[Member Spotlight] Women's Rights and Legal Empowerment in Practice: Women's Law Center, Moldova

This member spotlight features an interview with @Natalia Natalia Vilcu, Executive Director at the Women’s Law Center (WLC) in Moldova

Adoption of legal empowerment approach

The Women’s Law Center (WLC) has been engaged in women’s legal empowerment work since 2009. The organization is providing primary and qualified legal assistance, economic empowerment and psychological support to women whose human rights have been violated. The WLC strengthens women’s capacity to know and exercise their rights. The WLC has conducted a number of very important studies on gender equality and domestic violence. The findings of the studies have a very significant evidentiary value in the endeavors of the organization to advocate for women’s rights and gender equality.

Public discussions on domestic violence issues with women from different countryside regions. It is the most exposed target group, according to statistics.

What is your organization’s mission?

The WLC’s mission is to contribute to the promotion of gender equality and the prevention and combating of gender-based violence in the Republic of Moldova by raising public awareness, building the capacity of relevant actors, providing holistic services to assist and protect women, conducting research and analysis, monitoring the legislation and aligning it with international standards.

Professionals from various areas, together with civil society and the international community, have put together a puzzle of Unity in order to support women victims of domestic violence.

What kind of issues does your legal empowerment work address?

Domestic and gender-based violence is a deeply rooted problem that exists in every country of the world. The Republic of Moldova is not an exception. According to the latest statistical data (National Bureau of Statistics, 2011), 63% of women reported to have been subjected to a form of violence (psychological, physical, sexual) from husband/partner during their lifetime, while about 40% of women reported being abused physically by their spouse/partner. There has been significant progress, including in the legal and policy reforms: adoption of the Law on Preventing and Combating Domestic Violence (Law 45-XVI) detailing the tasks of the competent authorities, providing for the creation of centres/services for the assistance and protection of victims, for the possibility to obtain a protection order in cases of DV and punishments for offenders; development of the National Program on Gender Equality for 2010-2015 and its Action Plans that attempted to budget funding for selected centres and shelters within the Mid Term Budgetary Framework (MTBF); development of a National Referral system for victims of trafficking that includes services to the victims of violence (the referral system was not adjusted to the needs and specifics of victims of DV); approval in 2012 of regulations on handling domestic violence cases for social assistants, family doctors and police; adoption in 2012 of the Law No. 129 on the accreditation of social service providers, which included the list of services eligible for state funding.

Despite this progress, there are numerous systemic drawbacks in the approach to the domestic and gender-based violence phenomenon in Moldova:

  • The prevalence of domestic and gender-based violence in Moldova remains high, but the number of registered cases is low;

  • The access to justice and support services for victims of domestic and gender-based violence is still limited;

  • There is poor implementation of the laws;

  • There is a lack of required funding for capacity and institutional development of relevant service providers, but also lack of sensitivity and understanding of the victims’ needs.

Women’s Law Center Launched the Report on Monitoring of Court Proceedings.

The results of the Court Proceedings Monitoring Program revealed that some professionals from the justice sector understand the specific nature of hearing cases of domestic violence, sexual violence and trafficking in human beings, as well as the societal impact of these crimes. However, there are still many issues that need to be improved, both at legislative and attitudinal level.

How are you using legal empowerment to address the problems?

The WLC acts in order to address the problem of domestic and gender-based violence on several levels. Through advocacy and awareness raising work, the organization educates the public about their legal rights and obligations, and about the specific mechanisms that the survivors of domestic and gender-based violence can use to fully exercise their rights and advance their interests. The organization has developed a full set of information materials distributed during the awareness raising activities.

The second-level intervention by the Women’s Law Centre focuses on settling legal problems the victims of domestic and gender-based violence face. The lawyers of the organization are key staff members for the involvement at this level. They provide primary legal counseling and qualified legal assistance, represent the survivors in courts, identify cases for strategic litigation and file applications with the international human rights bodies.

