Treaty to protect women faces resistance in Croatia


Zagreb (AFP)

Croatia's ultra-conservative party on Monday opposed ratification of a treaty safeguarding women that has divided the country, saying it was against Christian values.

The so-called Istanbul Convention -- the world's first binding instrument to prevent and combat violence against women, from marital rape to female genital mutilation -- has sparked a heated public debate in Croatia.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, representing moderates within his ruling conservative HDZ party, said last week the government would present it for ratification by the parliament by the end of the month.

The Balkan country's conservatives backed by powerful Catholic Church, along with HDZ hardliners, oppose the ratification arguing that under the guise of protecting women the convention promotes what they call a "gender ideology" which would undermine the traditional family.

"The announcement that HDZ will back ratification of the Istanbul Convention is deeply against the party's Christian democratic views," Hrvoje Zekanovic, MP of the ultra-conservative Hrast ("Oak") party and a junior member of the ruling coalition, said in an open letter.

He also urged a top HDZ official, who represents a hardline wing criticising Plenkovic over the issue, to take "maximum efforts" to ensure "that it does not happen".

But Plenkovic insisted the convention's essence was the protection of women against violence and pledged the government would prevent any wrong interpretation.

Women's rights groups said recently in a statement the conservatives and Church-backed groups "invent 'gender ideology' to preserve a patriarchal system".

Nearly 90 percent of Croatia's 4.2 million people are Roman Catholics and the Church plays an important role in the society.

The convention has so far been ratified by 28 countries, including 17 EU member states.

Croatia became EU's newest member in 2013.