SOFIA - The Bulgarian government said Wednesday it was abandoning efforts to get parliament to ratify a European treaty to combat violence against women in face of a conservative backlash over the wording of the text.
On the eve of International Women's Day, Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said that while his government had approved the treaty, "there were very harsh reactions" to it by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and country's Muslim minority.
In January, Borisov's conservative government had asked parliament to ratify 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.
It has so far been ratified by 28 countries, including 17 EU member states.
But Sofia was forced to delay ratification following an outcry over parts of the text, especially over how to translate the term "gender" into Bulgarian.
Borisov's coalition partners from the nationalist United Patriots alliance denounced the treaty's "scandalous texts".
One of the parties in the alliance, the VMRO, said it would open the way to same-sex marriage and encourage "the studying (in schools) of 'non-stereotypical gender roles' such as homosexuality, transvestism and others."
Nils Muižnieks, @CommissionerHR at @coe addresses the @Europarl_EN on the topic of women's rights. Special focus on the Istanbul Convention. #video #Bulgaria https://t.co/wpqH5GGXpj pic.twitter.com/ADFiNExA0B— BG HelsinkiCommittee (@bg_helsinki) March 4, 2018
The alliance had threatened to withdraw its backing for Borisov's government if the treaty was adopted.
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church, to which 80 percent of Bulgarians belong, also condemned the document, saying it would lead to "moral decay".
And the religious leadership of the country's Muslim minority also expressed opposition.
The government's decision to abandon the treaty will disappoint human rights groups who insist it is crucial to combatting widespread domestic violence.
Bulgaria, which currently holds the rotating EU Council presidency, has recently seen several shocking high-profile cases of women being killed by their ex-spouses or boyfriends.
The family of one woman killed by her ex-husband are currently taking the Bulgarian authorities to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, accusing them of not doing enough to protect her despite her repeated complaints to the police about his threatening behaviour.
In February, the government of Slovakia also refused to ratify the Istanbul Convention.
Prime Minister Robert Fico said the treaty could eventually undermine Slovakia's constitutional definition of marriage as a heterosexual union.