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July 05, 2023

Combatting Gender-Based Violence by Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Republic of Moldova

Gender-based violence (GBV) is a pervasive international human rights violation, with one in three women experiencing GBV throughout their lifetime. This type of physical, sexual, psychological, or economic abuse includes any private or public form of harm against a person because of their gender identity or presentation and is deeply rooted in power inequalities between women and men. Although GBV is a global crisis that can impact individuals of any gender, the majority of survivors are women whose overall well-being is jeopardized by this common, yet often normalized, form of abuse.
The overlap between GBV and women’s economic empowerment (WEE) is a particularly underexamined nexus, despite the strain of GBV on women’s access to resources, formal employment, and entrepreneurship. For example, survivors of domestic violence face considerable barriers to employment and enterprise due to restrictions by abusive partners. According to various studies, women who experience GBV are more likely to be regularly absent from work or leave their jobs entirely due to deteriorating mental or physical health. Beyond the domestic sphere, GBV within and on the way to the workplace can result in high levels of stress, low productivity, compromised teamwork, frequent absence, and high turnover rates among employees. These impacts extend beyond immediate victims, creating economic losses for businesses as frequent changes in personnel contribute to low productivity, fewer results, wasted time and resources onboarding new employees, and damage to organizational reputation.
Despite the burden of GBV on women employees and businesses, the private sector often remains hesitant to address the harmful gender norms that reinforce GBV. As stipulated in the Center for International Private Enterprise’s (CIPE) recent report, “Intersection of Gender-based Violence and Harassment (GBVH) and Women’s Entrepreneurship and Women’s Economic Empowerment,” even women entrepreneurs, chambers, and business associations usually do not explicitly engage in advocacy against GBV, finding this abuse irrelevant to their immediate profitability goals. In addition to the general lack of private sector interest in gender equality and combatting workplace GBV, women entrepreneurs in particular may choose to avoid gender equality and GBV-focused work due to cultural stigma associated with these topics. In a male-dominated field where women are already at a disadvantage, it is perhaps understandable that businesswomen would choose to focus their efforts on building entrepreneurial capacity rather than addressing concerns about GBV. When women’s business associations (WBAs) do work on GBV mitigation, these networks tend to view this abuse either as an individual domestic issue or as a contained problem impacting their members in the workplace, rather than considering GBV as a whole-of-society issue.
As a former Soviet republic and one of Europe’s poorest countries, GBV and WEE are especially salient issues for the Republic of Moldova. Despite being party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the Istanbul Convention, Moldova’s gender equality indicators continue to flounder. According to the Preliminary Gender and Inclusion Analysis for Moldova, nearly two-thirds of Moldovan women over the age of 15 experienced at least one form of domestic violence (physical, psychological, or sexual) in their lifetimes, and one in ten women were survivors of economic violence. Vulnerable women, including those who are rural, elderly, and divorced or separated, were most likely to face multiple types of violence. A survey from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) additionally found that nearly three-quarters of women in Moldova experienced some form of intimate partner violence (IPV), with psychological violence (71 percent of women) the most reported form of IPV, followed by physical violence (33 percent). While already a significant problem in Moldova prior to 2020, rates of domestic violence escalated as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.  According to the Preliminary Gender and Inclusion Analysis for Moldova, in addition to the prevalence of GBV, Moldovan women face significant barriers to economic empowerment, including gendered wage differentials, concentrated employment in lower-paying fields, inequitable domestic responsibilities, and limited access to childcare.
In an effort to combat widespread GBV in Moldova through WEE initiatives, the Women and Girls Empowered Consortium (WAGE Global Consortium) introduced its “Reducing Barriers to Women’s Economic Empowerment in Moldova” (WAGE Moldova) project in 2020. In collaboration between CIPE and the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), WAGE Moldova took an integrated approach to WEE, with CIPE bringing programmatic WEE expertise and ABA ROLI providing technical GBV prevention and response knowledge. However, despite an intentional program design, the project encountered many of the same challenges described above—primarily, that engaging the private sector on GBV prevention and response work is difficult due to perceptions that these issues fall outside the scope of the business community, GBV is a private matter, and there can be stigma for those engaging in the work. One sentiment shared by business associations was that they had not previously engaged on the issue because they did not see how they could help survivors. Thus, one of the first challenges the project had to tackle was finding creative ways to help local partners see the connections between WEE and GBV, and the role WBAs could play in more holistically addressing women entrepreneurs’ diverse needs in the Republic of Moldova.
WAGE employed several strategies to help local partner organizations understand the interconnectedness of the issues. ABA ROLI and local partner the Women’s Law Center (WLC) organized a series of inter-organizational dialogues intended to create a safe space for learning and conversation around GBV. Each session featured a prominent government or multilateral official, gender expert, or economist equipped to facilitate relationship building and open conversations around how GBV impacts the economy, affects women both at work and in their private lives, and permeates society. For example, Liliana Palihovici, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Chairperson and Special Representative on Gender, facilitated the first session with leaders from WBAs working with the program. The session focused on the ability of women’s economic empowerment programming to prevent gender-based violence through awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace and how GBV impacts women in the workplace. This and other discussions helped WBAs share candidly that they weren’t always sure what they could do to address GBV, or what role the government could play in addressing these issues. At times, facilitators shared information and statistics about the impact of violence on women’s ability to participate meaningfully in the economy or effectively manage a business. This too helped organizations identify concrete challenges they could point to that hold women back in the world of work, and therefore how relevant tackling the challenges could be for serving their members. Workplace harassment in particular was interesting to the WBAs because it is a prominent example of GBV and WEE intersections that makes clear the imperative to look holistically at the issues. While WAGE made significant progress in this area over the life of the project, this endeavor continues to be an ongoing process.
One of the most noteworthy achievements of this project was the creation of the first-ever Alliance for Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Republic of Moldova, which brings together 12 WBAs and women’s civil society organizations (WCSOs), including GBV prevention organizations, to reduce barriers to the professional development and subsequently increase the economic empowerment of Moldovan women. The Alliance created a much-needed platform for joint advocacy as well as opportunities to exchange experience and knowledge between private sector and GBV organizations. Considering the realities on the ground, members of the Alliance identified five priority areas and drafted complimentary policy recommendations, which formed its Women’s Legislative Agenda. CIPE facilitated discussions between members of the Alliance to select the priority areas which would respond to both the needs of women entrepreneurs and GBV survivors. Within these discussions, CIPE supported both WBAs and WCSOs to share their experience on the issues faced by both women entrepreneurs and GBV survivors, thus contributing to raising awareness among both groups.
In this respect, each of the Alliance’s priority areas within the Women’s Legislative Agenda contributes to the prevention of GBV while also working toward WEE goals. The first two priority areas explicitly focus on raising awareness of gender-based discrimination and harassment in the workplace, legal protections for victims, sanctions for these violations, and reporting mechanisms. The third priority area advocates for increased access to childcare services, which would support women survivors of GBV by increasing their capacity for economic independence. The organizations chose this priority upon learning through collaboration under the project that women survivors of violence, especially those with small children, are often unable or unwilling to leave an abusive partner due to a lack of a sufficient income. Supporting businesses to create alternative and affordable childcare services would therefore increase opportunities for women’s employment, empowering them to leave abusive relationships.
The fourth priority area similarly tackles inequities within the Moldovan care economy, by engaging the business community to advocate for expanded social services, like medical services, care services for the elderly and people with disabilities, and childcare premises and care measures for children over ten years old during the summer. This priority area also came as a result of the project team raising WBAs’ awareness that the disproportionate burden on women to perform unpaid domestic work impedes their ability to enter the formal labour market, again hindering the capacity for victims of GBV to gain financial independence. Along with increased access to affordable childcare services, expanded social services would aid Moldovan women’s economic security.
The final priority area of the Alliance is focused on support for the private sector, proposing incentives to increase the resilience of microenterprises impacted by a series of national crises, including the ongoing regional crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, the European energy crisis, and the war in Ukraine. Alliance members chose this priority area in recognition that businesswomen are more likely to manage microenterprises, and support for these could empower women, including survivors of violence, to continue running their businesses during these challenging times.

