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Interview with Irina Ilisei (Plural) and Meline Kadieva (Gender Alternatives) - Bulgaria and Romania

Updated: Jul 4, 2023

Ms. Milena Kadieva

Ms. Milena Kadieva is a human rights lawyer at Gender Alternatives Foundation, a non-profit in Bulgaria. The foundation seeks to raise public awareness about gender based discrimination and violence and combat these inequalities. A notable program recently started in 2021 is the On Off program. The website explains the program teaches youth to “Switch On your mind, switch OFF gender-based violence online”. In 2019, Ms. Milena Kadieva was honored as a “Woman of Action” in the “Women of Europe” awards.

Ms. Irina Ilisei

Ms. Irina Ilisei runs Plural Association, an NGO located in Romania. The organization was founded in 2012 to provide a space for dialogue and increased knowledge on topics such as diversity, inclusion, equality, and human rights. Their website proudly notes that the work of Plural Association has been part of more than 40 international projects.

Our two incredible and knowledgeable interviewees share issues of gender inequality within their respective country, as well as how their organizations are addressing these issues.

Gender Equality Statistics


Gender Development Index: 0.991

Gender Inequality Index: 0.276

Group Classification: 1; high equality in human development between men and women


Gender Development Index: 0.995

Gender Inequality Index: 0.206

Group Classification: 1; high equality in human development between men and women


Interview with Ms. Irina Ilisei and Ms. Milena Kadieva (Shortened Transcript)

Irina Ilisei- Romania

It's a big honor to be here. I wear very different hats. One of the main hats I'm wearing is that I run a small NGO in Romania working on civic education using non-formal education methods. It's called Plural Association. We basically do international projects on citizenship education, where we bring together young people or teachers to reflect, work together, exchange, and think about what changes they can bring into society and individual level on topics related to citizenship or to political topics. In a very broad sense- the topics of ethnic minorities and gender. These topics are very dear to me. Some other roles I have is that for the past ten years, I have been involved in the feminist movement in Romania. Also, I’m currently working for a program developed by the Council of Europe and the European Commission. It's called Remark, and I work as a facilitator and expert, and work directly with our communities and authorities.

Emme Gibson

Could you please define some feminist values, because I'm not exactly familiar with those?

Milena Kadieva - Bulgaria

You'll see during the conversation, being a lawyer, I speak very briefly. So this question has a long answer and a very short answer. I prefer to answer shortly. The meaning of feminist for me is to fight for gender equity, meaning ensuring to all women and girls equal opportunities, according to their needs.

Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

Thank you very much. That was super interesting. Irina, do you want to add anything else?

Irina Ilisei - Romania

The short version is also like what I have in mind and I would start from this basic quote from Simone de Beauvoir who says, feminism is the radical idea that women are people. It is this and I would like to believe it is. For me, feminism is fighting for gender equity and, in addition, is recognizing the different inequalities that exist between men and women. It's more about fighting patriarchy, not all about fighting men.

Sophia Knapp

We discussed the gender pay gap across the whole world in our class, but we learned that Romania has the lowest gender pay gap in the EU, and it's far lower than the pay gap in the US. I was wondering if you had any insight as to how Romania has achieved this?

Irina Ilisei - Romania

I'm not feeling that it's such a huge achievement as it is perceived, and it should be also considered in context. To joke very shortly, we are equally poor in Romania. That's one aspect, and there is, for sure, a combination of factors going into this. I will detail just a few of them.

Romania was a Communist country for decades. Then theoretically at least, everyone was equal. It was the period when Romanian women entered the labor market. There was a very intensive industrialization of the country during the Communist regime. Many women entered the labor market back then, however, there was no big support from the state in making it equal in terms of the amount of labor. There was the phenomenon, what the feminists are calling the “double work day,” where women were still working, maintaining the household, and taking care of the kids, but also having and actually being pushed to enter the labor market.

