One would be surprised to learn that Moldova ranks 10th in the world among countries that have most women managers, with 44.1% of management positions filled by women. The US is 15th with 42.7%, and, surprisingly, Canada is only 36th with 36.2%. Indeed, in recent years women CEOs have led some of the largest companies in the country: including, electricity giant Gas Natural Fenosa – Silvia Radu; largest telecom Orange Moldova – Liudmila Climoc, two largest banks Agroindbank – Natalia Vrabie and Victoriabank – Natalia Politov-Gangas. Prime Management – one of the largest LLCs in the country, owned by oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc, is also managed by a woman – Cezara Salinski. Ironically, none of the big state owned enterprises are managed by women. This begs the question: Do politicians trust women less than do shareholders of the largest enterprises in the country? That may be difficult to answer. Though, what is certain is that politics is a predominantly male profession.
Only 4 out of the 44 registered political parties are led by women. Moreover, two of those four parties have been created this year (Dreapta led by Ana Gutu and PAS headed by Maia Sandu), while one is inactive (Conservative Party, Natalia Nirca). Only one female party leader has been around for some time, though with limited political influence, Vitalia Pavlicenco, chairwoman of PNL. Looking at Moldova’s recent political history, women have held two of the three highest state offices: Speaker of Parliament (Eugenia Ostapciuc) and Prime Minister (Zinaida Grecianii) all thanks to the progressive vision (sic!) of former President Voronin. In light of the upcoming presidential elections, many are wondering: Can a Woman Become Moldova’s Next President? Sadly, questions like this are still being asked all too often around the world. The US, for instance, is yet to provide an answer in November. There have been over 70 female prime ministers and presidents in the world since Sri Lanka elected Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1960. Nonetheless, bigotry or simple ignorance still leads many to question a woman’s capacity for leadership.
Moldovan society remains highly paternalistic. Historically, women have been precluded from holding the highest office due to medieval lines of succession based on male heirs. Religion played an important role as well. Later on Soviet Communist ideology promoted the idea of having liberated women and made them equal to men. Yet, despite prominent feminist revolutionaries such as Alexandra Kollontai, no women ever made it to the highest echelons of Soviet power, with the notable exception of Yekaterina Furtseva, who served as a member of the all-powerful Politburo, but even she was a Minister of Culture – a portfolio often assigned to women. Therefore, it has long become a political cliché to say that people in this region are looking for a fatherly figure to rule over them. Yet, there are many women in positions of power not just in business, but also in local politics who are challenging this craving for a fatherly figure. A great set of infographics produced by the Central Electoral Commission with support from UNDP and UN Women shows, among other insightful statistics, the growing discrepancies between male and female participation in politics going from the local level, where it is almost even, to the regional and national levels, where women are grossly underrepresented.
Nonetheless, there are also increasingly more women in high stakes elected offices. Bucharest just elected Gabriela Firea as its first female mayor, while Chisinau residents voted overwhelmingly for Zinaida Greceanii back in 2005 local elections, but low turnout invalidated the race. Last year, Irina Vlah won a landslide victory in the race for governor of the Gagauz Autonomous Region. Therefore, there is no evidence to suggest that the majority of Moldovans are inherently sexist. In fact, some polls indicated that 70% would welcome a woman president, while only a quarter expressed reservations. Though, the ideal candidate is still viewed as male by 72%.
Many, particularly in the media, tend to employ double standards when it comes to women candidates. Women are inevitably compared to their male counterparts, hence creating false expectations of “manliness” centering on chest-bumping and grandstanding. When women “fail” to live up to these “standards”, they are labeled as weak or uncharismatic. Yet, many tend to ignore the fact that women are becoming more qualified than men are. There are now more women in higher education, including at the PhD level than men. Not being able to fully harness the benefits that women bring to public life and public service is a sure way to undercut a nation’s competitive advantage. Why would we as a society prefer a male candidate over an equally or even more qualified female contender in 2016 is truly beyond reason. Hopefully, with more women elected to powerful state positions, the society will realize that we all benefit from women empowerment. “United, no Divided”, to quote Mihai Ghimpu – the most liberal of all Moldovans.