CIPE supported Alliance members to design and conduct advocacy campaigns on raising awareness on the issues included in the Women’s Legislative Agenda. In total, six roundtables were conducted across Moldova. During all the roundtables, CIPE and its partners informed participants—comprising the business sector, civil society, local, regional and national public authorities—about the impact of the priority areas on combating GBV and the important role of private sector to engage in this endeavor.
In addition to the formation of the Alliance and its advocacy campaigns, the WAGE Moldova project also engaged with local partner WLC to enhance the wider business community’s knowledge of the impacts of GBV on business. In 2021, WLC organized two training sessions, specifically targeting WBAs, which covered topics such as foundations of gender equality, gender roles and stereotypes, GBV myths, the economic cost of gender inequality, and principles of women’s empowerment. In 2022, WLC conducted an information session with members of the Association of Women Entrepreneurs from Moldova (AFAM), a member of the Alliance, to discuss GBV, its forms and consequences, how it affects society in general, who is at risk of becoming a victim, and statistics from Moldova. Last year, WLC also developed the “Practical Guide for Women and Girls for a Safe Life without Violence” brochure, which includes targeted advice for WBAs, explaining the negative impacts of GBV on businesses and why it is important to engage in activities that prevent and combat GBV.
Complimenting the efforts of the WAGE Moldova project, the Government of the Republic of Moldova took significant steps to combat GBV in the past two years. In October 2021, the Moldovan Parliament ratified the Istanbul Convention, which entered into force in May 2022. That same month, the Parliament also adopted the first hearing of a draft law which will work to combat sexual harassment in the workplace and ensure better access to justice for victims. Finally, in December 2022, the Parliament adopted the draft law on alternative childcare services for children up to three-years-old in a final hearing. The adopted law incorporated seven out of nine proposals submitted by the Alliance for Women’s Economic Empowerment back in November 2021.
Despite these important legislative strides towards the elimination of GBV and the achievement of WEE, as well as the results of the WAGE Moldova project, there is still much work to be done in Moldova on these interrelated fronts. Taking a whole-of society approach to combatting GBV, increasing WEE, and ultimately achieving gender equality will require a commitment from individuals of all genders and socioeconomic statuses in the business sector, civil society, and government. While a challenging task, the lessons from the Republic of Moldova provide hope and motivation for a safer and more equitable future for all.