There was also a period when you could not really choose if you wanted to work or not. You had to work, because otherwise, there was a huge punishment from the Communist regime. We had this period in our recent history, and women of my generation- who are in their 30s- were raised with models of women, mothers and grandmothers, who were already in the labor market. Nevertheless, most of those women in Romania then did not have their own money. Another aspect that is also not that great, and why I said that we are equally poor, [is that] after the fall of the Communist regime, there was the period called the transition. The very huge industries back then- like the industries working in mining, working with heavy metals, this kind of industry- were no longer productive. Men were the ones working in those industries and they lost their jobs. Coming from this perspective, comparing [women] with men who did not have that much access to the labor market, you come to similar pay.

Last but not least, Romania is a country where the fiscal system is not so well implemented. The Romanian government complains a lot about fiscal fraud, so a lot of the actual salaries are not on paper. Many employers put the salaries that they give, the minimum salary or no salary, for both men and women. But it would be interesting, to see the actual difference of the pay gap and to also see what the actual salaries are. In our country, where the actual salaries cannot really be counted in many cases, a lot of people are [registered] with the minimum salary, which is equal for both men and women. This is one of the reasons why we're doing so “great,” let's say, but not really. There is a lot of imbalances in the cost of living and the actual salaries.

One good thing that Romania does right as compared to the United States, is that there is some payment for women who take maternity leave. When I talk with people from the United States, they say it's a shame that the developed country does not have this implemented.

Milena Kadieva - Bulgaria

Very briefly, we are in a kind of a similar situation. Speaking about Bulgaria in general, we have something between 14% and 32% gender pay gap, depending on the sector that we are discussing. Women are usually taking the less paid jobs. They're still combining the household work and the paid work. And the work at home is not paid, of course. We're not expected to become leaders of political parties, run companies, have firms or NGOs, so basically the divide in the gender pay gap is still very much present in the country.

Sophia Knapp

My question is about Roma women. I was wondering what hurdles Roma women face when attempting to achieve upward social mobility? I was wondering, as well, if social inequalities against Roma women are societal, institutional, or both?

Irina Ilisei - Romania

Thank you very much for the question. It's quite hard to answer about all Roma women in general, and all Romanian society, so I will make some generalizations that are not true for every person. I would also mention that when we speak about Roma people, including Roma people in Romania, it is a very diverse social group and there are some ethnic categories that have very different customs, so different ways of living and values.

I’m now coming back to the hurdles that Roma women are encountering in entering education, staying in their education, and eventually going through higher education- or social upward mobility in general. There is this intersection of oppressive systems. One is the fact of being a woman, since Romanian society in general is a patriarchal society. Some of the Roma communities are strongly patriarchal, so if you're a Roma woman, then you're the one responsible for taking care of the kids, taking care of the husband, taking care of the elderly people, and you are not allowed to have a job.

For some of the Roma communities, there is a very strong division of work and the man is the one responsible. There is also a lot of pressure on men to bring home money and travel for work, so it does not need to be minimized. If you are [a woman] raised in such a community, then for sure the community would not encourage you to go to higher education, because why would you need it? You do not need to access the labor market. It would be very costly to go through education. Depending on case to case and from community to community or from family to family, at the age of 10 to 15 or a little bit later, you would be strongly encouraged to quit your education.

Women are also raised to find meaning in life by finding a partner and establishing a family, and that is not seen in most traditional Roma communities as compatible with going to school. That is an opportunity to meet other boys or men. So, one of the hurdles in society is just being Roma women and being women in Roma communities.

Also going outside of the community, there are different hurdles. There is the hurdle of being a Roma person. There are a lot of stereotypes in Romania against Roma women and from our people in general. Also statistically, Roma women are the ones that encounter even more discriminating situations than Roma men encounter. There are lots of aspects, like not being treated nicely- we're being treated very badly- if you go to get a job or if you want to continue your education.

Also, in percentage, Roma women tend to get pregnant much earlier than Non Roma women do. The school strongly encourages Roma women to quit education even before they get pregnant. When they're little girls, a lot of Roma women are not treated seriously by the teachers. The teachers have the feeling that they are not a good investment, so why should they bother to provide a good education when they have the stereotypes that Roma girls will very soon quit the education? From what I discussed with the people from the communities, and also what I discussed with young Roma students, in all of them almost without exception, they have separations from the educational system when they encounter prejudice or strong discrimination.

