(Event organized on March 17, by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and UN Women Europe and Central Asia)
“Thank you for the invitation to participate in this discussion.
Although Moldova is considered a nation with deep patriarchal traditions, I am happy to tell you that women are gaining a strong foothold in our society. This is not by accident or happy circumstance. This is the result of years of work by our women and a consequence of changing social norms.
Moldovan women are more and more recognized for their competencies, their knowledge, their courage and their hard work. We have an increasing number of women in managerial positions in businesses and state institutions. The number of elected women is also growing.
My own example is telling: I ran a campaign focused on fighting corruption and defending the rule of law. And Moldovans supported me - despite pervasive stereotypes about the role and place of women, despite a noisy discreditation campaign conducted by my opponents. People looked beyond gender, beyond the veil of lies, and chose a woman to fight their fight. I am honored to be that woman. And I hope that this vote will inspire more women to enter politics and run for elected office.
In nearly 30 years of independence, two of Moldovan Parliament’s speakers and two of our Prime Ministers were women. I was one of those two PMs. My cabinet - which I chose based on competence and merit - had a majority of women ministers. Women currently make up one quarter of all Members of the Parliament and about 22% of all mayors.
We have come far, but not far enough. We have a legal norm requiring parties to assign 40% of places on their lists to candidates of either gender in parliamentary elections, but this rule was not enforced because of changes in the electoral system during the previous election cycle. We should see this norm being enforced during the next parliamentary elections - hopefully when we have snap elections by the end of this year.
Furthermore, party politics is unfortunately not a truly pluralistic affair in Moldova. Some parties are still run as pocket institutions by their leaders and sponsors, and a vast majority of them are men. Even when we have this condition to have equal representation, some party leaders, men, would prefer to promote women who are not courageous enough to speak up their minds. These are the things we have to change.
Engaging women in politics on an equal footing with men is already hard when perceptions of social roles are not equal. But unlawful practices, discrimination and disinformation tactics, physical and psychological violence makes it even harder for them to seek office.
Thankfully, physical violence against women candidates is seldom registered in Moldova. But dirty tricks abound. The presidential campaign saw numerous cases of insults and innuendo rooted in social prejudice, and attempts to denigrate women candidates - myself included - based on gender and perceived social norms. This is also a big issue in the local elections, for women who campaign to become mayors.
Those who orchestrated them hoped to deter voters from turning up and to discourage the candidates from running and pushing for their ideas. And they were wrong. I am happy to say that those tricks didn’t work. Our society weighed the candidates on merit and qualification, assessed their characters, not genders - and made their choice. I hope this example will serve as a lesson for other campaigns - and as an example and inspiration for many more women to try and make their voice heard.
Nevertheless, the prevalence of discriminatory language, disinformation and outright hate speech during the campaign did leave a poisonous mark in the public discourse in Moldova. As a consequence, our colleagues in Parliament have developed a draft law which will help deter the use of hate and discriminatory speech. Unfortunately, Parliament has not yet voted on this draft law. So, this is still to be done.
Unfortunately, women’s rights are far for being fully respected in my country. The Gender Equality Index for 2021 in Moldova was 59 - one point lower than in 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic put a strain on women, further reduced their participation in the workforce, made them more dependent on social allowances and increased the pay gap between men and women to 14%. 2020 also registered a steep increase in the number of cases of domestic violence against women and girls. This was a big issue for the country even before the pandemic. We must do everything we can to stop this scourge that is tearing our society apart. We must enforce measures that prevent violent outbursts and ensure that women’s rights to have a life without violence are guaranteed.
As we all come to understand, violence is rarely a sign of strength. As our nation grows and matures, I hope we can plant seeds of confidence, self-sufficiency and vision in our girls and boys, and help our women and men build a fairer, stronger, more harmonious society that values talent, competence and diversity.
See the video from the event here.