World Humanitarian Day: Local initiatives build bridges and inclusive communities.


World Humanitarian Day is an occasion to highlight our collective role in addressing the needs of refugees in all their diversity. Likewise, it offers a moment to acknowledge the significance of strengthening relationships, partnerships and collaborations between central and local authorities, civil society and the donor community, grounded in trust, respect and recognition.

World Humanitarian Day
Image credit: UN Women

Beyond causing devastating consequences and immediate human suffering, Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine is having significant repercussions on the rights and well-being of women and girls.

Access to essential services, such as health and education, become a challenge in such contexts, deepening inequalities. In addition, women's personal safety and well-being are often compromised as they face increased risks of gender-based violence, exploitation and abuse. For UN Women, promoting women's rights and gender mainstreaming in humanitarian action is a priority. Taking appropriate measures can ensure that women’s specific needs are recognized and addressed, thus strengthening resilience and social cohesion in conflict-affected societies.

According to UN Women Moldova’s Country Representative, Dominika Stojanoska “As the war in Ukraine moved into its second year and almost 100,000 refugees decided to stay in Moldova, sustained support is required for both humanitarian assistance and integration within host communities, while promoting a sustainable peace. Women, either because disproportionally impacted by any crisis due to pre-existing inequalities, or - as in the case of this crisis- are the majority of the refugees, need to be at the forefront in leading the recovery and resilience,” she said. “Our approach prioritizes a partner-led response that involves refugee and women from local communities from both sides of Nistru river and builds on the agency and capacity of local public authorities and women’s civil society organizations to deliver programmes that focus on women's leadership and agency in promoting integration and resilience.”

As reported by Moldovan Border Police for the operational data portal of UNHCR , 83% of the refugees currently on our country's territory are women and children. They are hosted by local communities or reside in private accommodations. In this context, to develop local initiatives that address the needs of host communities and refugees and foster social cohesion, inclusion and resilience, UN Women, in collaboration with the Congress of Local Authorities of Moldova (CALM) and with the financial support of the Government of Switzerland, launched the project, “Provision of extensive support to enhance the resilience of crisis-affected local communities, members of the Congress of Local Authorities from Moldova and refugee populations, particularly women, through community-based initiatives, social cohesion, capacity development and dialogue.”

Katri Hoch, coordinator of the Humanitarian Assistance Program at the Swiss Cooperation Office, mentions that Moldova, being affected by multiple crises, requires both short-term strategies to strengthen the resilience of the population and refugees, as well as medium- and long-term targeted reforms in various areas, ensuring that social cohesion between communities is a key step. "Through the project implemented by UN Women, Switzerland reinforces the humanitarian-development-peace nexus approach by empowering women-led groups to address social issues through community-based initiatives, which also address the needs of refugees,” Hoch said. “Its added value lies in strengthening women's voices and participation, thus contributing to social cohesion, while women-led groups engage in dialogues across Moldova, including in the Transnistrian region.”

Since the onset of the war/invasion, Moldova’s local public authorities (LPAs) have played an essential role in the frontline response to the needs of refugees. According to statistics, 899,891 Ukrainian refugees have entered Moldova to date, with 109,815 people currently residing in the country. Initially, the LPAs provided immediate assistance and coordination, serving as the primary point of contact for refugees arriving in Moldova. Now, they are focused on promoting social cohesion and strengthening relationships between host communities and refugees.

The joint project between UN Women, CALM and the Government of Switzerland will support seven communities from the northern, central and southern parts of Moldova, including UTA Gagauzia. These regions were selected based on a study conducted by CALM, which took into account the number of refugees being hosted, geographical distribution, previous involvement of LPAs in the refugee crisis response, etc.

"Local partnerships are essential to connecting development interventions, humanitarian assistance and peacebuilding,” said Tatiana Badan, President of CALM. “I am proud of my fellow mayors who, from the first day of the war started by Russia in Ukraine, mobilized the communities they represent to host refugees, mostly women and children." She also discussed the local initiatives’ main areas of focus within the project. "In the seven communities hosting refugees, initiatives for the redevelopment of community infrastructure and social cohesion activities will be implemented at the community level, thus creating better conditions for women refugees who decided to stay in Moldova, as well as women and children in those communities,” she said. “Local public authorities will promote social cohesion and innovative approaches in these initiatives, including through the involvement of local women's and youth organizations that will help promote gender mainstreaming."

The needs of host communities and refugees will be addressed through seven local initiatives implemented in Briceni, Ștefănești (Florești district), Anenii Noi, Cricova, Ștefan Vodă, Selemet (Cimișlia district) and Comrat and will include: community infrastructure redevelopment works (community centres, schools, buildings and accommodation in the medium- and long-term for women and children from refugee and local communities), social cohesion activities at the community level (cultural, artistic, sports activities, fairs, vernissages, etc.), psychological assistance, as well as energy efficiency and climate change mitigation measures. In total, 13,300 individuals, including refugees and members of local communities, will benefit from the seven local initiatives, of which 4,627 are women and 5,235 are children.

In this context, Ludmila Zdraguș, Mayor of Ștefănești commune in Florești district, spoke about the measures planned to ensure social cohesion in the localities. "We aim to integrate and support refugees by carrying out social cohesion activities at the community level, which will bring together at least 200 people from the commune and 26 refugees, including their children,” she said. “We will plan cultural evenings, artistic events and exhibitions that will promote social cohesion among the local population, using innovative approaches. Apart from these actions, we are in the initial stage of carrying out a psychological assistance project for both refugees and local communities.”

Mayor Valentin Guțan discussed plans for the local initiatives in Cricova. "In order to encourage and ensure an inclusive environment for refugees, a series of social, educational, legal and medical activities will be carried out, which will involve the active involvement of refugees in various activities organized within the Cricova Public Library,” he said. “They will collaborate with the local community on social projects concerning access to medical and legal services, organized by the Cricova Youth Center and an organization of counselors."

Vladislav Cociu, Mayor of Ștefan Vodă, said that since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Ștefan Vodă City Hall has managed to deal with the refugee crisis by “providing support on all dimensions: humanitarian, social, medical, psychological, educational and legal.” The planned initiatives for Ștefan Vodă aim to increase social cohesion between refugees and local communities by organizing joint events; ensuring the friendly and efficient integration of refugees from Ukraine; and creating a harmonious environment with renewed infrastructure, which will allow the community to organize thematic events and conduct the Moldovan-Ukrainian Investment Forum. The forum will be organized with the aim of developing the cross-border area in southern Moldova and Ukraine, providing mutual support for economic development and attracting foreign investments. "Ștefan Vodă City Hall aims to continue its efforts to facilitate social cohesion between refugees from Ukraine and local communities, which will help prevent discrimination against people based on cultural identity or socio-economic status,” he added.

The project “Provision of extensive support to enhance resilience of crisis-affected local communities, members of the Congress of Local Authorities from Moldova and refugee populations, particularly women, through community-based initiatives, social cohesion, capacity development and dialogue” is implemented by CALM in collaboration with UN Women and with financial support from the Government of Switzerland.