On the policy and legislation level, the Women’s Law Centre acts to bring the domestic and gender-based violence on public agenda. The experts of the organization took part in the development of the domestic violence legislation and guidelines, as well as coordinated the development of the draft National Strategy on Prevention and Combating of Domestic Violence for 2018-2023.

In 2012 – 2018, more than 1000 women and their children benefited from legal empowerment and holistic services ranging from: legal advice, representation, psychological counseling, group therapy, social and humanitarian assistance. In addition to legal empowerment, the WLC team provides holistic support to victims of domestic and gender-based violence through psychological individual counseling and group support sessions, as well as through economic empowerment and social assistance provided to the beneficiaries.

Amendments to over 20 laws were developed following the WLC’s report on compatibility of the Moldovan legislation with the CoE Convention to Prevent and Combat Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention) resulted into the following key changes:

· Improved definition of domestic violence in the laws;

· Introduction of the emergency protection order;

· Criminal liability for violation of protection orders;

· New competencies for probation offices in case of offenders’ conditional release;

· New services for victims (hotlines and victim counseling centers);

· Funding obligation for local public authorities, etc.

A successful example of a policy change is that until September 2016 the domestic violence victims did not benefit from free legal aid as they did not meet the criteria of the law failing, thus, to get assistance in obtaining a protective order or representation in criminal cases. To afford an attorney in an average DV/VAW case, a victim would have to pay up to 12 average economy wages ( e.g. the average economy wage for 2014 was 4172 lei - approximately EUR 208) - findings of Costing of DV in Moldova Report 2016 developed by the Women’s Law Centre. Following this analysis, the Law on State Guaranteed Legal Aid and Civil Procedure Code was amended in September 2016: there is now an obligation to ensure free representation in all cases concerning victims of domestic violence under civil and criminal procedure based on the law (including for civil protection orders procedure).

The WLC also provides legal and psychological assistance to women in detention. The prison commission approved release on parole of three prisoners following the involvement of the WLC team. The organization facilitated children visiting their mothers in prison.

Creative workshops – a source of inspiration for WLC beneficiaries.

‘I haven’t crafted something so simple and beautiful since long ago. I forgot about worries, pain, time, and I was pleased to spend time with you’, says a beneficiary.

Innovation- Is there an aspect of your legal empowerment work that is particularly innovative?

Since 2012, the WLC monitors and documents violations of women’s rights and facilitates access to justice for victims of domestic and gender-based violence by piloting an intervention center approach. It is for the first time in Moldova that police and women’s advocates work together for enhanced access to justice. As a result, during 2012-2016 more than 600 victims of domestic and gender-based violence have been legally empowered through the joint efforts of the police and civil society. In addition, the joint work with police led to the development of the risk assessment form and referral form used by police officers.

The WLC introduced the transformative thinking training with focus on human rights. The training includes several modules: domestic violence phenomenon (profiles, gender vs. sex, gender equality, myths, violence cycle); international standards and legal framework, criminal code and procedural aspects relating to efficient investigation and prosecution, sanctioning, execution of protection orders; step-by-step guide on the role of the police, judiciary or prosecutors; multidisciplinary referral approach. As a result, 1300 police officers, more than 250 judges, prosecutors and lawyers and 15 family doctors, mental health and forensic specialists have increased their knowledge about an efficient response to cases of domestic and gender-based violence. The indirect results of the aforementioned initiative were the increase of criminal cases files against aggressors (2010 - 63, 2012 -789, 2013 – 1328, 2014 - 2270; 2015 - 1914, 2016 - 1979 (the slight decrease in 2016 is caused by decriminalization of the domestic violence acts); increase of the protection orders (2010 – 23, 2012- 408, 2013 – 404, 2014 – 920, 2015 - 828, 2016 - 916); increased referral to the shelters and services (110 cases). For the first time in Moldova, the WLC conducted the training of forensic doctors in intervention to cases of domestic violence. Their knowledge about the causes of violence and the role of the health system in identifying, documenting and reporting cases of violence increased.

