How should we further live with the Istanbul Convention?

Ukraine may be jeopardized with the destruction of traditional values. Photo: UOJ

On June 21, 2022, the President of Ukraine signed a law, which had been opposed by all religious organizations in Ukraine and a significant part of society. Why?

On June 20, 2022, the Verkhovna Rada voted for the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, the next day the President signed the law on the ratification of the Convention: “Its main content is simple, but extremely important. It is an obligation to protect women from violence and all forms of discrimination. We share European values.” But Ukrainian society, notably Christians, does not share the head of state's optimism. What's next?

Why Ukraine ratified the Istanbul Convention

Ukraine signed the Istanbul Convention on November 7, 2011 (by the way, under President Viktor Yanukovych), and since then, for almost 11 years, there have been public deliberations about the advisability of its ratification. Attempts at ratification have intensified in tandem with efforts to move forward along the path of European integration. When European integration slowed down, passions over the Convention subsided. A significant part of the Ukrainian civil society quite successfully resisted the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, rightly pointing out that it has a "false bottom" and that behind the desire to protect women from domestic violence lurks the desire to impose a gender ideology on the Ukrainian people.

The essence of this ideology is as follows: it does not matter what gender a person was born with, what matters is how he or she identifies himself/herself. Both society and the state are obliged to accept this self-identification. But the Holy Scripture states something completely different: “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this” (Deuteronomy 22:5). In fact, it's not about clothes at all, it's about gender. In biblical times, women's and men's clothing did not fundamentally differ; just look at the icons in full growth.

True though, protesting against the Istanbul Convention, religious organizations in Ukraine mainly referred to the psychological trauma that can be inflicted on a child's personality by the imposition of gender. “Ignoring the fact of the existence of biological sexes that characterize a woman or a man, and the associated obligation to educate children in non-stereotyped gender roles (Article 14 of the Convention) threatens to distort the younger generation of their gender identity, popularize same-sex sexual relations and spread cases of gender dysphoria among children and young people,” says the statement of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches, published on the eve of voting for the Convention.

However, the authorities disregarded the position of Ukrainian religious organizations and hastily ratified the Istanbul Convention. The reason for such a rush is quite obvious – to demonstrate Ukraine's commitment to European values on the eve of the EU summit on June 23-24, at which our country could (and actually was) be granted the EU member candidate status. Commenting on the Convention, the President speaks only of the protection of women. However, the content of the Convention is far from being so simple. Let's see what is hidden in the text of the document.

The main destructive provisions of the Convention

1. Popularization of gender ideology at all levels of education, culture and sports.

Art. 14 of the Istanbul Convention states: “Parties shall take, where appropriate, the necessary steps to include teaching material on issues such as equality between women and men, non‐stereotyped gender roles, mutual respect, non‐violent conflict resolution in interpersonal relationships, gender‐based violence against women and the right to personal integrity, adapted to the evolving capacity of learners, in formal curricula and at all levels of education.”

This means that starting from the preschool level of education, Ukrainian children can (and certainly will) be fed with the ”teaching material” that popularizes gender ideology. Thus, they will be pushed to doubt their own gender identity with the prospect of a sex change (which is happening now in the West with might and main).

2. Destruction of traditional ideas about social roles.

Art. 12 of the Convention: “Parties shall take the necessary measures 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.”

Thus, the states that have adopted the Istanbul Convention undertake to eradicate the traditional religious vision of the role of women and men. For example, as in the words of the Apostle Paul that “the head of the woman is man” and that “neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (1 Cor 11:3, 9).

3. Ample room for abuse

The Istanbul Convention contains provisions being so vaguely worded that they create a lot of opportunities for abuse, when the right to protection from domestic violence turns into blackmail at best or into punishment of the innocent at worst.

For example, Art. 27 of the Convention states: “Parties shall take the necessary measures to encourage any person witness to the commission of acts of violence covered by the scope of this Convention or who has reasonable grounds to believe that such an act may be committed, or that further acts of violence are to be expected, to report this to the competent organisations or authorities.”

