femfacts
18 Jun 2019

Not all Romanians are against gender equality education

Not all Romanians consider it wrong to teach children about gender equality, nor have all CEE countries refused to ratify the Istanbul Convention. But that's what a Romanian civic organization and its media cronies claim.

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Anabella Costache NewsMavens, Europe
Not all Romanians are against gender equality education - NewsMavens
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Romania signed the Istanbul Convention (The Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence) in 2014 and ratified it in 2016. The Istanbul Convention is the first legally binding instrument at the European level that offers a legal framework for the prevention of violence and the protection of victims while also aiming to bring an end to the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of violence against women.  

On March 25, 2019, the Romanian Civic Platform TOGETHER announced the end of the national campaign titled ”We are defending the children of Romania and their identity” through which “300,000 Romanian citizens have expressly refused any interference of gender ideology into the educational process in Romania, under the guise of sexual education for diversity, or in any other form”. The petition demanded the current education Minister “urgently eliminate all elements of gender ideology propaganda from school manuals and text-books”. Two days later, Ziarul Lumina, the daily online newspaper of the Romanian Orthodox Church, published an article claiming that “Romanian parents refuse gender ideology in schools.” According to the article, the Istanbul Convention is a “controversial document” that, since 2016, has been leading the Romanian education system towards “ideologization”.

What are the claims?

The headline of the article seems to tell us that all Romanian parents, and not just some of them, refuse having “gender ideology” in schools since there are “tendencies in the Romanian education of putting too much emphasis on gender ideology and the proceedings of certain organizations that aim to trouble children concerning their identity.

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Moreover, the Convention is considered to infringe parents’ constitutional right to “raise their children in accordance with their own convictions” and children’s right to have “their intimate and private life respected.''  

The Ministry of National Education and the Institute of Education Sciences have been asked to urgently eliminate from the school manuals and text-books any and all elements of gender ideology propaganda, considering that, within this ideology, “gender equality” does not refer to the equality between women and men, but to LGBT activism, having thus reached a point where today, in Romanian schools, there are textbooks and materials teaching the children, or the teachers, that a person is of the gender he or she identifies with, and not the gender he or she was born in, according to his or her biological sex; that gender identity and sexual orientation are two distinct things; that a little girl can have a boy’s name and can become a father; that movies with a pornographic content can be used as sources of sexual education,” explains the Civic Platform TOGETHER in the press release.

Looking at the bigger picture, the article claims that:

“States from Central and Eastern Europe have sensed the ideological danger of the Istanbul Convention and refused to ratify it or ratified it with reserves”.

Once again, the author implies that all Central and Eastern European countries have universally rejected the Convention and Romania should learn from them. The article furthermore claims:

In 2017, 50,000 Croatians were out on the streets opposing the ratification. And Bulgaria refused the ratification precisely during the presidency of the Council of Europe, on the grounds that, in the European Union, the regulatory areas linked to the family and the education are subject to the sovereignty of the national law.

What are the facts?

It is true that the Istanbul Convention is the first international treaty that defines the concept of gender. The meaning of the term is specified since discrimination can’t be eradicated if we don’t acknowledge that there are certain  socially constructed roles and stereotypes that shape and amplify discrimination and violence against women. The justification of the need for defining “gender” is set out in the explanatory report or the convention:

“Given that the convention places the obligation of preventing and fighting violence against women in the widest framework of the achievement of equality between women and men, the authors have considered important to define the term “gender”. [...] Research has shown that certain roles and stereotypes reproduce unwanted and harmful practices, and contribute to the presentation of female violence as acceptable. In order to overcome these roles attributed to women and men, Article 12 (1) defines the eradication of prejudices, customs, traditions and other practices that are grounded in the idea that women are inferior or in a stereotypical role of gender, as a general obligation in order to prevent violence against women.”

So the concept of gender, as defined in the Istanbul Convention, has nothing to do with “permission to use pornographic materials in schools”, as these sources claim. The protection of sexual minorities from violence and discrimination, which is here simply presented through a distorted lense as “corruption of children” is, ironically, not even specifically addressed in the Convention. It is simply mentioned under a general non-discrimination “umbrella” in article 4 (3):

“The implementation of the provisions of this Convention by the Parties, in particular measures to protect the rights of victims, shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, gender, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, state of health, disability, marital status, migrant or refugee status, or other status.”

