“Inequalities provoked me to start changing things” - Dominika Stojanoska, UN Women Moldova Country Representative

UN Women Moldova Country Representative, Dominika Stojanoska, on achievements in gender equality agenda, women’s empowerment and elimination of violence against women and girls.

Date: Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Originally published on wind.md 

Dominika Stojanoska, UN Women Moldova Country Representative
Dominika Stojanoska, UN Women Moldova Country Representative. Credit: UN Women

Dominika Stojanoska has over 15 years of work experience in human rights. She has been continuously fighting for women’s rights and elimination of any forms of discrimination by taking actions in North Macedonia, Ukraine and now in the Republic of Moldova. What is UN Women role in advancing Gender Equality Agenda, what are main steps taken to help victims and survivors of domestic violence and how to break stereotypes in early childhood, - today we are discussing the most important issues with UN Women Moldova Country Representative.

- Dominika, you have a vast experience in human rights. What made you decide namely to help women?

It’s a good question. Actually, I had three moments in my life that made me determine to work on gender equality and women’s rights. If I go back, the first one was in my early childhood. I must say thanks to my grandmother who was one of the most resilient women I ever knew. She was constantly reminding me the natural order of things, on what are women and men roles. It didn’t look good to me and even not just. She was saying: “At the end of the day you can do nothing, you can just admit things just as they are”. My grandmother was the first who provoked me to start changing things.

The other was my adolescence. Great role played my parents, in particular my mother. She was decisive in instructing me and my brother that there are no women or men roles. In a family with two parents working we had to help out. We had to do whatever was necessary to function as a family. My mother did not distinguish between me and my brother. She was interpreting this as helping us to be independent. The basic feeling behind was to help me to understand that there are no expected girl’s or boy’s roles. And as for my brother - not to have expectations that one day he should be expecting something from his wife he is able to do himself.

The third was my university period. I was at the faculty of political science. As students, we were always debating about national and international politics and you could notice that there were not many differences between female and male students, they had strong opinions and stood behind them. But then, when watching news, you could see very few women in the government, in the parliament, at the world leaders’ forums. At the same time, the 4th world Conference on women rights was happening in Beijing. These were the episodes that predetermined my motivation, my professional development and in some way, my future.

- You were appointed as UN Women Moldova representative after your mission in Ukraine. How do you think what are major problems Moldovan women face? Do they differ from those you’ve seen in Ukraine?

I don’t really like comparing countries, but since you asked, I can mention some similarities and differences. If we see the global data on gender equality, then women’s leadership and participation in the decision making processes are one of the areas where similarities can be found. Women’s representation in in Moldovan parliament is 25.7% as compared to 20.5% in Ukraine. Moldova adopted earlier the legal changes in the Electoral Code, by introducing the 40% quota. It has recently amended the legislation to ensure that the placement provisions on the electoral lists are respected. Ukraine has just adopted the 40% quota and we will have to see how it will translate in terms of representation share at central and local level, especially with the upcoming local elections.

What is common for Moldova and Ukraine is that patriarchal social norms and gender stereotypes in the division of the roles and responsibilities in the private and public domain are still strong in both countries. Women remain more engaged in unpaid care and domestic work. We still see that the participation of women in labor market is around 40 % (46% Ukraine, 40% Moldova), partially due to lack of sufficient childcare facilities. Gender wage gap persists in both countries, although varies across different sectors.

Ukraine is the country where a conflict is still ongoing. One particular difference is that in Ukraine 55 % of internally displaced persons are women and children. It creates additional burdens for women to find jobs, to care for families and evidently to go through very difficult situations.

In the past several years Ukraine elevated the leadership of the gender equality mechanisms at the deputy prime minister’s level. In Moldova the Government Committee on Equal Rights and Opportunities has been established, but not active for some time. Speaking generally, the exchange of best practices and common challenges between Ukraine and Moldova on functioning of the women machinery might be beneficial for both countries.

Last but not least, the issue of violence against women. Moldova and Ukraine have similar challenges of high prevalence and average-to-low level of reporting. The COVID-19 pandemic, as in many countries worldwide, has aggravated the situation. It remains crucial to strengthen and improve the access to services and ensure the protection and access to justice for survivors of all forms of gender based violence.

