04 Jan 2019

Istanbul Convention, the origin story

Croatian campaigners against the ratification of the Istanbul Convention tried to present it as an attempt to "save the debunked gender ideology”.  

Tijana Cvjeticanin
Tijana Cvjeticanin Istinomjer, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Istanbul Convention, the origin story - NewsMavens
Istanbul, PixaBay

In 2013, Croatia signed the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, known as The Istanbul Convention. It was signed, but not ratified -- that step was taken in April 2018, and the Convention went into force on October 1, 2018. The ratification was the subject of an intensive protest campaign by groups and organizations related to the Catholic church and right-wing political parties in Croatia, as well as by a large network of religious extremist groups with an agenda to “restore natural order” (i.e. roll back the reproductive rights of women and the rights of LGBTI people).  


The website titled -- ironically -- The truth about the Istanbul’s (convention) [sic] was set up as a hub of the campaign, providing leaflets, posters and other propaganda materials, and sending calls for action (protests, public prayers, petitions, donations, etc). The website’s main “fact sheet”, titled Gender Ideology Worldwide is the anti-Convention campaign in a nutshell.

It claims that "gender ideology" -- a term used by the religious right to denounce anything not in line with the aforementioned “natural order” --  was “scientifically debunked”, which prompted the adoption of Istanbul Convention as an attempt to save it.

The argument goes as follows:

The text of the Istanbul Convention was created in 2009 and 2010, at a time when the debunking of gender theory had started. [...] After the scientists exposed it as unscientific, the Nordic Council of Ministers [...] disbanded the Nordic Gender Institute  (NIKK – Nordisk institutt for kunnskap om kjønn), an institution which was the leader in gender theory in the region and the main provider of the “scientific” basis for the social and educational policy of Scandinavian countries, ever since the 1970s until it was abolished. Since it’s not based on science, gender ideology tries to sneak through the back door, avoiding expert arguments, and being forcefully pushed into many documents -- one of which is the Istanbul Convention.


For a start, the Istanbul Convention wasn’t simply created out of thin air in 2009-2010, nor was it related to any “debunking of gender theory”. It was a part of a continuous effort by the Council of Europe to address the problem of violence against women going back to the 1990s. The document came as an “upgrade” of the CoE’s Recommendation on the Protection of Women Against Violence (2002) and was a direct result of the Europe-wide Campaign to Combat Violence against Women, including Domestic Violence (2006-2008).

By the end of 2008, the CoE established a group to produce the draft of the document, drawing directly on the knowledge and experience acquired during the campaign. The final text was adopted in April 2011.

The Nordic Gender Institute, on the other hand, was neither established in the 1970s, nor was it “disbanded” in the way presented here. It started operating in 1996 under the name Nordic Institute for Women’s Studies and Gender Research, which was changed to the Nordic Gender Institute in 2006. In 2011/2012 it was moved from Norway to Sweden, and transformed into “Nordic Information on Gender”, (the short history of NIKK is available here). The NIKK’s successor is still active today and holds all the Nordic Gender Institute’s archives and body of work.  

So, the NIKK wasn’t “disbanded” before the Convention was envisioned, drafted and adopted, nor was its transformation a reason for the Convention. Moreover, it was not -- and is not -- the only international European institution tasked with gender equality research. The European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), established by the EU in 2006, is still alive and well today.


This claim, therefore, is nothing more than manipulation of facts and disinformation put together to tell a story that did not really happen, as a part of an antifeminist backlash campaign. There’s also a not-so-subtle hint of conspiracy theory about a global cabal of “gender ideologists” who tried to attack Croatia’s own natural order using the Istanbul Convention as a weapon.


Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

The information and views set out on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.

NewsMavens is a media start-up within Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's largest liberal broadsheet published by Agora S.A. NewsMavens is currently financed by Gazeta Wyborcza and Google DNI Fund.
Is something happening in your country that Newsmavens should cover?
Zuzanna Ziomecka
Zuzanna Ziomecka EDITOR IN CHIEF
Lea Berriault-Jauvin
Lea Berriault Managing Editor
Jessica Sirotin
Jessica Sirotin EDITOR
Ada Petriczko
Ada Petriczko EDITOR
Gazeta Wyborcza, Agora SA Czerska 8/10 00-732, Warsaw Poland
The e-mail addresses provided above are not intended for recruitment purposes. Messages concerning recruitment will be deleted immediately. Your personal data provided as part of your correspondence with Zuzanna,Lea, Jessica and Ada will be processed for the purpose of resolving the issue you contacted us about. The data provided in your email is controlled by Agora S.A. with its registered office in Warsaw Czerska 8/10 Street (00-732). You can find more information about the processing and protection of your personal data at https://newsmavens.com/transparency-policy