In-depth country profile: building movements to address violence against women in Moldova

One day before Orthodox Christmas in January 2013 Olyessa came to Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, from a village in the north of the country, to escape the extreme violence she and her children faced in her family.

“My husband was a heavy drinker. He was abusing the children. Often he would put us to sleep outside… so he was treating us very badly. We were all damaged from my husband’s treatment of us.” - Olyessa, Moldova

She contacted the Women's Law Center (WLC) for help. This not-for-profit organisation was established in 2009 to provide pro bono legal support to women victims of domestic violence and to advocate for better national laws on domestic violence. With the support of the WLC, Olyessa received protection, took her husband to court and eventually divorced him.

“While the court case was going on, Ms. Catalina, the lawyer from the WLC, used to call me just to see how I was and to see what I needed,” said Olyessa. “She helped me tremendously. Last winter I told her I had no food, no firewood, and we were just about to have our electricity cut off. So she got in touch with some other centres in the area ... who then came bringing me food like potatoes, onions and flour. The WLC also paid for my electricity and donated a stove so that I could cook for my four children. I also received psychological care and so did my children, which was very important.”

In 2007 the registered daily income of 80 per cent of the population of Moldova was below one US dollar per day.1 Although its economic situation has improved in recent years, Moldova remains one of the poorest countries in eastern Europe, with a high level of migration and great dependence on remittances. The root of this poverty stems from Moldova’s break with the former Soviet Union, and today is fuelled by high levels of unemployment, inadequate public services, lack of parental care and discrimination against women.

“Many women face great challenges that include legal challenges,” said Angelina Zaporojan-Pirgari, Chairwoman of the WLC. “They do not know where to go for help – the WLC fills that need by ensuring access to justice for women victims of domestic violence. Women desperately need protection, a safe place to go and a professional to guide them through the process, to tell them what their rights are and what they can claim in the court and how to protect themselves.”

With the support of the WLC, improved domestic violence laws and social services, women in Moldova are now finding ways to escape terrible situations. “I was never alone in the courts, the lawyer was always there beside me,” said Olyessa. “And now, it has brought me peace. I’m finally happy. I want to thank everyone who has helped me and my children. It has meant so much.”

Olyessa is just one example of many women who experience domestic violence in Moldova. Recent global figures estimate that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either intimate partner violence or nonpartner sexual violence in their lifetime.2 In Moldova, this estimate is nearly double – according to a 2011 study, some 60 per cent of women have experienced violence by a spouse or partner.3

Unsafe migration and trafficking

Moldovans have been moving overseas in recent years, looking for better living and employment opportunities. Many of them, women in particular, are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. They can easily become victims of trafficking.

The not-for-profit organisation La Strada set up services and a national helpline (Women’s Trust Line) in 2001 to prevent human trafficking and to help victims reintegrate into society. It is open for 12 hours every day, and each year it receives hundreds of calls from domestic violence victims. In 2008 a La Strada study4 revealed that the majority of trafficked victims from Moldova are women who come from the countryside and have generally received a low level of education. The study confirmed that the women’s relationships with their families, both husbands and parents, play an important role in their vulnerability to trafficking. Of the women and children who received support from La Strada, some 80 per cent had suffered domestic violence prior to being trafficked.

Therefore, psychological and physical violence in families is a strong “push” factor influencing women’s high risk decisions to leave the country in search of a safer environment and a better life elsewhere. Traumatic experiences and desperate circumstances make these women and children ill prepared to recognise and face abusive situations and they can become easy prey for traffickers. In 2009 these conclusions pushed La Strada and other practitioners in Moldova to extend their trafficking prevention efforts to tackle domestic violence as one of the root causes of trafficking.

Addressing domestic violence

Since 2011 Oak has provided nine grants for a total of USD 2.2 million to organisations and networks improving services and legislation to help women victims of domestic violence in Moldova. Together, they have been working to: advocate for the adoption, implementation and enforcement of domestic violence legislation; meet the needs of victims of violence through services that are coordinated and comprehensive; and promote the agency and selfrepresentation of survivors within a rights-based framework.

