Positioning paper on The Catholic Church
and it´s interference and violation of women’s human rights
in Croatia

WNC-a Feminist Political Network

Croatian Women's Network (WNC) is a Feminist Political Network of 47 women’s organisations across Croatia who works towards gender equality through advocacy, protection and promotion of women’s human rights. Croatian Women’s Network work to change the social and political status of women through strengthening women’s organising in the process of democratisation of the society, inspiring public debates on gender equality, feminist approaches to democracy, and deconstructing with our broad-range of activities the patriarchal ideology as a dominant social structure in Croatia. From feminist analyses WNC have come to understand that the institutionalized patriarchal system of oppression, subordination and marginalization is based on the domination of men over women.

WNC work embraces The Platform for Action adopted at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing 1995 with its comprehensive program for strengthening the position of women in the public and private life aiming at achieving their full and equal participation in economic, social, cultural and political decision making. WNC implement the Platform for Action by working towards the goals of gender equality, peace and development, by having an agenda for the empowerment of women and against women’s subordination. WNC lift up the importance of international documents The Croatian state has accepted, such as the Beijing Platform and demand implementation and incorporation within legal system of international conventions ratified by Croatian State as the Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

WNC has become an important force for a societal change; it has succeeded in providing services and support for women's immediate needs. Hundreds of women see themselves as part of our movement; WNC have organized demonstrations, action projects, counter-institutional activity, and debating in the mass media, making visible the structures of inequality. WNC underline the misbalance of gender power relations and the privileged position of domination of men over women in this relation as well as the social structures which keep this misbalance. Thus we underline the imperative of collective and socio-political solutions. WNC have realized that women lack control over their lives. Stereotyped attitudes towards women still exist. They are the reason that women are discriminated against throughout the world even today.

In a secular society all women have the right to autonomy, integrity and self-determination in exercising of their sexuality. That includes the right to physical, sexual and emotional pleasure, the right to freedom in sexual orientation and choices, the right to secular education on sexuality, and the right to sexual and reproductive health care.

All women have the right to decide on their reproductive life in a free manner and to exercise safe birth control, free from discrimination, pressure or violence, as well as the right to enjoy the highest levels of sexual and reproductive health.

All women have the right to reproductive autonomy which includes safe and legal abortions.

The Catholic Church advocacy jeopardizes Women’s Human Rights

Religious morality, an androcentric invention, keeps sustaining the tradition of women’s discrimination. The Catholic Church's influence on the state secular matters means that numerous discriminatory practices still exist and they run contrary to the rights of women who are living in a European, democratic and equal society which Croatian society strives to be.

The Catholic Church propaganda return women into the traditional patriarchal roles of mothers and housewives back to the kitchen, back to the private sphere of family carers and back the church dogmatic attitudes towards men and women.

The Catholic Church advocacy seeks to ban abortion thus acting directly against the women’s reproductive health and rights and their rights to control their fertility and to self-determination.

The Church hypocritical attitude to sexuality is reflected on all levels of the society, not least in the justice system having a direct impact on the interpreting of male violence against women and on rates of prosecutions and sentencing in rape cases as well as in the methods of protecting the victims of male violence. This is in collision with women’s human rights of life free of violence. Church’s control over of women’s sexuality and its stereotypical reproducing in all spheres of public life means a violation of woman’s human right to control her own body, her right to assert her own sexuality, right to lead and determine her own life and right to be free of stigmatization.

The Church exercises interference in the education and school system coming into direct clash with the constitution of RH. The Church´s interference in the sexual education at schools helps reproducing stereotypes about female and male sexuality setting false/distorted moral boundaries of its expression as well as distorted definitions of sexual rights and health and imposing a set of hypocritical set of values and ideological beliefs of what sex education should be based on in a secular society which strives to achieve gender equality. Young people are educated to have sexual activities only in the frame of a heterosexual marriage and connected with the desire to have children, abstinence before marriage and as the birth control method and withdrawal as the only ethical method justifying family planning and preventing STD and HIV. Homosexuality is regarded as an inferior worth form of sexuality, even though it´s not banned within the Catholic faith.

