Round table on gender-based violence in Bulgaria

GBV conference

On 15 June, Animus/La Strada Bulgaria organised a round table to discuss measures to address gender-based violence and domestic violence in the country.

The high-level event was opened by deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mrs Mariya Gabriel. Other attendees included members of the Cabinet and Parliament, representatives of the judiciary, the Ombudsman, and civil society organisations.

Participants discussed the current situation with GBV and domestic violence as well as the availability of services for victims. They also commented on the draft Bill to amend the Law on the Protection against Domestic Violence, which is due for a second reading in Parliament.

Gender-based violence and domestic violence are serious problems in Bulgaria. According to a 2021 survey, over one-third of women aged 18-29 have experienced abuse by a current or former partner.

Bulgaria witnesses murders of women by their male partners almost weekly.

In April, the country was gripped by the story of a 32-year-old woman whose ex-partner shot her and stuffed her body in the trunk of a car, one day before her son’s birthday. The woman had met Animus and shared concerns about her ex’s violent behaviour. However, the Domestic Violence law protects only people in (opposite-sex) couples who are married or living together.

The law is outdated and Animus and other NGOs have been pressing for revisions in line with the Istanbul Convention.

In 2018, the then government signed the Convention but failed to ratify it. A coalition of religious organisations, social conservatives, and the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) had falsely claimed that it was based on “gender ideology” and would introduce same-sex marriage and “third gender”. The resulting backlash led to the government withdrawing its support.

The draft Bill to amend the Domestic Violence law was introduced in Parliament in 2022. However, BSP, part of the governing coalition at the time, again cited “gender ideology” and refused to vote for the Bill.

At the moment, Bulgaria has a new governing coalition and there is cautious optimism that the draft Bill will finally pass.

On 1 June, the Council of the EU adopted a decision about the EU’s accession to the Istanbul Convention.