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September 12, 2023

Advancing Women’s Economic Empowerment, Combatting Gender-Based Violence: Two Years of WAGE Moldova

In January of 2023, the Women and Girls Empowered (WAGE) program, “Reducing Barriers to Women’s Economic Empowerment in Moldova,” came to a close after two years of implementing activities to promote women’s economic empowerment and combat gender-based violence. Implemented by the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) in partnership with the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), the program’s goals were two-fold. First, the WAGE Moldova program aimed to increase stakeholders’ understanding of the relationship between women’s economic empowerment and gender-based violence. At the same time, the program sought to strengthen the capacities of women’s civil society organizations (WSCOs), business associations (BAs), and women’s business associations (WBAs) to develop an Alliance to advocate for women’s economic empowerment in the Republic of Moldova. To achieve these strategic objectives, CIPE and ABA ROLI engaged two local Moldovan organizations, the Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Policy (CAPE) and the Women’s Law Center (WLC), to share their respective expertise in economic empowerment and gender-based violence.

Program Achievements

The program established the Alliance for Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Republic of Moldova. This landmark collaboration among members of the business sector and civil society, with the shared goal of promoting women’s economic security, marks the first of its kind in Moldova. Its membership is comprised of the Association of Women Entrepreneurs in Moldova (AFAM), the Association of Entrepreneurial Training and Development (AFAD), the Light Industry Employers Association (APIUS), the Association of Business and Professional Women Moldova (BPW Moldova), the Women and Family Assistance Center “Stimul”, the Association of Entrepreneurs with Disabilities from Moldova “European Abilities without Limits” (AEFL)Vesta, the Partnership for Development Center (CPD), the Center for the Development and Support of Civil Initiatives “Resonance”, Women’s Initiatives, the Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Policy (CAPE), and Women’s Democracy Network Moldova (WDN Moldova). In addition to organizations within the capital city, the Alliance includes members from the Autonomous Territorial Unit (ATU) Gagauzia and the Transnistria region.

The launch of the Alliance in 2022 garnered significant momentum and visibility within the private sector, development partners, and in government. Given the political momentum behind issues of women’s economic empowerment, gender equality, and gender-based violence (GBV) prevention and response, the Alliance was invited to participate in the Economic Council to the Prime Minister Working Group on women’s economic empowerment. 
With technical support from CIPE and local partner the Women’s Law Center (WLC), the Alliance identified its shared legislative and policy priorities and developed its Women’s Legislative Agenda. The agenda includes five key priority areas that are subdivided into the themes of business and gender equality and complemented by practical policy recommendations.
Business Priorities:

  • Incentives to engage businesses in providing early childhood education services; 
  • Incentives to involve the business community in providing social services, like palliative services, care services for the elderly and children with disabilities, and summertime facilities and care measures for students under age 10; and
  • Incentives to rescue the micro-enterprises affected by regional crises.

 Gender Equality Priorities:

  • Carrying out awareness raising campaigns on workplace discrimination and harassment, workplace discrimination and harassment legal provisions and sanctions, and reporting mechanisms.

 Advocacy Wins

Through small grants awarded by CIPE, BPW Moldova, Vesta, AEFL, and Stimul conducted a series of roundtable discussions with public and private stakeholders. Some of the roundtables centered around discussions with central, district, and local government officials on involving the business sector in the creation of early childhood education services. Roundtable participants also discussed draft law no. 389 on alternative childcare services, a conversation that informed the opinion on the draft law Alliance members later shared with Parliament. Following the adoption of the draft law by the Parliament on December 29, 2022, seven of the nine recommendations submitted by the Alliance, were ultimately integrated into the adopted law.
Other roundtable discussions engaged central and local government authorities to discuss support for microenterprises and SMEs affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the European energy crisis. These discussions resulted in policy recommendations that were ultimately submitted to the Economic Council to the Prime Minister. Later this year, the Council, in partnership with the Alliance, will begin working with Members of Parliament and development partners to integrate these recommendations into formal policy initiatives.  

Unexpected Outcomes

Further expanding its advocacy efforts beyond the Women’s Legislative Agenda, the Alliance also introduced a legal definition of “women’s entrepreneurship,” given that the lack of standardized language hampers partners’ ability to support women-led enterprises. Drawing from a Gender and Inclusion Analysis, CIPE supported Alliance members to draft a letter to the Economic Council to the Prime Minister proposing a proper definition of women’s entrepreneurship. The Economic Council was receptive of this proposal and amended its Roadmap on Women’s Economic Empowerment.  WLC and AFAM established a partnership separate from the WAGE program to conduct a social media campaign to raise awareness about GBV and what it constitutes. Within this partnership arrangement, AFAM took on the role as “ambassadors speaking against GBV.” This is notable, given the challenges the program faced in working with the business community to understand the impact they could have on issues like GBV and gender equality.

