The Istanbul Convention “legalizes same-sex marriage”, “encourages children of a certain age to change their sexual orientation”, or “redefines gender and family”. These are just a few falsehoods and misperceptions about the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence that many priests in the north of the country believe in. However, experts debunk these myths and explain that the only purpose of the Convention is to eradicate violence against women.
According to a study by the national coalition “Life without domestic violence”, 70% of Moldovan women and girls have been subjected to violence at least once in their lives. With the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, Moldova has committed itself to punish violence against women in accordance with the law. Although the Convention aims to prevent violence and protect victims, its text has generated several myths and reactions spread by politicians or people belonging to certain religious groups. The last in this sense is the appeal of some priests from Bălți and Fălești to Archbishop Marchel, requesting to be exempted from the obligation to pray for the leadership of the country that promulgated the Istanbul Convention. ZdG went to Bălți and Fălești to discuss with the signatories of the appeal and to understand what is the apple of discord.
At the same time, we looked for answers to the questions:
- Does the Istanbul Convention destroy Christian values and traditions?
- Does it legalize same-sex marriages?
- Does the Convention oblige states parties to introduce education on sexual orientation and gender identity in schools?
“When it comes to gender, human dignity is lost. That’s how we understand it.”
We make our first stop in the village of Mărăndeni, Fălești district, at the church where Anatolie Negură serves as archpriest. Autumn cleaning is in full swing in the churchyard and the priest is working side by side with several parishioners – women and men. We didn’t even manage to announce the purpose of our visit to Mărăndeni and the priest promptly responded. “Yes, I signed the appeal to Archbishop Marchel, I signed it together with several priests. We signed up because we don’t like a few points from the Convention,” says the priest. “We don’t like the points related to gender. When it comes to gender, human dignity is lost. That’s how we understand it,” the priest clarifies.
*The preamble to the Istanbul Convention condemns all forms of violence against women and emphasizes that violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between women and men, gender inequality.
Below are the three sentences of the Convention that contain the word “gender“.
“Recognizing the structural nature of violence against women as gender-based violence and that violence against women is one of the crucial social mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position compared with men;”
“Recognizing that women and girls are exposed to a higher risk of gender-based violence than men;”
“Gender shall mean the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities, and attributes, that a given society considers appropriate for women and men.”
“Someday you will have a boy. He will grow up and after a while, he will tell you – mother, I did not want to be a boy, I wanted to be a girl.”
The priest admits that he did not read the Convention from beginning to end and that his belief is founded on the parts containing the word “gender”. “We don’t like new points related to gender, the rest of what is written is good. We are against the punishment of women by men without any reason. We have always been for peace and quiet in the house; however, when it comes to ‘I want to be a girl’ or ‘I want to be a boy’, things don’t work out here already. This is how we understand the gender notion,” motivates Anatolie Negură.
To understand the mindset of the church clerk, we read together one of the phrases containing the word “gender”: “women and girls are at greater risk of gender-based violence than men.”
The priest Anatolie Negură: „ What do you mean? No, it’s not about violence, it’s about gender.”
He continues: “That’s how they explained to us and I’ll explain it to you too – someday you’ll have a boy. He will grow up and after a while, he will tell you – mother, I did not want to be a boy, I wanted to be a girl. And this Convention allows children to do it. That’s what it says.“
*The Convention states: “Recognizing that children are victims of domestic violence, including as witnesses of violence in the family.”
The priest cannot show us exactly where the Convention writes about a possible change in the sexual orientation of children, but he motivates that this was explained to them in the diocese. “I don’t know. I also listen to what is said on the internet and it says the same,” the priest adds.
The priest states that if the signatory parliamentarians give up the word “gender”, he will also give up the appeal to Archbishop Marchel. “Remove the word ‘gender’ and we will kneel in front of the holy table and will pray for health, for prayer, for development, and for everything,” adds Anatolie Negură. “If you like what I said, fine. You don’t like it – it’s also good,” the priest says as he leaves.
“Ask the bishop or the dean all questions. We obey them.”
Next, the road takes us to Ilenuța village in the same district. Archbishop Ghenadii Țugui built his house in the church courtyard. From across the fence, the priest greets us and asks with what thoughts we came to the village. We tell him that we want to talk about the declaration he signed and about the Istanbul Convention. “Isn’t this madness over yet or it is just the beginning?” the priest responds. He says that he will immediately explain his dissatisfaction, but first, he needs to put on his priestly clothes. Returning a few minutes later already in the clergy, Ghenadii Țugui says that he changed his mind and does not want to talk to us anymore.
“I have a son, and when he gets married, I want to be the bridegroom’s father at the wedding, not the father of the bride.”
Nicolae Fusu, a priest in the village of Pînzăreni, also signed the appeal to be exempted from the obligation to pray to God for the country’s leadership. We didn’t find him in the church, so we turned to the employees of the nearby kindergarten. They phoned him and as we talked to him, he said he would come in five minutes. The priest arrived really fast, riding his bicycle. However, he wouldn’t listen to the question to the end and said that he wouldn’t talk on this subject.
“To be honest, I looked for this Convention, but did not find it and I read what the Metropolitan Church wrote.”
