Moldovan human rights defenders champion for fighting discrimination
Natalia Ciobanu, mother, retired teacher, head of NGO and human rights champion:
I am the mother of a disabled child, the mother of an angel, who passed away in 2012 at the age of twenty. I will always be Anisoara’s mother.
Unfortunately, I know many families that break up because of the child’s disability and most often it is the dad who leaves. Or in other cases, the child is placed in state care, at an orphanage. We got ourselves together and said we could not do that. That we must find within ourselves the strength to give this little girl love, to make her happy, not to be a burden. Seeing your child suffer gives you extraordinary courage.
I hate the term “vulnerable family”, this label that makes you wait with an outstretched hand, to have a social allowance or monetary support. This term weighs on you. You are told constantly that you are vulnerable and eventually become so until you stop fighting for your rights.
I’m not vulnerable; I am strong. I did not abandon my child in state’s care, I stayed with her every day for 20 years daily as a caregiver. But what does the state do for us, the parents of children with disabilities? To what extent is our work as personal assistants recognized? Until recently, being at home and taking care of a child or later an adult with disabilities was not included in the labour record. This is discrimination!
I said I had to do something to change the system, and I understood that I could not do this on my own. I found other parents in similar situations and we formed an association. We created an NGO, and I became the president. I wrote dozens of petitions, knocked on even more doors, and we walked through the window when the door was slammed into our noses. We went to court and also appealed to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
The establishment of the Council for Preventing and Eliminating Discrimination and Ensuring Equality (Equality Council) was very timely and needed. In 2014, we finally got justice. We filed a joint complaint with two other families, imputing parents’ inability to continue working as their children’s personal assistants once their parents reach retirement age. The Council concluded that parents were discriminated against on the grounds of disability by associating with their children, and that mothers were discriminated against on the grounds of age and gender (with retirement age five years earlier than men). The Council also recommended amending the legislative framework. As a result, the Moldovan Government has introduced amendments to its decision on personal assistants, and now parents can continue to work as personal assistants and receive payment regardless of their age until they are physically capable of doing this work.
What did I feel when I learned about the decision? Great joy. The feeling of victory. My daughter died and the decision does not have retroactive effect, but thousands of families will benefit from this decision.
I’m a recently retired biology and geography teacher, and only 24 years of my labour was considered. There is another 13 years which have not been considered. I only have a pension of 590 lei (US$35).
When you talk about your personal problem, you have a lump in your throat. But when you talk about a joint problem, you represent the voice of people, and it gives you strength and resonance. This experience taught me the meaning of justice. Have strength in your voice and do not give up!
Dumitru Sliusarenco, lawyer at Promo-Lex NGO and human rights defender:
Seven-eight years ago, people did not know what discrimination was and how they can claim their rights.
It was almost impossible to work on such cases for the simple reason that most often people would not contract attorneys for such disputes — there were no remedies and no certainty that they could get justice.
At the same time, many people would not have been able to identify when they were being discriminated against and would not have asked for help. For this reason, I began to select the cases that I considered necessary to work on myself, to make strategic litigation and to improve the laws and practices in this field.
So, my pro-bono activity in the field of discrimination started as a necessity. It has given me the opportunity to work on sound cases that have come to public attention in one way or another. This practice was used not only by me, but also by other peer lawyers, and thanks to it, people’s confidence grew more and more, as well as the number of discrimination complaints. People understood that they can count on qualified legal assistance, even if they cannot afford to pay a lawyer.
During my activity I met various people affected by discrimination, from ordinary people, mothers with children who face difficulties regarding the infrastructure in Chisinau, to dignitaries and high officials, dismissed for political reasons or other situations of discrimination.
People got to know this area better, many civic groups have emerged, who report to authorities cases of discrimination identified in media or other areas.
Litigation of these cases has become more accessible with the creation of the Council for Preventing and Eliminating Discrimination and Ensuring Equality (Equality Council). However, the courts still lack the capacity to effectively deal with cases of discrimination. In particular, it is difficult to work on bias-motivated offences.
The Equality Council is a rather efficient mechanism, taking into account its powers. The most important thing the Council is doing now is to be active, to bring the subject of discrimination on public and people’s agenda, and to restore trust of people, by solving their cases. However, the Council has some limitations at administrative, financial and human resources level, being not mandated to directly sanction those who discriminate.
Courts have a wider range of competences, can offer remedies, prohibit certain behaviors or statements, may force those who discriminate to apologize or pay a compensation and moral damages. However, unlike the Equality Council, courts have limited capabilities to understand the phenomenon of discrimination, which is why many cases are not addressed effectively.
Another big issue is the amount of moral damages decided by courts in cases of discrimination, these amounts being usually ridiculous, which discourages people from filing a complaint. In my opinion, the biggest issue is how these cases are sanctioned by the law enforcement bodies. Offences motivated by bias are investigated inefficiently. Both law and practices in this area are inefficient and there are almost no sanctions for such cases.