Published on July 6, 2023.

About the Authors:

Catherine Rabus, Program Associate, Europe and Eurasia, CIPE
Catherine Rabus is a Program Associate for Europe and Eurasia, focusing on Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Moldova. Catherine holds a master’s degree in German and European Studies from Georgetown University where she also earned graduate certificates in Gender, Peace, and Security and Refugees and Humanitarian Crises. Catherine works on CIPE programming focused on advancing women’s economic empowerment, empowering the private sector to combat disinformation, and strengthening the private sector’s role in abiding by Georgia’s updated Labor Code. Before her experience at CIPE, Catherine interned with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, UNICEF, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Office.
Elena Ratoi, Program Officer, Europe and Eurasia, CIPE
Elena Ratoi is based in Chisinau, Moldova, where she works as CIPE’s Program Officer under the S/GWI-funded “Reducing Barriers to Women’s Economic Empowerment in Moldova (WAGE)” project. Elena has 10 years of work experience in project management with most of her career focused on supporting women’s empowerment and gender equality. Prior to joining CIPE in 2020, Elena held positions at UN Women, where she managed projects and initiatives in the field of women’s political participation, women’s leadership, gender-sensitive legislation, and advancing the Women, Peace and Security agenda in Moldova. She started her career as a Project Associate at Association “MOTIVATIE,” which aims to promote social inclusion of persons with disabilities. Elena attended Moldova State University where she earned a BA in Constitutional and Administrative Law and an MA in Civil Law.
Kristen Walling, Program Manager, Women and Girls Empowered (WAGE), ABA ROLI
Kristen Walling is the WAGE Program Manager and brings nearly 15 years of expertise in the areas of GBV and WEE. Her experience includes GBV case management in the U.S. and globally, policy and advocacy, and international program implementation. Prior to joining ABA ROLI, Kristen worked with Solar Sister, Inc. where she led grant writing and oversaw budget monitoring and grants management for the organization. She also previously worked at Vital Voices Global Partnership, directing the provision of emergency assistance to GBV survivors and managing a program to end female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C) in five West African countries. She provided remote and in-person technical assistance and capacity building to local partners and led policy and advocacy work with six human rights policy coalitions, with a focus on TIP and the International Violence Against Women Act (I-VAWA). She previously spent several years working for faith-based organizations on policy issues including reproductive health and rights, economic justice, and GBV. Kristen served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Madagascar and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Studies from American University and a Master of Public Administration degree from George Washington University.

*Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Government. 
Women and Girls Empowered (WAGE) is a global consortium to advance the status of women and girls, led by the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) in close partnership with the Center for International Private Enterprise, Grameen Foundation, and Search for Common Ground. WAGE works to strengthen the capacity of private sector organizations (PSOs) and civil society organizations (CSOs) in target countries to improve the prevention of and response to gender-based violence (GBV); advance the women, peace, and security (WPS) agenda; and support women’s economic empowerment (WEE). In this context, WAGE provides direct assistance to women and girls, including information, resources, and services they need to succeed as active and equal participants in the global economy. WAGE also engages in collaborative research and learning to build a body of evidence on relevant promising practices in these thematic areas. To account for the deeply interconnected nature of women’s and girls’ experiences, WAGE’s initiatives employ approaches that are highly collaborative, integrated, and inclusive. WAGE is funded by the U.S. Department of State Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues.

The materials contained herein represent the opinions of the authors and editors and should not be construed to be those of either the American Bar Association unless adopted pursuant to the bylaws of the Association. Nothing contained herein is to be considered as the rendering of legal advice for specific cases, and readers are responsible for obtaining such advice from their own legal counsel. These materials and any forms and agreements herein are intended for educational and informational purposes only.