Laying The Groundwork for Program Success

The program implemented using a dual tracked approach, with one track providing organizational development capacity (ODC) building and the second track focusing on skill building in the area of advocacy. The ODC component consisted of training, coaching with expert mentors, and small grants to position organizations that formed the Alliance to better serve their beneficiaries and constituents. Technical interventions in this area were tailored and informed by diagnostic assessments administered by CIPE that assessed organizations on a range of topics pertaining to internal operations as well as policy advocacy, women-focused programming, and engaging women in advocacy and the policymaking process.
Among other findings, the assessment found that although many of these organizations were already women-focused, many were working in silos—for example, not collaborating widely with other organizations, or not addressing the relationship between women’s economic empowerment (WEE) and other issues imperative to women’s equality, such as GBV. WLC and ABA ROLI helped address this gap by providing gender mainstreaming support and facilitating interorganizational dialogues that explored the intersection of WEE and GBV. This support raised the baseline knowledge of the Alliance members about GBV as an unintended consequence of WEE and enabled them to formulate a business case for why they should prioritize gender equality and GBV prevention in their advocacy.
To address the shared need for mainstreaming gender equality in the activity of the WBAs and WCSOs throughout the ODC program, WLC developed guidance and resources on how organizations can operate in a more gender-sensitive manner, including around GBV prevention. This included raising awareness about childcare legislation and options, how organizations and businesses can support working women, and updating internal policies to be more gender-sensitive. Additionally, ABA ROLI worked with WLC to develop and publish the informational brochure “Guide to a Safe Life without Violence” in Romanian and Russian. The guide serves as a resource for the WBAs’ and BAs’ members. In addition, WLC and AFAM organized an informational session on combating GBV and sexual harassment in the workplace for businesswomen.  
As a result of the ODC technical assistance, the internal operations of the WBAs and BAs saw improvements. For example, some WBAs and BAs gained greater visibility within the sectors or industries they represent. In some cases, this resulted in a near double increase in their membership, while other WBAs/BAs rebranded and made valuable resources about the job market and launching a business more widely available to their members.
Deploying its National Women’s Business Agenda (NWBA) methodology, CIPE provided the Alliance training on developing an advocacy strategy and strategic communications for advocacy. Drawing from its other similar programming, CIPE also supported the Alliance to think through its internal operations including the functioning of its Secretariat.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

A particularly notable challenge the WAGE partners experienced during implementation centered on the sensitivities around GBV issues and integrating WEE and GBV. As WAGE partners were targeting primarily WCSOs and WBAs, the team assumed a baseline interest and desire in these areas among women-focused organizations. However, working at this intersection in a sensitive context is extremely difficult, and CIPE and ABA ROLI needed to invest time in the early stages of the program meeting partners where they were and creating safe spaces for dialogue and collective learning. Over time, this strategy succeeded in creating the buy-in and collaborative environment that enabled new partnerships to form, such as that mentioned above between AFAM and WLC. This experience underscores how critical it is not to rush program implementation and ensure ample time is given for program inception and adjusting plans throughout the program life cycle based on emerging learnings and needs. (Read more: Combatting Gender-Based Violence by Promoting Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Republic of Moldova.)

The WAGE Moldova program started during the COVID-19 pandemic and was also impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Most of the program activities were conducted virtually, which was a challenge for the organizations to create bonds and network and to build the necessary trust to discuss sensitive topics like GBV. Opportunities for relationship building emerged in the second year of the program, as activities were held in person as the pandemic receded. The war in Ukraine put additional strain on local partners. Many of them were and continue to be deeply involved in supporting refugees by providing targeted services and support. This workload created time constraints for the program—requiring a longer implementation period.
An innovation of the Alliance for Women’s Economic Empowerment was bringing together organizations from both banks of the Dniester River. The Transnistria region’s self-proclaimed legislative framework is different from the framework on the right bank of the Dniester River. This created difficulties for the Alliance in identifying specific policy recommendations and caused policy implementation challenges. Using an adaptive management approach, the program pivoted to supporting organizations in Transnistria to participate in awareness raising activities in support of the Alliance’s advocacy priorities.

Continuing the Work

WAGE’s program in Moldova has made notable contributions to women’s economic security and combatting GBV. The Alliance is well positioned to broaden and build on the program’s accomplishments through its own locally led future initiatives. Over the course of the program, the Alliance has been increasingly recognized as a reliable and valued partner for government representatives, the business community, and civil society. The Alliance plans to continue to bring together members of the Moldovan business community and civil society to advocate for women’s economic empowerment, ultimately creating a more equitable, sustainable, and democratic Republic of Moldova.

Published on September 13, 2023.

About the Authors

Anna Goltermann, Program Officer, Europe and Eurasia, CIPE
Anna Goltermann is a Program Officer for CIPE’s programs in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Moldova. Anna earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University. Anna supports CIPE’s programming focused on women’s economic empowerment, where she supports women to overcome economic inequality and lead private sector engagement, entrepreneurial ventures, and partnerships throughout Europe and Eurasia.
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. Catherine supports CIPE’s women’s economic empowerment programming. 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, Moldova, CIPE
Elena Ratoi has 10 years of work experience in program management with most of her career focused on supporting women’s empowerment and gender equality. Elena has held positions at UN Women, where she managed programs focused on women’s political participation, women’s leadership, gender-sensitive legislation, and advancing the Women, Peace and Security agenda in Moldova. Early in her career she worked to promote social inclusion of persons with disabilities. Elena holds 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 has nearly 15 years of expertise in the areas of gender-based violence (GBV) and women’s economic empowerment. At Solar Sister Inc., she led grants management in the area of women’s economic empowerment. At Vital Voices Global Partnership, she directed emergency assistance to GBV survivors and managed a program to end female genital mutilation and cutting (FGM/C) in five West African countries. Kristen 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). Kristen 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.