From Fălești we headed to Bălți. Mihail Sărăcuța is the parish priest at the episcopal cathedral Saint Hierarch Nicolae. In a phone conversation, Mihail Sărăcuța admitted that he did not read the Convention because, at first, he did not find it, and later he read everything that the Metropolitan Church wrote on this subject. “The Metropolitan Church has a lawyer, a good lawyer. He explained everything,” the priest said. The priest is discontent that the deputies did not consult with the church leaders before ratifying the Convention. “We are not in another country, they had to talk to us and then decide what to do, but they did it all secretly,” the priest argues.
When asked why church leaders would oppose a convention aimed at combating violence against women, Mihail Saracuta replied that, in fact, the ratification of this convention pursues other interests.
“I don’t want to talk to ZdG on principle.”
We spoke with Archbishop Marchel on the phone. He refused to meet with ZdG for discussion, first because he allegedly was not in Balti, and then because we, ZdG journalists, would not be objective.
In addition, Archbishop Marchel stated that he could not say more than what the Metropolitan Church and the diocese of Bălți stated. Although Marchel declined to discuss the Convention with journalists, he met with Igor Dodon, the president of the Socialist Party of Moldova, a party that shares the same views as the clergy. Dodon thanked Marchel for his position against the Istanbul Convention. Earlier, Marchel openly supported Igor Dodon when he ran for president of Moldova.
Four years of talks to ratify the Convention
It took Moldovan parliamentarians four years to ratify the Istanbul Convention. During this period, several falsehoods were attributed to the Convention. On October 6, the Moldovan Orthodox Church, through Metropolitan Vladimir, repeatedly addressed the Presidency, the Parliament, and the Government of Moldova against the ratification of the Istanbul Convention.
On October 14, the draft ratification of the Istanbul Convention was approved in the final reading by 54 votes of the members of the Action and Solidarity Party Parliamentary Faction.
Three deputies from the Shor Party voted against it, and the deputies of the Communist and Socialist Bloc faction left the meeting hall in protest.
Deputy of the Socialist Party of Moldova: “Moldovan legislation on violence prevention is ideal.”
It is not the first time the Socialists have opposed the ratification of the Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women. On April 26, Igor Dodon, leader of the Party of Socialists of Moldova, stated in a talk show on Primul în Moldova television that they would not allow Moldova to ratify the Istanbul Convention, because “the document requires signatory states to protect the interests of sexual minorities.” “Regarding this Istanbul Convention (…) it is an international document, and when a country signs it, in addition to women’s rights, it takes on some additional obligations related to sexual minorities. (…) We will do our best not to ratify this Convention. It is the principled position of the Socialist Party,” Dodon declared.
Even after the ratification, Grigore Novac, deputy of the Socialist Party, claims that the provisions of the Convention would be dangerous for the Moldovan society. Moreover, Novac says that this convention would be of no use in combating violence, as “the legislation of Moldova is perfect in this area.” “The convention, as a whole, brings nothing new except for notions totally alien to the beliefs of the majority of Moldova’s population and even a dose of absurdity in terms of the notion of gender,” Novac points out. At the same time, Novac considers that there are financial interests behind the support of this Convention. “Specifically interested organizations have already received funding to lobby this convention, this is a completely different matter,” the parliamentarian said.
Expert: “Political PR strategy”
Adriana Zaslaveț, a project coordinator at the Memoria Victim Rehabilitation Center, confirms that the document calls for criminalization and legal sanctioning of various forms of violence against women, such as domestic violence, harassment, sexual harassment, and psychological and economic violence. “Now the state will be forced to respond quickly and understand that violence negatively affects the people who face this problem on a daily basis; also, the victims will be assisted as a matter of priority.” “According to statistics, every third person has been a victim of domestic violence,” Zaslaveț emphasizes.
“The purpose of the term ‘gender’ in the text of the Convention is not to replace the biological definition of the word ‘sex’, nor the notions of ‘woman’ or ‘man’, but to highlight inequalities and stereotypes in society,” she said. Adriana Zaslaveț defines the statements of politicians who oppose the provisions of the Convention as irresponsible, and their goal, in fact, is political PR.
Deputy of Action and Solidarity Party: “This term is indicated basically in every second article of that law.”
“The term ‘gender’ appeared in the national normative framework in Law 5 of 2006, namely the Law on ensuring equal opportunities between women and men, where it is very clearly stipulated, namely: the social aspect of relationships between women and men that manifests itself in all spheres of life. This term is used basically in every second article of that law. This is not the first time that the notion of “gender” appears in the legislation of Moldova. As to the absolutely unfounded concerns of our political opponents, I want to say that they have nothing to do with the text of the Convention. Article 48 of the Constitution, paragraph 2, stipulates in a very clear manner – “the family is based on the freely consented marriage between a man and a woman”. So, the Constitution expresses the issue of marriages in Moldova clearly,” says Doina Gherman, deputy of the Action and Solidarity Party and one of the signatories of the ratification of the Convention.
By ratifying the Convention, Moldovan authorities undertake to properly punish violence against women, to allocate resources to ensure the functioning of crisis centers for victims of violence, 24-hour emergency hotlines, shelters for victims of violence, psychological and legal counseling services, as well as other measures.
To date, the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence has been signed by 46 of the 47 member states of the Council of Europe, including the EU, and 34 countries (including Moldova) have ratified it (Turkey ratified the Convention as well, but later withdrew its signature).