Bulgaria's top court has rejected as unconstitutional a European treaty to combat violence against women.
The ruling on July 27 likely kills any chance the treaty will be ratified by Bulgaria’s parliament.
The 81-article treaty, which is intended to prevent violence against women -- from marital rape to female genital mutilation -- was drawn up by the Council of Europe, the human rights body.
Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s center-right government had approved the so-called Istanbul Convention and submitted it to parliament for ratification. But the government withdrew it weeks later after an uproar over its language about gender roles.
The debate centers on its definition of "gender" as "social roles, behaviors, activities, and characteristics that a particular society considers appropriate for women and men."
In its ruling, the court said the notion of "gender" blurred lines between the two biological sexes.
"If society no longer differentiates between man and woman, the fight against violence against women becomes impossible to accomplish," the court said.
Critics, including the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, the opposition Socialist Party, and the ruling nationalist United Patriots Coalition, said the language could encourage young people to identify as transgender or third sex and lead to same-sex marriage.
The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee rights watchdog called it “the worst human rights decision in the court’s history, and by a large measure.”
Sofia University cultural anthropologist Valentina Georgieva told Balkan Insight that the court’s decision “is disturbing in its reading of the basic rights of women. It practically submits the social role of a woman to one of a mother when it comes to antidiscrimination prevention."