Traditional caravans and public debate inspire Roma people to vote

National „Let`s vote” Caravan advocated for the importance of women’s participation in elections, not only as voters, but also as candidates. Photo credit: “Women in Politics” Program/ Dorin Goian

26 August 2015. Leaving aside roundtables and training seminars, an NGO of young Roma women and men from Moldova decided to conduct an unconventional awareness campaign to promote conscious voting in communities with the largest Roma populations during the June 2015 local election campaign. “Armed” with traditional horse-driven carts and an orchestra of Romani musicians, for nearly two weeks the Union of Roma Youth from Moldova "Tarna-Rom" organized the National "Let's vote!" Caravan.


Over 7,000 Roma women and men, along with another 20,000 people from eight cities and villages were informed about the importance of meaningful participation in local elections. One of these places was Chetrosu, a village located 150 kilometers north of the capital Chisinau.

Highlights:

  • Over 7,000 Roma women and men, along with another 20,000 people from eight cities and villages were informed about the importance of meaningful participation in local elections.
  • In Chetrosu village, Drochia district, 98% of Roma people cast their vote during the June 2015 local elections, compared to some 35% in 2011.
  • The National "Let's vote!" Caravan took place thanks to support provided by the UN program "Women in Politics", a joint initiative of UN Women and UNDP in Moldova.
  • A grassroots awareness campaign encouraging Roma people in the autonomous territorial unit of Gagauzia to participate in local elections was carried out with the support of the UNDP Democracy Programme’s Electoral Component.
  • Public debates, door-to-door information campaigns, street campaigns, voting simulation exercises and radio programs aired in Gagauzia were among the key awareness tools used to inform and motivate Roma people to participate in the elections.


A Study on the situation of Romani women and girls in Republic of Moldova from 2014 shows that Roma women and men “are highly vulnerable to discrimination, social exclusion and marginalization, and only a very limited number of Romani women in the Republic of Moldova are engaged in civic and community life.”


Marin Alla, president of the Union of Roma Youth, said that through this caravan he wanted to advocate for the importance of women’s participation in elections, not only as voters, but also as candidates. “Voter turnout in the Roma communities that were part of the campaign increased considerably. For example, in Chetrosu village 98% of Roma people cast their vote during the June 2015 local elections, compared to some 35% in 2011”, Alla stated. Also, in the other seven communities participating in the voter awareness campaign, the turnout of Roma people increased, on average, to 60%. Four years ago participation rate of Roma people was as low as 20-25%.


Not only did Roma people participate actively as voters in this year’s local elections, but 15 of them also ran for office as councilors in the local municipalities across the country. Seven of these candidates were women. "They [Romani women] should be actively involved in the electoral process and in community life. I bow down in front of them for taking on this commitment to making the lives of their brothers and sisters a little better," says Artur Cerari, the Baron of Roma people of Moldova.


Furthermore, for the first time in Moldova`s history, two Romani women were elected as councilors in the local elections on June 14, 2015: one in Chetrosu village - Varvara Duminica - and the second is Laura Bosnea from Rascani city.
The National "Let's vote!" Caravan took place thanks to support provided by the UN program "Women in Politics", a joint initiative of UN Women and UNDP in Moldova. One of the prerogatives of the program is to increase the political participation of women in local and national decision-making bodies, especially women from marginalized groups, by encouraging and building their capacities to effectively run as candidates for local and national elections.


Alongside the “Let’s vote!” Caravan, a grassroots awareness campaign encouraging Roma people in the autonomous territorial unit of Gagauzia to participate in local elections was carried out with the support of the UNDP Democracy Programme’s Electoral Component. Public debates, door-to-door information campaigns, street campaigns, voting simulation exercises and radio programs aired in Gagauzia were among the key awareness tools used to inform and motivate Roma people to participate in the elections. One eloquent example from the campaign was an open-air public debate, organized in the Roma area of the small village of Feropontievca, ATU Gagauzia.

The event gathered over 20 local Roma women and men to discuss voter registration and voting procedures, as well as the role of local elected officials and the importance of citizens’ participation in local governance. The moderator encouraged participants to discuss the community’s most pressing issues (e.g. high unemployment rates and new job creation, unreliable delivery of electricity and running water) in order “to help the Roma people address these issues to the candidates running in local elections, and subsequently to elected officials”. Traditional Roma dances, songs and food provided an inspirational closure for the public debate.

The stories mentioned above are only a few examples of the extensive civic education campaign aimed to encourage and inform specific groups of voters such as those with disabilities, ethnic minorities, specifically Romani women, and other national and ethnic minorities to participate in local elections.

The campaign, undertaken with support from the "Women in Politics" program and UNDP Moldova Democracy Program’s Electoral Component during May-June 2015, complemented the civic education efforts deployed by the Central Electoral Commission of the Republic of Moldova prior to the 2015 local elections, with a view to enhancing the inclusive participation of various categories of voters in Moldovan elections.

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