In addition to that, there is another layer of infrastructure. Many Roma communities are semi-segregated from the non-Roma communities, some more, some less. The Roma communities are usually the ones who do not have access to good roads. Many of the Roma communities do not have access to basic water sources, so there is a lot more pressure and more work. Because if you're a woman, you need water to cook, to wash clothes; so all these things, that for all of us, we just press the water machine. For Roma women, it's much more work to do this and less time to be preoccupied with their career or for social upward mobility. So there are different layers that are infrastructural: different institutions are treating Roma women putting a lot of difficulties, not helping them to go up in the Romanian society.

Milena Kadieva - Bulgaria

Basically, the situation is very similar in Bulgaria. I have been working with the Roma community in the last 20 years. We have been having a lot of events, programs, and projects with Roma women and girls in the Gender Identities Foundation. What are the biggest hurdles at the moment and for girls in Bulgaria?

First, is the lack of education. As it has been stated [by Irina Illisei], we have the same situation. Girls are either not going to school at all, or they're stopped from going to school at the age of 10 to 12 because they have to get married.

Second, we have the issue of early marriages and actually, even more than that, forced marriages. This means that in our country, girls are usually married at age 12, and they have children at 13 and 14.

Third, we come to the issue of violence against women. With everything that has been said by Irina, you understand that women and girls in the Roma community are completely dependent on their family and community, and especially on their husbands and partners. Violence is highly spread and domestic violence is really a huge problem.

The [fourth] hurdle is the lack of access to the labor market, again, for the reasons already explained. That makes the women financially dependent, and they have no way of changing their situation. When you are a Roma woman, you're usually a victim of multiple discrimination- meaning gender stereotypes, your sex, your gender, your social status, your community existence- so very shortly, this is for Bulgaria.

Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

How is the Bulgarian government dealing with this situation?

Milena Kadieva - Bulgaria

We have a lot of programs that are trying to integrate the Roma people into the society, but in reality, our political leaders are not people thinking for the future of the society, but only for winning the next elections. Which means that basically they're using people in the poorest part of society in the country, in order to pay them to vote for them in the next elections. Basically, they're not putting effort and money into real integration. In theory, there is always strategy about it, but in reality, it is dangerous working on something which is really real for the people, providing legal support, social support, psychological support, medical support- providing educational tools as well.

Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

What about the Romanian government?

Irina Ilisei - Romania

Everything Milena said, is also the same thing for Romania. I would add more practical things that I see when working with Roma communities and the authorities. Many of the educational programs are used to integrate the Roma- I even don’t like this term of “integration,” I prefer the term of “inclusion”. Many of these programs are not working with Roma communities on an eye-to-eye level. There is a lot of blaming, like, the Roma don’t want to get integrated. And, unfortunately, there is a lot of racism embedded in Romanian society. Even teachers with good intentions say quite racist statements and do not perceive their own prejudices against Roma communities. This does not make the Roma communities, both for women and men or for girls and boys, have trusting relations or continue their education.

Other things that are not at a higher governmental level, but at the local level is when there are these cases- and there are quite a lot, and Milena mentioned that- of what is called early marriages and early pregnancies, which are actually sexual abuses against children. The authorities do absolutely nothing about this, and they blame it on Roma customs. We have a lot of laws in Romania, and for sure, also in Bulgaria, in place to not allow these things to happen. Actually, the marriage age is going lower and lower, and this is just because the Romanian authorities do nothing about it. Child protection will not intervene in these cases and, of course, there are not set examples in the Roma communities that this thing should not happen, and in a way, it is encouraged by the lack of intervention from the Romanian authorities.

And, last but not least, Romanian politicians have very strong prejudices about the Roma people. We had a case in the past where we had a President of Romania, who, when he was in power, wanted to insult a journalist, a woman, and he called her, in public, a “gypsy woman.” This is a horrible example where the highest person in the Romanian State finds that the way to insult is by addressing a woman that is a Roma woman.

We have many more examples of politicians, nowadays, who speak very badly in public about Roma people. Romanian political leaders do not seem to assume their responsibilities.

Naveed Chowdhry

This question is mainly directed at Irina. I was curious, based on your studies about Roma women of higher education, in what ways have you personally advocated for Roma women to gain access to education opportunities in Romania?

