women’s Rights Groups Band Together to Ratify Istanbul Convention

Ratification is a crucial step in creating the climate for a global treaty

In the months leading up to Croatia’s parliamentary vote on the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, Europe’s regional treaty to prevent violence against women, conservative groups launched a fierce opposition campaign. Croatia’s Bishops’ Conference, several NGOs and members of Restoring the Natural Order: an Agenda for Europe, an ultraconservative Christian network, attempted to distort the issues of violence prevention and gender identity by claiming that signing the Convention would introduce harmful gender ideology into the country and destroy Croatia’s family values.

Women’s rights advocates dressed as women from the dystopian series “The Handmaid’s Tale” to call for ratification of the Istanbul Convention. Photo: Jadran Boban

Women’s rights advocates dressed as women from the dystopian series The Handmaid’s Tale to call for ratification of the Istanbul Convention. Photo: Jadran Boban

One poster read: “I do not want to be taught at school that I am ‘it’ and not a girl” next to a picture of a girl. At press conferences, opponents repeatedly suggested that allowing for other gender identities other than “man” or “woman” would actually lead to violence because a man could say he felt like a woman, demand to use the women’s toilets and attack women. On several occasions, opponents said it was not proper for a wife to report her husband to the police.

Women’s human rights groups fought back. “We came together to explain why ratification was important,” says Sanja Sarnavka, an Everywoman Working Group member and prominent human rights activist in Croatia. The groups held protests, met with Members of Parliament (MPs), and worked with journalists to publish stories on the benefits of ratification at the forefront of the national dialogue. Sanja participated in multiple television and radio debates, and initiated a letter-writing campaign to the leaders of the Social-Democratic Party (one of Croatia’s two major political parties), signed by leaders of the most visible women’s human rights groups, explaining the importance of ratification.

Silhouettes of women killed by family members in front of parliament. Photo: Jadran Boban

Silhouettes of women killed by family members in front of parliament. Photo: Jadran Boban

On April 13, the day of the parliamentary vote, Sanja and other activists placed silhouettes of women who had been murdered by their partners or close relatives at the entrance to the parliament building to remind MPs what they were voting for or against. In the end, 110  MPs voted in favor, 30 against, with two abstentions, and the Council of Europe Convention, best known as the Istanbul Convention, was ratified.

“Ratification will hopefully encourage all women survivors to find a way out of the circle of violence,” says Sanja. “Crucially, it also means that the government acknowledges violence against women as a serious issue that needs to be addressed structurally. Ratification moves us one step forward toward creation and ratification of a global treaty to end violence against women and girls.”

 

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