- This year we mark 25 years since adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action. Comparing Moldova and other countries which are the achievements in implementation of Gender Equality agenda? What actions need to be taken forward?

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action adopted in 1995 was and still remains the most comprehensive political and social agenda for advancing women rights and gender equality. On October 1st, a global event organized by the General Assembly focusing exactly on Beijing +25 took place.

Important progress has been recorded since 1995, we saw legislation changes, establishment of institutional mechanisms, significant improvement in enrollment of girls in education, gender related crimes in conflict recognized and prosecuted under international laws, maternal health improved etc. However, still there is much to be done and the progress is too slow. I was looking at some figures published by UN Women and if we continue to move with this pace, it will take us additional 99,5 years to achieve gender equality globally, which is unacceptable.

In Moldova important achievements have been accomplished since 1995: the normative framework has been improved in compliance with global standards and institutional mechanisms established. At the same time the Republic of Moldova committed to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, where gender equality targets are included in almost all sustainable development goals.

The figures show that women’s representation in Parliament increased from 3.7 % from the first parliament elections (1990-1994) to 25.7% in the last election in 2019. This a significant change. Let us also not forget about the important progress the Republic of Moldova recorded in the 2019 local elections.

We are very proud to see that 6 out of 8 candidates among women with disabilities and 6 out of 16 Roma women candidates became local counselors. It is a very important reflection because it’s in a way a breakthrough particularly for women who are facing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. Still women representation is not at the level it should be, if we consider that women are half of the population.

There was a significant improvement in setting the framework and mechanisms for gender mainstreaming in policy making. Important strategic documents on gender equality were adopted, which is important commitment. Introduction of 14 days paid paternity leave in 2016 was a little step forward if we are talking about sharing of unpaid work at home and caring for children.

We see more women in science technology engineering and mathematics. It’s very important especially nowadays when we are moving to digital due to the pandemic, and not only. Still, the access to labor market is not easy. The value of women’s work is also insufficiently recognized.

National Bureau of Statistic data state Moldovan women are spending much more time and efforts on household and care work than men. Women who have children perform 20.4% less of economic activities which are paid for than women without children and 16.4 % less than man who also have children. Average wage gap is 14%. And if we go to different sectors, for example financial and insurance activities, the wage gap constitutes 38%. So women get much less paid for the work of the same value.

The hardest part to talk about here is gender-based violence. As mentioned earlier, the data on prevalence show concerning trends and the availability of services does not correspond to the actual needs.

We work closely with the Government (central and local) and partner with civil society organizations, as well as the private sector, to overcome the persisting challenges. We coordinate closely with the UN sister agencies, and benefit from the strong partnership with the Embassy of Sweden and the EU in advancing the implementation of the gender equality commitments.

Last and not least, with the support and cooperation through the UN multi-donor trust fund, the government of Japan and the Austrian Development Agency, we managed to adapt quickly, assess the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on women and girls and respond with direct support and protective items, as well as with support to economic recovery of vulnerable groups of women.

/Weak law enforcement means 243 million women are victims of violence from an intimate partner each year/ (block: statistics)

- Domestic violence as you mentioned is one of the most complicated problem women face in our country, especially during the pandemic crisis. What programs UN Women Moldova runs to support victims and survivors of domestic violence during this period?

The global pandemic actually made many issues visible and maybe even more acute. We saw increased rage of burdens for women. Not only in unpaid work and care for children supporting them with schooling etc., but also the increase of domestic violence on the global level and in Moldova as well.

Due to joint efforts in cooperation with International Center La Strada and National Coalition „Life without violence” consisting of 21 NGOs we assessed the real situation. On one side we saw increase in vulnerability because of the lack of available essential services on protection. On the other side, due to the lockdown measures, opportunities for those to get out of the cycle of violence and find some temporary job decreased/became more limited. We worked on it with the support from Sweden and the EU, and with our partners - the Ministry of Health, Labor and Social Protection and National Coalition „Life without violence” to respond quickly and ensure that all critical situations are addressed. Together we enabled the delivery of personal protection equipment to service providers, provision of essential products and food packages to shelters, arranged for temporary placements during lockdown and ensured that services are still in place for those who were already accommodated in the shelters.