Furthermore, not all Romanian parents believe that children shouldn't be taught about gender equality at school. The article claims that the statement is supported by 300,000 signatures but, curiously, while the success of the campaign was announced with great fanfare on ultra-conservative media outlets, the beginning of the campaign was never communicated anywhere, as if it has been kept secret.

Regarding the international context, clearly not all Central and Eastern European countries refused the Istanbul Convention. Until March 2019, out of 47 member states, 46 have signed it and 34 have ratified it. Therefore, Bulgaria is the only member state who did not sign or ratify the Convention because the Bulgarian Constitutional Court declared it unconstitutional, to the satisfaction of Boyko Borissov and his government.

“The Bulgarian presidency of the Council of Europe” mentioned in the article is yet another of its inaccuracies. The authors confuse the Council of Europe and the Council of the European Union. Bulgaria did, indeed, preside over the Council of the EU, also called the Council of Ministers or the Council, an institution of the European Union. But the Council of Europe is an international organization composed of 47 member states (some of them not part of the EU), which upholds mainly human rights, which Bulgaria did not preside over. What is more, Bulgarian Prime Minister Borisov did not refuse the ratification until the end of the Bulgarian Presidency, because he knew that it would have negative effects for his image at the European level.

Regarding Croatia, there were two protests last year, one in Zagreb and one in Split. The organizers claim that 70,000 people attended each respective protest, but the police estimate was way smaller -- about 5,000 in Zagreb and 15,000 in Split. The video and the images clearly show that the attendance in Zagreb was closer to 5,000 than to 70,000. The same thing happened at the second protest in Split, a month later -- but the drone image of the Split protests puts even the 15,000 estimate in question, showing that there could have been about 6-7,000 people at best.

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It is also important to mention that all the reports stress that people were bussed in to both protests, i.e. taken from other cities via paid transport. That means there was a possible overlap, with some of the protesters coming both to Zagreb and Split protest. Therefore, the real number of participants is somewhere between 8,000 and 12,000 -- nowhere near 50,000 or 70,000.

Who is behind this?

The Civic Platform TOGETHER was created in July 2017 and currently is composed of 506 NGOs and 130,000 individuals, being connected to 250 NGOs from 8 other countries. The president of the platform is Mihai Gheorghiu, also president of the Coalition for Family, the umbrella organization that succeeded organizing a referendum aimed at changing the Romanian Constitution, in order to prohibit same-sex marriage (their Croatian counterparts had a similar success in 2013).

In a previous article, we explained the links between the Coalition for Family, sister organzation of the Civic Platform TOGETHER, and another NGO with clear role in the organization of the referendum and other anti-abortion activities such as the “March for Life” --- the Asociation Pro Vita. If we take a closer look, we discover that the vice president of the platform, Ana-Corina Săcrieru, talks about the “Reversal of the human being and the Christian attitude in front of it”, in an interview given to Ziarul Lumina. This is nothing else but a reference to the “need” of “Restoring the natural order -- An agenda for Romania”, a publication of the NGO Provita from 2016. But the story doesn’t end here, because there is also a European version for this agenda, revealed by Neil Datta, Secretary of the European Parliamentary Forum on Population & Development in his report on “Restoring the natural order”:

“In 2013, 20 US and European campaigners began strategizing “achievable goals” to roll back human rights for sexual and reproductive health in Europe. Documents have recently emerged which reveal a detailed, extremist strategy called Restoring the Natural Order: an Agenda for Europe, which seeks to overturn existing laws on basic human rights related to sexuality and reproduction, such as the right to divorce; for a woman to access contraception, assisted reproduction technologies or have an abortion; equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or intersex (LGBTI) persons; or the right to change one’s gender or sex without fear of legal repercussions. Agenda Europe is a Vatican-inspired, professional advocacy network, whose members meet in secret, and which is directly responsible for implementing a detailed strategy to roll back human rights. The Agenda Europe strategy is producing concrete results, such as the 2016 Polish bill to ban abortion, bans on equal marriage in several Central European countries and over a dozen comparable acts at national level and in European institutions aiming to limit women’s and LGBTI rights.”

Conclusion

As covered in the "Restoring the natural order” report and in several analyses done by FemFacts, these groups frequently use disinformation to advance their goals, as was the case in this article/announcement. Again, as in many previous cases, their “activism” downplays the significance of fightging violence against women and displays intersectional discrimination against women and LGBT people alike.

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