The EU’s (somewhat limited) adhesion to the controversial Istanbul Convention

The Council has adopted two decisions according which the EU shall join the Council of Europe Convention (Istanbul Convention) on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. However, while  the Commission and the European Parliament had advocated for an extensive EU accession to this Convention, which would have resulted in an interference of the EU into educational and cultural matters, which fall within exclusive competences of Member States, Member States have successfully resisted these attempts. The compromise agreed in the Council falls significantly short of these pretensions, limiting EU accession to the issues of asylum, non-refoulment and judicial cooperation in criminal matters. It makes reference to Article 78 (2), 82, and 83 TFEU and to exclusive competences of the EU.

Some radical leftist MEPs have expressed their frustration over this limitation.

The Istanbul Convention is highly controversial among human rights lawyers not because anyone considers violence against women to be acceptable, but because many have raised the concern that this text will be used as a Trojan Horse to introduce the bizarre and glaringly un-scientific assumptions of “gender”-ideology into international law.

These concerns relate in particular to the definitions in Article 3 of the convention, which include the following:


c) “gender” shall mean the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men;

d “gender‐based violence against women” shall mean violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately;”

These definitions raise important questions and in fact appear to contradict each other.

First of all, there can be no doubt that there are biological differences between men and women, which are apparent to everyone and deniable by nobody. These biological differences may result in different roles for men and women, which are objectively appropriate and not “socially constructed”. For example, it is a well-established fact, and not a social construction, that only women can get pregnant and give birth to children, or that they are better equipped for the role as care-givers and to educate children. Beyond that, there also may be some “socially constructed” attitudes – but the roles and attitudes that more than anything else could be qualified as constructions are precisely those promoted and cherished by contemporary “feminist” or “gender” ideologues.

Taking the above-quoted definitions literally, if “gender-based” violence (lit.d) is based on “gender” (lit.c), then it is precisely not “directed against a woman because she is a woman”, but because she behaves according to some “social construction”. The two definitions are therefore not consistent between themselves.

The question is: do women deserve special protections when they behave according to feminist ideologies? Or because they behave as if they were male (as per the bizarre “gender”-ideology that make womanhood a result of personal “choice” or “self-identification” rather than biological reality? Or will women behaving like women also be protected?

Given these fundamental questions, it seems likely that the Convention will rather be a source of confusion than a source of protection…



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