Of course, we needed to acknowledge the situation and to adapt to different working modality. With support of our civil society partners we managed to pilot provision of online support services.

During the first two-months period we managed to support up to 213 victims and/or survivors of domestic violence from different regions. We provided psychological counselling, legal and social assistance, including telemedicine services. And what is very important is that National Coalition continued to provide such free services online.

The National Coalition „Life without violence” identified alternative options to ensure that those who are in immediate danger or risk are placed in some temporary or emergency apartments. In some shelters isolation units were introduced to be able to accommodate women and children in risk situation and at the same time prevent the spread of infection.

We still undertake additional efforts in continuing the provision of online services but at the same expand the work on prevention and protection at local level, especially in two target regions – Cahul and Ungheni- where we recently launched a Joint program with UNICEF, supported by the EU Delegation.

-  Talking about domestic violence. Quite often it takes roots from gender stereotypes learned in childhood. For instance, in some areas girls are still taught that all they need in life is to be good wives, do household things and raise children. How can we break these stereotypes?

This is something that should be taught at different levels and stages. We need to work with parents and families, raising the awareness on the prevailing gender stereotypes and how their reproduction can be limiting to their children future. There are no predetermined areas where only girls or boys are good or not good at all. Parents need to encourage boys and girls in all areas that they might see potential for further development.

It’s very important to introduce the topic of human rights and gender equality at all levels of education, in particular in pre-school education. Preschool is when children start not only their education but also socialization. And here we have to do an effort: to work with educators and teachers in kindergarten to give positive role models. To bring children visual examples like women pilots, police officers, male teachers, or male ballet dancers. Something to break the existing stereotypes and make different realities visible to children. Nothing is predetermined.

One of the areas we worked much on challenging gender stereotypes is STEM. It is scientifically proven that biology has nothing to do with the ability to be good in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Boys are not predetermined to be great and girls not, all is about social perception, personal interest and encouragement or discouragement of girls or boys to engage in STEM.

Media can play an important role as well in challenging gender stereotypes by publicly promoting different role models.

Employment and women in business is another issue I’d like to discuss here. Women quite often have less time for career than men as they spend more time on unpaid household work or raising children. What programs UN Women has now to support women economic empowerment? Especially during the pandemic crisis.

Women in business really face additional challenges. They are still more engaged in household matters and taking care of children. And this creates serious burdens for women who really want to move to business sector.

However, I must say that women’s engagement in business has really improved over the past years, as according to statistical data it increased about 6.4 percentage point since 2009 when the previous research was conducted. But, despite this progress, women still represent a minority in the business community. The latest reports show that women are prevalently running small to medium businesses and with the impact of COVID-19 the concern is how many of those will continue to exist.

At the same time, we see that women entrepreneurs receive less support compared to men. At national level only 23.8% of women get the support compared to 33.9 % of men. Taking into account that crisis caused by the pandemic is continuing we try to cooperate with our partners and donors, especially with the Embassy of Japan, and seek and establish cooperation with government agencies to support small and medium enterprises run by women. And we focus namely on women from most underrepresented groups who have started or are planning to start a small business.

One of the important steps what UN Women Moldova is doing over the past years is supporting women to be more engaged in IT sector. This is one of the areas where we see a great potential of professional growth for women. A number of training session for women and girls have been launched to improve digital skills. Especially for women from rural areas and underrepresented groups. And we have some example of success when such training has led to employment or opening a business in IT sector.

Another important issue I should state here is the work with private companies. Like implementation of women’s empowerment principles, where private companies are reviewing their internal regulations and ensuring enabling environment for increased engagement of women and removing barriers for their progressing to senior positions.

How do you see the upcoming year? What steps you personally think you need to undertake in the nearest future?

One year is not a long time. Moreover, it’s going to be a challenging year due to the pandemic, nobody knows when we’ll overcome it. The personal goal for me is efficient work with my team, strengthening further partnership with government and civil society organizations. To implement what we have committed and to further expand the support to the most vulnerable and excluded groups of women who are really strongly affected by the pandemic. And again for me - to integrate well with my family in Moldova, to know better the country. It’s a bit difficult to live in a place and be isolated at the same time, not being able to travel and to meet people personally, but I hope the situation will improve.

Interview: Elena Cernicova