Moldova adopted a domestic violence law in 2007 called the Law on Preventing and Combating Family Violence. The law defined, for the first time, domestic violence and called for protection orders for women victims of domestic violence. However, due to the lack of specific directives on protection orders, the law was rarely implemented in the years that followed. “Initially no one was trying to combat this problem and politicians were even denying or rejecting that the problem existed,” said Valentina Buliga, Former Minister for Social, Labour and Family Protection of the Republic of Moldova.

The law was amended in 2010 to broaden victims’ rights to protection and services. In addition, a new provision in the criminal code that criminalises domestic violence was adopted.

“Now, Ministers of Parliament, including the Prime Minister of Moldova, speak out openly about domestic violence. Now we place great emphasis on strengthening the roles of all the people involved in dealing with this problem, from the police to ministers, central and local authorities.”
- Valentina Buliga, Former Minister for Social, Labour and Family Protection of the Republic of Moldova

In partnership with the Advocates for Human Rights, the WLC has been working to implement the Republic of Moldova’s Domestic Violence Legislation. In addition, the WLC has provided training to the police, judges, prosecutors and lawyers on eff ective response to cases of domestic violence. According to the WLC, so far more than 1,000 police officers throughout Moldova have received training, as well as 250 judges, prosecutors and lawyers. As a direct result, the number of protection orders issued has since increased. In 2011 there were only 23 and by 2014 this figure had grown to more than 900. This shows clearly how Moldova is working hard, both on the ground and at policy levels, to tackle domestic violence.

Casa Marioarei and improving rights-based services

According to a WAVE Survey, conducted by the WLC in 2014, there are 14 organisations in Moldova that work with women survivors of violence and their children. The total capacity for the entire country is 181 beds, which represents only half of the European standard. This is due to many factors, including a lack of specialised legal aid, intervention services and government funding. For example, two of the public institutions have experienced periods of non-operation for several months due to a lack of state funding.

Casa Marioarei (Casa M) is the first and only dedicated domestic violence women’s shelter in Moldova. Established in 2004, it has an accommodation capacity of 25 people. The shelter offers free temporary housing to women affected by domestic violence and their children, as well as social, medical and psychological assistance. In addition, Casa M gives free legal aid to victims of domestic violence through counselling and support in court.

Annually Casa M has the capacity to provide services to about 2,000 women, but up until a few years ago, operating at full capacity was impossible, due to lack of funding. The shelter struggled to stay open and cover its basic operating costs. “In 2010 we were considering closing the shelter. We had worked for two years without finances – we tried everything to raise funds and only managed to raise enough to pay for our electricity, heat and water,” said Elena Burca, director of Casa M.

Since receiving funds from Oak Foundation, Casa M has improved its structure by hiring a team of specialists, nominating a new Board, recruiting volunteers and forming new partnerships with government and service providers. The staff have been trained by experts from Russia who helped the organisation develop rights-based standards and protocols for the services it provides, as well as strengthen its organisational structure. As a consequence, Casa M has been able to act as a resource for other non-governmental organisations and state actors, by organising training sessions and discussions. It has also facilitated workshops with social assistants, police and advocates from the local communities who are taking a stand against domestic violence.

In addition, Casa M developed an internal data collection system to track and monitor its work and is able to demonstrate its achievements. “Our great success is that 62 per cent of the women and children who have come to our shelter have left and are now living a life without violence,” said Ms. Burca.

Building a strong coalition

In addition to helping individual organisations, Oak supported the creation of the National Coalition “Life Without Violence” in 2012. Led by Angelina Zaporojan-Pirgari of the WLC, the coalition is made up of 17 members which work together to: advocate for stronger legislation; create service standards and improve services; build individual organisations’ capacity; and increase public awareness around domestic violence.