Irina Ilisei - Romania

To be very honest, I felt some responsibility when I read your question, and somehow I also questioned my work and what I did. I cannot say that I put a lot of focus in my activism in supporting the access to education. [There are] some small things that I tried to do in my work.

One of them is maybe not as much as an activist, but working as an educator with teachers in pre-higher education. I hold a lot of seminars on anti-discrimination that work with teachers to become aware of their own prejudices. It also helps teachers see their responsibility in guiding and encouraging students, including the Roma women to continue their education and have an inclusive approach in education, as much as possible. So I find working with these teachers quite important.

I also hold seminars with young people, and at least half of them are girls. In all of the projects I work with, I try to have as diverse of a group as possible. Explicitly, I try to have Roma participants, and in some of the projects that are specifically targeted, I want to have 50% Roma participants. Working with Roma young women, I try to also empower them, give them a voice, create some spaces where they can reflect on their opinion and make their opinion public, or give them the floor where they can express themselves, in order to have experiences that hopefully they can replicate later on.

To be honest, it's also a very heartbreaking work, because I often saw brilliant, young Roma women, who I met when they were students in the 11th grade or 10th grade, and very shortly after the projects, they quit their educational path for different reasons. There were also some individual cases where I tried to support them in different ways to continue their education, but it's such a complex issue that it's very, very hard to change it as an activist, or as a small NGO. Last but not least, in all the activities that we are doing to support women, we try our best to work together with Roma women NGOs.

Emme Gibson

What aspects of life do minority and gender disparities predominate? So, for example, in the workplace or in government?

Milena Kadieva - Bulgaria

So I’ll try to give you a framework of the work that we have in Bulgaria and in the Gender Identities Foundation. Basically, in the activities that we are performing, usually up to 10 projects at once, we draw the line at gender equality and gender equity. When you start speaking about the issue, we have to put the difference between equality and equity. I suppose you know it, but just to explain it again, when you speak about equality, we speak about a kind of physical percentage of equality, or to have the same opportunities between women and men.

But the reality is showing it is not enough, and that's why we are fighting for gender equity, which means that we would like to have equal opportunities for the women and girls together with the main voice, but according to their needs. Because the needs of the people are always very different.

So speaking about gender equality, we are training and educating students, teachers, and people we work with from different institutions such as representatives from the municipality, the regional governor office, the court, the prosecution office, the police, the social services, the health sector and the Angels Union, which is human rights protection in the area of Bulgaria. So basically gender equality is at the heart of our work, and as you can take it from our name- it's gender identities. Not without the reason, but quite the opposite, with the reason.

Irina Ilisei - Romania

There are a lot of inequalities in Romania. The one that pops up in my mind is that less than 50% of the Roma women are on the labor market, while probably over 90% of the non-Roma women are on the labor market. Also participation in education. It's extremely lower for Roma women compared to non-Roma women, or the non-Roma population. However, there are not huge differences in participation in education between Roma women and Roma men, but there are other phenomena that come into place. The reasons for leaving education are quite different.

Other sorts of inequalities exist between social classes, or income. There are huge inequalities between what people can earn and what they need to make a living. That brings us in Romania closer to the inequalities similar to countries that are in, for example, South America. So, for a country that is a member of the European Union, it's not something to be proud of.

Last but not least, also, when we speak about sexual minorities. Basic things, like access to civic pride, such as having the kind of union recognized for gay couples- is something that does not exist. There was a proposal for implementing civil unions for gay couples, not marriage, and this proposal failed in Parliament. We also saw a huge movement against the LGBT, and there was a huge referendum that was done in order to change the constitution, to forbid gay marriage. There was no current law allowing gay couples to get married, but there was a conservative movement trying to make sure no such law will come up in the next 50 years in Romania. They also wanted to change the constitution for that.

[There are] very different aspects when we speak about inequalities. It's not only about money, but there are other things, like the capacity to decide about your own body and having access to abortion rights. That's something that, after the fall of Communism, women have the right, but in practice, it's something that becomes harder and harder to access. Not only do you need to pay for this, but more and more hospitals and doctors refuse to have this procedure done, and during the pandemic, 99% of the hospitals were not providing this service. It's a procedure that is quite important to take place in a timely way, and, for example, coming back to the topic of Roma women, access to sexual education or access to protection is something extremely low. Also, there are huge inequalities in capacity to decide about your own bodies, and it's affecting a lot of Roma women, specifically, but also women in general, from the lower social classes, or in rural areas as well.