The Catholic Church attained a privileged status in comparison to other religious communities and institutions and other actors from the civil society arena. This status was determined by three international agreements signed by The Government of RH and The Hole See in 1996 and a fourth in 1998 concerning the economic position of the Catholic Church in the State and the State's duty to give financial supports to the activities of the Catholic Church. The three agreements regulate the position of the Catholic Church within the secular society. Their subjects are among others: giving an equal status of church marriage and civil wedding, introduction of obligatory confessional religious instruction in the state school-system and of catholic guidance of police and the Army. The fourth concerns, besides the mentioned financial support of catholic religious activities by the state, the execution of the “Law on the Restitution", i. e. restitution of property nationalized or confiscated in 1945 and 1946 to the former owners.
On the basis of these treaties with the Holy See, the Croatian Government introduced in 1999 religious instruction in pre-school, elementary ,middle and high schools as optional discipline, but obligatory for those who would choose it as an option! Religious schools received equal position with secular institutes. This introduction of the obligatory confessional education in public schools is strictly against the neutral secular nature of the public school. Besides, no other religious communities as orthodox Christians, Protestants, Muslims and Jews - can regulate their position on an equal bases with the Catholic Church which puts them in an inferior position thus contradicting the Constitution’s article 41.

The agreements are unambiguously privileging the Catholic Church by the State and therefore, are in direct contradiction with the Croatian Constitution and its principle of strict separation between Church and State, contradicting the self-definition of Croatia as a secular state and a liberal democracy. They had been signed without the needed parliamentarian debates, in a nontransparent and nondemocratic way. Thanks to the public outrage against the obvious privileges granted to the Catholic Church the agreements have passed the Parliament just because of the pressure of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and its majority in the Parliament.

The legal power of these treaties (article 140 of the Croatian constitution)is equal to that of the other international conventions on protection of Human Rights which RH have ratified, including The European Convention of Human Rights, The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and The Convention on Children’s Rights. Among others they protect women’s reproductive and sexual rights. If The State means seriously to fulfill its obligations towards its citizens as understood by ratifying the abovementioned conventions then it should denounce the Treaties with The Hole See which are in an ideological contradiction with the international conventions on women’s human rights.

Constitution of RH and the Catholic Church

Article 41, chapter III Protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms of the Constitution of RH defines the strict separation of The State and The Catholic Church. “All religious communities shall be equal before the law and shall be separated from the State.” The Constitution of RH sets clear boundaries for non interference of the church into public and secular affairs. Then what gives the authority and the right of the Catholic Church to involve in social, political and economic issues which are in the domain of the secular state, as Croatia has self defined it?

UN Convention

In 1979, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the UN and entered into force 1981 with 170 signatory countries. It serves as an international bill of rights for women and recognizes that discrimination against women is embedded in social and cultural patterns and calls for a change in the role of men and women in society. RH is a signatory state since 9 October 1992.

Article 140 of the Constitution of RH states: “International agreements concluded and ratified in accordance with the Constitution and made public, and which are in force, shall be part of the internal legal order of the Republic of Croatia and shall be above law in terms of legal effects. Their provisions may be changed or repealed only under conditions and in the way specified in them or in accordance with the general rules of international law.”

RH has confirmed its desire to make an active contribution to international efforts in the promotion and protection of women’s human rights through its activities in international bodies, such as the Committee for the Status of Women.

The principle of equality is laid down in the Constitution of Croatia and the protection of the rights of women is institutionalized.


1. Croatian State should cancel the bilateral agreements with Vatican which give a privilege status of The Catholic Church and which is in direct clash with the Constitution of RH.

2. Free, public and secular quality education integrated in the educational system of Croatia and guaranteed by the Constitution of RH.

3. The Catholic Church should not have religious education in any form in the public schools of Croatia. Religious education can be practiced in institutions and spaces provided by the Church/s.

4. The Catholic Church should not interfere in the school sexual education. Public sexual education should include secular set of values as exercising freedom to define social and sexual relationships, helping young people to be assertive in refusing unwanted sex, education on prevention and reproductive health and birth control etc

5. The Catholic Church should not interfere in women’s ' control over their own bodies--i.e., access to safe, free birth control, abortion, sterilization, insemination, life free from social stigma.