SEATTLE — How do you make life better in what has been ranked the unhappiest country in the world? Start by improving the lives of its women. Positive Champions, a group of 44 women survivors of domestic violence, are working to create a future for victims of violence against women in Moldova.
Six out of ten women in Moldova have been victims of some form of domestic violence — sexual, physical or psychological. Many of the women who are in violent relationships know no other life, having grown up with domestic violence in their household. Leaving seems impossible. For some, the situation becomes so hopeless that they try to commit suicide.
Positive Champions travels to villages and towns throughout Moldova, organizing support groups that give women the opportunity to speak freely about their experiences with domestic violence. The 44 advocates have reached more than 1,000 women in 30 villages. They share their personal stories, hoping that their success in leaving a heartbreaking and difficult situation will lead others to believe that they, too, can survive.
Positive Champions also distributes information about services available for victims of violence against women in Moldova, and inform the women about their rights. The women have quickly become the country’s experts in the fight against domestic violence. In one district of Moldova, after Positive Champions had been working there for a few months, five times as many women were requesting support services.
Many barriers exist to simply walking out of a violent relationship. Often, the women have no means of supporting themselves or their children. For this reason, women in rural settings, the disabled, the elderly and the HIV-positive are at particular risk for domestic violence.
For others, it is a cultural problem; among the Roma ethnic group, for example, violence against women is endemic. Fifty percent of Roma girls have no formal schooling, and many are the victims of child marriage or unplanned pregnancy. Even more damaging, however, is the group’s enduring perception that domestic violence is both inescapable and the norm.
Positive Champions is one of several initiatives directed at violence against women in Moldova that receive support from U.N. Women. These programs focus not only on helping the female survivors of violence, but on re-educating society as a whole.
Some of these programs work by bridging gaps in the criminal justice system. In the region of Drochia, the Ariadna Maternity Center has created two court interrogation rooms in which child survivors of violence can meet with a psychologist and give a videotaped testimony which can be used in court. Before these rooms existed, children would have to give testimony in a town 50 kilometers away, a process that could delay justice for up to nine months.
The NGO Promo-Lex trains police officers across 40 different towns to recognize and respond to violence in households in their area. The organization encourages the officers to red-flag households where a potential aggressor is living, so that the police can remove either the victim or the aggressor from the home.Through in-depth interviews, Promo-Lex identified officers who were especially attuned to domestic
Through in-depth interviews, Promo-Lex identified officers who were especially attuned to domestic violence, and tried to make sure that all officers understood exactly what domestic violence encompasses. Promo-Lex also involves local hospitals and doctors in its efforts to detect and prevent violence against women in Moldova.
Other programs and individuals work on preventing domestic violence from continuing into the next generation of couples. In Drochia, a local priest meets with new young couples to talk about non-violence and equal rights for both partners. The Psychologists Association Tighina, based in southeast Moldova, teaches boys and young men who have experienced domestic violence at home not to continue the cycle in their own families.
Other NGOs addressing violence against women in Moldova include Initiativa Pozitiva, an organization confronting the problems caused by HIV/AIDS, and Casa Marioarei, a shelter for victims of violence. Positive Champions continues to work with public authorities in order to improve their procedures for situations of violence against women. Moldova may be the unhappiest place in the world, but its women are determined that their children’s futures will be joyful.
– Emilia Otte