That is, the Convention actually calls for law enforcement or other competent authorities to intervene in family relations on the basis that “it seemed something to someone”. It can be anyone: neighbors, relatives, acquaintances, etc. Moreover, the Convention expressly calls for encouraging these “any persons” to report this to the competent authoorities. This is not only an encouragement of denunciation, but also an opportunity to blackmail a person living nearby with the threat of punishment.

These are not the only provisions of the Istanbul Convention that are a ticking time bomb, but they show quite well that this document is far from being as simple as it seems, and that very serious threats to Ukrainian society lie behind the veneer of protection from domestic violence.

What are we to do now?

The Istanbul Convention has been ratified and signed by the President of Ukraine, after a while it will come into force. However, both the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Ukrainian society (more precisely, those who do not support the ideology of the Istanbul Convention) can take steps to minimize or nullify its consequences.

First, in order not to invent the bicycle, we can adopt the experience of our Orthodox brothers from countries where the Istanbul Convention has been in force for quite a long time. For example, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Greece, Cyprus and others. The Orthodox there have certainly encountered the effects of the Convention, and there have certainly been precedents for the clash of gender ideology with traditional values in these countries. We must get familiar with this experience and use it here.

Secondly, Ukrainian society can resist the inculcation of gender ideology and the destruction of traditional values by all legal means. It is necessary to explain to Ukrainians through the media and social networks those provisions of the Convention that threaten the traditional system of values of our people and run counter to the teachings of the Orthodox faith. If people understand that the Convention has many pitfalls, that it threatens traditional ideas about morality, then it will be much more difficult for state bodies, and perhaps even impossible, to implement those provisions that cause a backlash in our society.

It is also necessary to work out a scheme of legal protection in specific cases that may arise in the course of the application of the Convention. For example, if teachers or parents are persecuted for refusing school classes on gender ideology. Here there is a field of activity for the Union of Orthodox Lawyers and other structures of civil society.

Thirdly, it is necessary to secure the adoption by the Verkhovna Rada of a law that would protect the traditional values of the Ukrainian people and create mechanisms for such protection, as well as oblige the state to popularize these values at all levels of the education system. The “Miriane” public union already has experience in developing a draft law on the abolition of "anti-church laws" and submitting it to the Verkhovna Rada. It seems that there are sufficient professional lawyers among the Orthodox (and not only) community of Ukraine who could correctly compose the text of such a bill. Its main purpose is to serve as an alternative to the Istanbul Convention in matters of protection and promotion of traditional morality and family values.

Yes, this may create situations where the provisions of various laws will conflict with each other, but in this case, the law on traditional values will take precedence, since their protection is spelt out in our Constitution. For example, already in the preamble it is said that the Verkhovna Rada adopts the Constitution “realizing the responsibility before God”, while Article 11 says: “The state contributes to the consolidation and development of the Ukrainian nation, its historical consciousness, traditions and culture…”

Conclusion

Despite the fact that both the Church and Ukrainian society can successfully resist the introduction of gender ideology, it is necessary to realize that the times when the UOC lived in favorable external conditions are over. The Church needs to learn to live under hostile legislation. For the first three centuries, Christians existed precisely in such conditions: both the state and society were pagan. However, Christians at the same time lived and remained faithful to their faith and their Church. They were able not only to withstand the onslaught of anti-Christian ideology, but also to expand their influence – Christianity soon became the dominant religion throughout the world.

Now the Church is once again returning to an atmosphere of rejection of Christian morality and even active opposition to it on the part of the state and part of society. There is no hope that the Istanbul Convention will be abolished. Just as there is no hope that modern society will again promote traditional values and moral norms. On the contrary, the trends are just the opposite, as Europe is becoming more and more post-Christian.

In these circumstances, the role of Christian families and close-knit Christian communities greatly increases. After all, if gender ideology is imposed on children in schools, then the only way to instill in them Christian concepts and values is family upbringing – not so much with lectures, but with practical examples of parents’ life according to the Gospel. The simple experience of a child living in such a family, where he takes in his parents’ behavior, will be the most effective counteraction to gender or any other non-Christian ideology. In other words, if a person, and even more so a child, lives in a prosperous believing family, if he consciously participates in worship and the life of his community and reverently partakes of the sacraments, then no gender ideology and no “Istanbul conventions” will be able to defeat him.

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