Sophia Knapp

You mentioned that women are continuing to fight for reproductive rights in Romania and Bulgaria, and that is something that's very important here in the state of Texas as well. In studying in other classes the recent laws enacted in Texas, I learned that a lot of people are predicting that women and families may emigrate/travel outside of the state because of these laws- especially for women who are searching an abortion or worried about that in the future. Is this something that women in Romania and Bulgaria face as well? The idea of emigrating to a place that has more laws allowing them their reproductive rights?

Milena Kadieva - Bulgaria

This will probably be my only positive answer this evening, because I have to say that although in Bulgaria we do not have comprehensive sexual education at all, we have quite good legislation on health issues, including sexual and reproductive health and rights and abortion. So, for Bulgaria, following the International European Human Rights Standards, we have legislation allowing abortion up to the third month, for different medical reasons. For our women and girls, it is not necessary to leave the country in order to afford and have abortion.

But, I have to say that in the last 10 years with the change of the political parties and some of them getting more traditional, patriotic, nationalistic, patriarchal, and conservative, there is a change in the political sphere and there are always conversations about changing the legislation and basically prohibiting women and girls in Bulgaria from having abortions at all. This was not voted in the Parliament, so far, because there was not even a draft act written. But this conversation is always in the air, especially in times around the elections.

This year [2021] we had three elections already and we were not able to form a government, and we are heading towards a double election in November for local authorities and for President, which means that this subject has been around the whole year and we never know what will happen in the future. So even though positively speaking, the situation is kind of okay in Bulgaria at the moment, we as women/human rights activists are never sure that it will be the situation tomorrow. So, basically, if you are a women's human rights activist in whatever area of life, you have to be vigilant, all the time.

Irina Ilisei - Romania

I will also share the situation and the concern that Melina expressed. In Romania, currently, we have good legislation, but as I said, the good legislation is just in practice. I would like to share the experience Romania had during the Communist regime, when there was no, or very little access to contraception. This was happening mostly only on the gray market if you had good connections and money. Abortion was strongly forbidden. If you were a woman caught having an abortion, actually deciding about your own body, or a doctor, or someone who helps in doing this, you would face 20 years of prison. This actually did not grow the natality rate in Romania, as our dictator back then was hoping. What happened was that women were continuing to do abortions, but with very, very high risks. The actual number is much, much higher, but the “official” numbers is that 10,000 women died during the Communist regime in trying to have abortions.

So what happens in Texas, Poland, or in many other places where access to abortion is not free, will be the same as what happened in Romania’s past. Women will continue to have abortions, but not in a safe way. Women will travel abroad, like in the United States, there is the [question of] who can afford to travel? Because if you're poor, you cannot afford the bus ticket to go to the nearest town.

Coming back to the situation in Romania, there was research during the first month of the pandemic from over 200 hospitals that exist in Romania, and less than five of them were offering access to abortion services. Now, on paper, abortion is free, but hospitals do not take any responsibility in providing this service. Under the pressure of different conservative, anti-choice movements- by the way, many of them are financed with money from the United States- and religious groups, many doctors or gynecologists refused to provide this service.

There are even more difficulties in this because legislation does not allow doctors to insure themselves against malpractice if they provide abortion services, so the doctors would not like to take this risk. So, it's also an institutional responsibility to solve this aspect.

The Romanian state is highly influenced by the Romanian Orthodox Church, and with a lot of pressure from the Church, many doctors and hospitals refuse to make abortions before the main Christian Orthodox celebration, like seven or eight weeks before Easter and so on.

There was a drive from conservative politicians in 2012 to restrict access to abortion. Fortunately, this drive failed. But I also share Milena’s concern about what happens. If we look at the whole region of Eastern Europe, we have Hungary just nearby, we have Poland not far away, Bulgaria is not doing that great from what we know, and Romania seems slightly fine, but very, very concerning. Every year we have marches against abortion done by the conservatives. There is no sexual education or very little sexual education in schools. All these are very concerning aspects, and there is sometimes the feeling that we sit on a ticking bomb, and we are just wondering when things will get even more limited- the freedoms that women are having.

Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

How influential is the Bulgarian Orthodox Church regarding this issue? How would you define the attitude of Bulgarians about this issue?

Milena Kadieva - Bulgaria

In Bulgaria, the Orthodox Church was not very strong during the Communist period and in the early years of our democracy. But let's say, in the last 10 years, this situation is changing and, in its infancy, it’s getting stronger and stronger. Previously, they were simply silent on very important human rights issues that we have been working on, but nowadays they're very vocal on everything, and specially about women's human rights. Fortunately, they are openly against violence, and supporting the legislation which was adopted at the European level. They also support gender equality (political, social, and economic rights) So, the situation is changing, the Orthodox Church seems to support some basic woman’s rights fortunately.

And then, speaking about the general situation in the country and how the society is reacting towards changes in the behavior of the Church, I should say that, although we're living in 2021 and we are supposed to be modern, civilized, global persons, unfortunately, in our country, there is a serious trend that the people are getting more conservative. In the last 10 to 15 years, we have more and more political parties coming to the front lines, basically, using that kind of argument against women's rights issues. So again, being a women's human rights activist, you have to not just be vigilant, but be very active as well, because these people are getting stronger and they're having money and they're very well organized.

Sophia Knapp

In researching, I saw that the Foundation has partnered with an organization focused on combating human trafficking. I was wondering if human trafficking was a common issue in Bulgaria and are there any governmental organizations that are dedicated to fighting this crime?

Milena Kadieva - Bulgaria

To give you a very short answer, yes, human trafficking is a huge problem in Bulgaria. Unfortunately, we are number one in very negative statistics at the European level, including trafficking human beings: Bulgaria is number one in providing human trafficking victims in the European Union. In our case, we have it externally and internally, so it is happening not only abroad but unfortunately in the country as well, because Bulgaria is one of the poorest countries in the EU. We have lots poor women and girls who are traveling from small villages down into the big cities, and they are being trafficked, unfortunately.

Speaking to how we react: several angels have been dealing with the issue in the last 20 years. The government is actually taking some measures, including the fact that we have a national commission specialized in dealing with human trafficking with local offices in the main cities in the country. They're very active in their training and education activities. As I have always been saying, changing society happens with education and training, so we are on the right track.

We are dealing with human trafficking cases every year. We provide legal, psychological, and social support to the victims. Unfortunately, the number of children being trafficked for sexual exploitation is on the rise.

Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

Do you have a profile of the victims?

Milena Kadieva - Bulgaria

The National Commission has yearly statistics, and according to the numbers, most of the victims are Roma women and girls, followed by all the other ethnic minorities in the country. But, as usual, when you have poor people, you have the biggest number of cases, meaning these are Roma.

Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

Milena. Irina, what about Romania?

Irina Ilisei - Romania

Trafficking of women is not exactly my field of expertise, but what I know very broadly is similar to what Milena said. Romania is among the top countries- probably competing with Bulgaria-.

I heard very concerning information about children, or very young girls as victims, sexualized and even used in the video chat and streaming industry. From what I see at the institutional level, there is not a big concern or support or prioritization of these issues, nor is there support in combating domestic bullies against women.

Police have very little capacity and also basic training in how to work with victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse or harassment and all the empathy and professionalism needed in in such cases.

Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

Human trafficking is an international issue, do you think that the European Union is doing enough to stop this?

Irina Ilisei - Romania

As I said, it's hard for me to give a very concrete answer. But there are numbers confirming that most of the sexual workers in the Western countries are coming from Romania and Bulgaria, and from other non-EU Eastern European countries. Victims are mostly coming from poor countries. They're coming from poor environments and communities, and when I see all these, I really doubt that the European authorities or the authorities from different Western European countries have done their best to make sure that all the sexual workers are working based on free choice instead of being pushed into this.

Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

Do you think, Milena, that the European Union is helping Bulgaria to fight human trafficking?