“The Coalition has enabled us to develop a platform for dialogue and learning. We received capacity-building support from organisations in Austria, Russia and the United States among others, showing us that we can make a difference when we work together and speak with one voice.”
- Angelina Zaporojan-Pirgari Women’s Law Center

The Coalition has already been successful in implementing changes in domestic violence laws. It helps raise the profile around the issue and advocates for state funding for organisations providing services to victims of domestic violence.

What’s next

Former Minister Valentina Buliga has said that Moldova is currently in the process of strengthening the legal processes and frameworks surrounding domestic violence. Key priorities for the coming years include improving current legislation by: introducing restraining orders (including against stalking); making it a criminal offence to violate protection measures; signing and ratifying the Istanbul Convention (a Council of Europe convention against domestic violence); increasing public funds for the extension of services and programmes for both victims and perpetrators of domestic violence; and setting up a special department to coordinate the implementation of public policy in preventing and combating domestic violence.

“We have the political will to continue reforms on this and we will work on this issue because we want to have a society without violence.” 
- Liliana Palihovici Liberal Democratic Party

According to Liliana Palihovici of the Liberal Democratic Party, the number of domestic violence cases has, in recent years, been increasing. This is because more people are talking about the issue and women are more actively seeking help to get out of domestic violence situations.

“There is so much that can be done and with the dedication and perseverance of the leaders in these organisations, I have no doubt that change will continue to happen,” said Florence Tercier, director of Oak’s Issues Affecting Women Programme. Oak will continue to support domestic violence organisations to improve the quality of services for victims and their access to justice, and to address the root causes of intra-familial violence in Moldova. This will be done by: investing in initiatives that create awareness among women and girls of their rights; promoting a “positive masculinities” approach; and offering services to violent and abusive men who want to change their behaviour.

In addition, in partnership with a sociological institute, the WLC concluded a survey in Moldova to assess men’s and women’s attitudes and behaviour towards gender equality. The findings of the survey will help consolidate the efforts of Moldovan networks and organisations working on gender equality, domestic violence, child protection and youth. Oak is also supporting the development of the first and only centre for domestic violence aggressors situated in Drochia to build its expertise and deliver a dedicated counselling programme for men who want to take responsibility for their actions and change their abusive behaviour. This service will be connected to the criminal justice system and, over time, should expand nationally.

We asked Jette Parker why she chose to invest in Moldova. This is her response:

“I received a mail clipping from my friend Linda Carter on the trafficking of women in Moldova.5

“I felt inspired by that article to help women in Moldova who have been trafficked. When Florence Tercier and her team looked deeper at the issue, I was pleased to see that we are helping women victims of domestic violence, one of the root causes of trafficking.

“I feel incredibly lucky that I am able to support women’s organisations around the world. When I read an article or hear about something such as trafficking, I have the privilege to do something to help and each year we are able to give more. The Issues Affecting Women Programme is very important to me.”

 

Source: 
Oak Foundation Annual Report
Year of publication: 
2015
Programme: 
Issues Affecting Women

1. Human Trafficking and Modern-day Slavery, NGOs urge Moldoa and Pridnestrovie to work together in fight against sex slave trade http://gvnet.com/humantrafficking/Moldova.htm (accessed 13 January 2016)

2. UN Women, Facts and Figures: Ending Violence against Women http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/facts... (accessed 13 January 2016)

3. United Nations Moldova, Violence against Women in the Family in the Republic of Moldova http://www.statistica.md/public/files/publicatii_electronice/Violenta/Ra... (accessed 13 January 2016)

4. La Strada, 2008, ‘Violation of women’s rights – a cause and consequence of trafficking in women’ https://ec.europa.eu/anti-trafficking/publications/violation-womens-righ... (accessed 19 January 2016)

5. William Finnegan, 2008, The Countertraffickers, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/05/05/the-countertraffickers

In Moldova, some

60%

of women have experienced intimate partner violence.