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Post by Rebekah Bunch

This summer I had the opportunity to intern through the Center for Global Justice for the Rule of Law Institute in Bulgaria. One of the projects I worked on while there was Bulgaria’s relation to the Istanbul Convention.


Author, Ending Gender Based Violence

Before beginning our discussion, I want to share some definitions of common words regarding this topic for ease of reading.

Violence against women is any gender-based act of violence that “results in or is likely to result in physical, sexual, psychological, or economic harm or suffering to women.” Violence against women includes threats of such actions or coercion or arbitrary deprivation of a woman’s liberty. These threats or actions can occur in public and private life.

Gender-based violence against women is violence that is directed against women because they are women or violence that disproportionately affects women. Both men and women can be victims of gender-based violence.

Domestic violence is any act of “physical, sexual, psychological, or economic violence that occurs within the family, domestic unit, or between former or current spouses or partners, whether or not the abuser shares or has shared the same residence with the victim[(s)].”

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The Istanbul Convention, formally known as the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, opened for signature in May 2011 and entered into force in August 2014. 

The following United Nations member states have signed the Istanbul Convention but have not ratified it: Armenia; Bulgaria; Czech Republic; Hungary; Latvia; Liechtenstein; Lithuania; Republic of Moldova; Slovak Republic; Ukraine; United Kingdom. 

The following UN member states have signed, ratified, and entered the Istanbul Convention into force: Albania; Andorra; Austria; Belgium; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Croatia; Cyprus; Denmark; Estonia; Finland; France; Georgia; Germany; Greece; Iceland; Italy; Luxembourg; Malta; Monaco; Montenegro; Netherlands; North Macedonia; Norway; Poland; Portugal; Romania; San Marino; Serbia; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland. 

Turkey signed, ratified, and entered the Istanbul Convention into force, but has since denounced itself from the support of the Istanbul Convention.

Turkey to pull out of Istanbul Convention on violence against women |  Europe | News and current affairs from around the continent | DW |  30.06.2021


The Istanbul Convention is the GOLD STANDARD. The Istanbul Convention is legally binding on its ratifiers and set MINIMUM standards for states to follow to prevent, protect, and prosecute.

The purpose of the Istanbul Convention is for its ratifiers: to prevent all forms of gender-based violence; to protect and support victims of such violence; to prosecute the perpetrators of such violence; to promote equality among women and men; to encourage mutual respect, non-violent conflict resolution, and the questioning of gender stereotypes; to investigate allegations of gender violence, to ensure that victims of gender violence receive compensation; to provide information to victims of such violence; to raise awareness in society of gender violence; to change the attitudes of gender violence to zero tolerance; to train police and the justice system on victim’s rights and how to prevent further harm.

The member states are obligated to protect and support victims of gender-based violence such as providing shelters, crisis centers, helplines, counseling, and medical care. Authorities are required to educate society on gender equality, sexuality, and healthy relationships.

The Convention is inclusive as it offers protection to everyone without discrimination and focuses on dismantling systemic and cultural prejudices, stereotypes, and harmful practices. No one is left behind under the Convention. Everyone is entitled to protection and redress.

Contrary to some beliefs, there is nothing controversial about the Istanbul Convention. The purpose is to protect victims of violence and prevent this violence from happening in the future. There is no hidden agenda. The Convention does not try to introduce multiple genders or undermine the nation of the traditional family.

The Istanbul Convention is a lifesaving instrument that is truly making a difference, and there is NOTHING controversial about that.


As stated above, Bulgaria has signed the Istanbul Convention, but the country has not ratified it. In fact, Bulgaria is continually distancing itself from the Istanbul Convention. In 2018, the Bulgarian Constitutional Court ruled that the Istanbul Convention was unconstitutional. 

The constitutional court claimed that the Istanbul Convention encourages homosexuality and could also lead to a questioning of traditional Bulgarian values. The constitutional court feared that the word “gender” undermines the biological sex assigned at birth by trying to introduce a third gender to blur the line between men and women. The constitutional court stated that men and women must be treated differently because their biological differences must be considered.

However, traditional values should not be used as a shield to continue mistreatment and violence against women (or men, for that matter). Following traditional values cannot be used as justification for gender-based violence. The word “gender” is used in the Istanbul Convention to show that violence against women is happening to women because they are women. The violence is based on their gender – their assigned sex at birth.

Further, even though the Istanbul Convention is formally known as the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, men are not excluded from its protection. Men who experience gender-based violence will also be protected under the Istanbul Convention.

But it seems that the Bulgarian legislators do not care to protect their Bulgarian people, men and women, from this type of violence. In fact, the limited steps that Bulgarian has taken to respond to gender-based violence have fallen short of the Convention’s standards and placed an unreasonable burden on victims to prove the violence that they have been subjected to.

It appears all progress towards ratification has come to a halt and Bulgaria is instead undermining the progress that they have thus far made in combatting gender-based violence.


If you are interested in learning more about the Istanbul Convention (and I truly hope you are), please visit the following links.
Easy-to-Read Istanbul Convention:
Four Pillars of the Istanbul Convention – Prevention; Protection; Prosecution; Policy:; see also
Full Text of the Istanbul Convention:
Explanatory Report of the Istanbul Convention:
Istanbul Convention Home:


Chart of signatures and ratifications of Treaty 210, Council of Europe,
Emilia Slavova, Notes from the Gender Republic: The Curious Case of Translating Gender in Bulgarian, Gender Campus (Dec. 2020),
Here’s why the Istanbul Convention Saves Lives (last visited Sept. 9, 2021)
Hillary Margolis, Speak Out to Protect Bulgaria’s Women, Human Rights Watch (Oct. 10, 2018 5:27 AM),
Istanbul Convention: How a European treaty against women’s violence became politicized, Made for minds,

This post was written by a Center for Global Justice Student Staff member. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of Regent University, Regent Law School, or the Center for Global Justice.