An innovation for Moldova was the estimation of costs of domestic violence conducted by the WLC. The report showed that the costs a state incurs for inaction to prevent cases of violence are of MDL 36 mln. The findings of the report are used by the civil society organizations and state institutions to advocate for actions to prevent domestic and gender-based violence. In addition, the costs assessment findings had been used to argue for the need to develop the National Strategy to Prevent and Combat Gender-Based and Domestic Violence for 2018-2023, which will soon be approved.

In 2012, the Women’s Law Centre started the coalition building process. In 2014, under the leadership of the Women’s Law Centre, the National Coalition “Life without Violence” had been established. The National Coalition focuses on advocacy for the legal reform in accordance with the Istanbul Convention and its ratification. It also ensures coordinated response to better protect victims of violence and their children and holding perpetrators accountable. Currently, there are 21 members in the National Coalition. All members are non-governmental organizations working to protect women’s rights and ensure gender equality. Through the National Coalition, the organization strives to achieve a coherent and common in-country approach to ending violence against women.

WLC experts and partners trained law enforcement representatives for a better and coordinated response to cases of domestic violence

What are the strategies you employ to ensure the long-term sustainability of your work?

The WLC is constantly concerned with the sustainability of its work. The organization has signed partnership agreements with six police inspectorates which refer victims of domestic and gender-based violence using the referral form. The organization has also signed a cooperation agreement with the Department of Penitentiary Institutions, which allows it to organize and conduct trainings both for women in detention and for the prison staff and legal empowerment of women in detention.

The organization invests into the beneficiaries who suffered from domestic and gender-based violence. The WLC teaches the beneficiaries to act. It empowers them to know and exercise their rights and to act. Their legal empowerment makes them to informally transfer knowledge to other survivors of domestic and gender-based violence.

The establishment of the National Coalition “Life without Violence” is a way to ensure sustainability through building the capacity of the member-organizations to work jointly on reduction of domestic and gender-based violence in Moldova.

The WLC is constantly diversifying its funding sources through public fundraising, project proposals submission and donations.

WLC experts and partners trained law enforcement representatives for a better and coordinated response to cases of domestic violence

Do you have any advice for other organizations about achieving scale?

Scalability is part of the WLC strategy. Every year the number of beneficiaries of the organization is increasing and we reach a larger population. The organization regularly analyzes the trends and invests into the staff members and in strengthening service quality. It extended horizontally by adding new services, such as psychological counseling and social assistance to victims of domestic and gender-based violence.

The strategy the WLC applies to scale up its work includes lobbying and advocacy, public speaking and engaging with policymakers, as well as training professionals in prevention and fight against domestic violence. It also invests into and builds staff and team capacity, raises funds and invests into legal empowerment of survivors of domestic and gender-based violence and develops organizational capacity.

Public discussions on domestic violence issues with women from different countryside regions. It is the most exposed target group, according to statistics.

Does your organization exhibit courage in the face of extraordinary challenges?

The WLC is a young organization led by women lawyers promoting and fighting for the rights of women with particular focus on survivors of domestic and gender-based violence. The organization works in a complex environment and faces numerous challenges. There is a tendency to shrink the space of the civil society organizations due to their criticizing public authorities. Nonetheless, the WLC always had the courage to speak up and defend its position. The team of the organization challenges the status quo by offering different ideas and approaches to the public authorities and making them reflect and take action on the issues of domestic and gender-based violence. In addition, it is an act of courage to raise the issue of domestic and gender-based violence, as well as gender equality, in an environment with strong patriarchal culture and prevailing stereotypes about the roles of men and women.

If you have questions or thoughts to share about this member’s work, please share them below

Member Spotlights are short profile articles focusing on members of the Global Legal Empowerment Network. Spotlight articles use case studies to provide useful insights into the work of other network members. Whether you are working in the same country, with similar issues or want to understand new legal empowerment approaches, the Member Spotlight is a useful learning resource. You can read about organizations in our network here (Topics tagged memberspotlight)


wow, interesting read. Keep up the great work.