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Ukrainian Churches in dispute with state over ‘gender ideology’ Convention

05 August 2022

Alamy

President Zelensky (centre) visits the sea port of Chornomorsk, in Ukraine, last week, as a ship is loaded with grain for export to Lebanon

President Zelensky (centre) visits the sea port of Chornomorsk, in Ukraine, last week, as a ship is loaded with grain for export to Lebanon

CHURCH leaders in Ukraine have bitterly criticised President Zelensky’s government for ratifying a Council of Europe Convention against domestic violence, warning that it will impose “gender ideology” on their war-torn country.

“Supporters of natural marital relations (between a woman and a man) and of family values traditional to the Ukrainian people are being persecuted and harassed, with their freedom of expression restricted,” the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organisations said in a statement.

“Instead of dialogue and discussion on problematic issues around this Convention, we see politicians, human-rights defenders, and the media resorting to manipulation, using language of enmity and hatred towards religious associations.”

The statement was published after Ukraine’s formal ratification of the “Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence”, adopted by Council of Europe member-states at Istanbul in 2011.

It said that the 81-point Convention risked “implanting gender ideology”, especially in the education sector, and urged citizens to back a mass petition against it.

Domestic violence would be better countered by tightening Ukraine’s own legislation, the statement said, with tougher penalties, quicker investigations, and a wider network of shelters for women with children.

A Roman Catholic bishop warned that the Convention’s ratification on 18 July had followed “backroom conversations” with foreign embassies, which appeared to contradict “EU requirements for Ukraine to fight corruption”.

“The ratification question was raised in ‘turbo mode’ during war, without public discussion, and it was stressed manipulatively that our further European integration depended on it,” Bishop Vitalii Kryvytskyi, who chairs the RC Church’s church-state commission, said in a statement last week.

“Yet we are well aware of the conditions put forward by the European Union for Ukraine’s membership, and none mentions this Convention.”

The Istanbul Convention, which creates the world’s first legal framework for curbing sexual violence, forced marriages, and female genital mutilation, has been signed by all 46 Council of Europe member-states except Azerbaijan and Russia, which was suspended from Council membership in March after its attack on Ukraine.

Although 36 states have since ratified it — including the UK, on 21 July — eight, including Bulgaria, Hungary, and Slovakia, have refused final approval. This follows objections that its Article 3 defines gender as a social and cultural construction, and that other clauses endanger family life, traditional marriage, and religious freedom.

A total of 34 states have tabled formal reservations, including France and Germany.

Ratification of the Convention, delayed by disputes in Ukraine, was finally approved on 18 June by the Kyiv parliament (Verkhovna Rada), and was signed three days later by President Zelensky, despite objections from church and faith leaders.

A petition, warning that the Convention “does not correspond to Ukrainian national interests” and “creates a threat to Ukraine’s national security”, has been drawn up by a former premier, Yulia Tymoshenko; it must be formally considered by President Zelensky if it obtains 25,000 signatures.

In its statement, the All-Ukrainian Council said that “positive changes” for combating domestic violence had been achieved by recent legal changes in Ukraine, “without resorting to the promotion of gender ideology”, and that religious citizens had “repeatedly protested” against the Istanbul Convention’s advancement of “gender self-identification”.

The Council, founded in 1996, said that President Zelensky had reneged on assurances at a December 2021 meeting with faith leaders that he would sign no “important document” without “dialogue with heads of Churches”.

It said, nevertheless: “We will continue actively promoting the fight against such evils as domestic violence, also truly protecting the moral, spiritual, and family values traditional to the Ukrainian people, which come from the natural state of things.”

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