Milena Kadieva - Bulgaria

Actually, I suppose that we have two levels of legislation in Europe: we have the Council of Europe on the one hand, and on the other, we have the European Union. So, in the Council of Europe, you have a specific convention on human trafficking with two specific protocols on the rights of children, especially. When you speak about the European Union, we have particular legislation on the rights of the victims of crimes. At the jurisdictional level, in theory and on paper, everything is done very well. Then, like always, it's a matter of implementation. The basis is there, but it is legislation that has to be put into practice the right way.

Abby Frazier

I know that both of you also work with issues about domestic violence, so I was wondering if this is an issue in both of your countries, and if you have seen any changes or improvements over the years?

Milena Kadieva - Bulgaria

Briefly about Bulgaria, I should say the following: we don't have legislation dealing with gender-based violence per se. We have different pieces of legislation on the different forms of violence, including domestic violence. We have had this special type of legislation since 2005, which means that we started dealing with the issue basically in the last 15 years. We were again the last in the European Union to do something about violence against women and girls. The practice under this legislation is developing slowly but steadily, and in 2005, just to compare with statistics, we had only 38 cases in the regional courts on domestic violence. Last year in 2020, we had 254 cases in the regional court on domestic violence.

The thing is that, in order to have a positive change, we basically have to train our judges and everybody who is part of the system in implementing the legislation.

Speaking about changes in society, I'm going to give just one example of my practice when I had my first cases of domestic violence in 2005. We had a situation when a police chief told me that I don't have to be dealing with that kind of stupid cases because it's woman's fault to become a victim of domestic violence, and because I'm young and beautiful, I have to deal with beautiful cases and not with people's worst cases- emotionally, psychologically, and physically.

Nowadays, the chiefs of police stations ask me to provide training in their police stations, specially [for] officers dealing with this kind of violence. It is a slow process, it will take some time.

Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

Thank you very much, and thank you very much for that amazing example Milena. I imagine that with COVID-19, the cases of domestic violence have been growing. Have you seen any rapid change to deal with that situation coming from the government?

Milena Kadieva - Bulgaria

Actually, in addition to our national cases, we have cases before human rights courts and even the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. Because of all these efforts at national, regional, and international levels, the government is basically forced to make some changes.

Last year, we had several changes in the legislation concerning domestic violence. The draft legislation was prepared last January, and it was publicly discussed, but our political instability did not allow us to pass it. But basically the changes are ready, and we are hoping that we will have new legislation by the end of the year no later than the first weeks of 2022. So the situation is not perfect, but we're doing something, especially the government.

Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

Is the government in Bulgaria introducing changes to be able to improve the situation in the future, Milena?

Milena Kadieva - Bulgaria

I have to say that the government is making some efforts in that regard. Unfortunately, it is not enough. We need more support, including economic support. But let's give you an example. Yearly, the Ministry of Justice is providing a small amount of money for organizations like ours, in order to provide different services to the victims, including training and education. So this year, we have a grant for four months, meaning that our state is thinking that it is enough to fund that kind of organization’s services for only four months. The rest of the year, we have to deal with it on our own.

Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

What about the schools- are they doing something special?

Milena Kadieva - Bulgaria

Usually, it is up to all of the non-governmental organizations to have good relations with the schools and the university. We are providing training and education sessions on a voluntary basis. Actually, this is our main task. Our organization believes that prevention is the basic tool to deal with gender-based violence.

Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

Irina, what's the situation in Romania?

Irina Ilisei - Romania

Similar to what we have seen in the case of Bulgaria. Nowadays, we have quite good legislation, so this is not the highest point of concern. However, this is only happening recently.

When a survivor of domestic violence would like to [end] the harassment or does not want to continue sharing the house with the abuser, there is not legislation to support the victims in Romania until 2013. This is quite recent and also happened because we hold lots of protests in Romania on this topic.

Also in the past, the police could not enter a house without a Judge authorization. Now there is legislation in place that allows the police to enter a house when they suspect domestic abuse, but in practice very often we see this is not happening. Police are often allowed to kick the oppressor out of the house, however, they would not inform the victims that they have the right to achieve this goal. We see that the society and the people who work both in the judicial system and also in the police system did not catch up with the legislation, and there is much more training needed. I work often with teachers and it's not very rare to hear jokes about domestic violence or about situations where they see male pupils harassing young girl pupils, and they do not intervene. They make jokes about it to one another and they don't do not take the situations seriously.


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