The border between Romania and Moldova with women in the foreground - Interview

September 24, 2021

interview by Ioana Butaru

"You can make a tasty lemonade from any sour lemon if you know what ingredients to add"

I recently had a training on feminism where the speaker was Mrs. Alina Andronache, a feminist mother from the Republic of Moldova (for more details, keep reading). I knew right after it was over that I wanted to interview him. Why? Because I noticed how many questions we have, how many answers we don't know, how many things we don't feel okay addressing because that's how we were raised. So I thought it was an opportunity to learn together about the women of our sister country and try to draw a parallel between the two.

I put 60 minutes of soul here and yes, I know, if you scroll a little you can see an interview a little longer than usual. But that's because its passion, work and experiences inspired me and I hope it inspires you too! Enjoy! 🙂

Can you give us a little background about yourself?

I am Alina Andronache, I am an activist, I am a militant for gender equality and I am a feminist mother of 3 children. I am active in the development partnership center, an organization that I admired and followed, we had certain collaborations and I am glad that since 2017 I am part of this team and I am very proud of what we do.

There, my basic function is communication and the advocacy process for policies in the field of gender equality, and that makes me responsible to be able to put effort together with my colleagues for certain changes of the Republic of Moldova that are feasible, because with the others you can't know if you change something or not but i really want to do it in my country. My studies are in political science, but after years of experience, I ended up in advocacy and communication.

Did you ever think you would end up doing advocacy?

No, I always wanted to become a deputy, I knew this since I was at school. I was in the 5th grade and I wrote that I would be the first female president of the Republic of Moldova, but then I realized that until 40 years old is a lot, so I said that at 30 years old I would have 3 children and after that I focus on my career as a deputy. I grew up in the political environment, studying political science, then I did the internship at the Parliament. This experience in Parliament, in elections, in politics and the fact that I moved to a new governmental sector helps me a lot from both perspectives: in the non-governmental sector and understanding things from the inside.

I think that these two factors pushed me to do advocacy, because I know exactly how to make decisions, I matured in this political environment, but I was disappointed and I understood that I am not ready to be a deputy of a party in the Republic Moldova. I think I can change more of civil society. I said that if I can't be a deputy, I can change certain things, and I thought a lot about whether I can change these things. I'm glad I found myself as an advocate, somehow I know both barricades and that helps me a lot in this whole process.

When did you realize that feminism and the activism side in general was what you wanted to do?

I was sometimes rebellious, I was generally called uneducated at school, I had problems all the time, I wasn't good or exemplary. I always intervened when I had questions or when I felt that a situation was not right. I have very unpleasant memories from primary school, I had a very strict teacher, she beat us with a ruler over our fingers and other things. I remember that they were colleagues from underprivileged families and she would always label us and argue with her, she would kick me out. I remember this spirit of mine since school, but I thought there was a problem with me, because my parents were called, called. They supported this rebellion, especially if I could prove that I didn't do it because I didn't respect the teacher, but because she was incorrect.

I didn't understand that this is discrimination, marginalization, I didn't know these notions for years, I didn't learn them at school or university. And in my work I realized after a long time that there were destructive phenomena in society. In the last year, I remember they were analyzing how the girls were dressed, if your skirt was higher than your palm, higher than your knee, they would turn you back, and it was so revolting to me, I can't even explain it. I had an aunt, who was a seamstress, and I made a lot of my clothes (they were very tight on the body), well below the knee, but they were bright colors, like red, and a cut on the side or in the front, quite daring. I did it on purpose.

The moment I came to the front and he told me to go home, I was very precisely giving the provisions of the regulation that said I was following the regulation. It was my form of protest. I wore a tie instead of school accessories. At the last sound, I remember that together with several colleagues we made the skirts shorter, because the coat represents us and this thing was for girls, not for boys, and that bothered me a lot. I remember that I had things like that, but I don't know why I thought this was my problem. Many times, even at the university, I continued with this matter and believe me I said to myself "Alina shut up, shut up, shut up please". I didn't understand that there was a problem, but now I understand that this is how we were raised, that is, this is how we were inhibited, and we shouldn't.

But to call myself an activist and militant for gender equality, and then a feminist (because for many years I had nothing to do with feminism) and really say that I am a feminist mother was in 2017-2018 through a vlog. It took me many years because we don't learn this in school or university. Look, when I was your age (ok, it's not that big of a difference, I want to consider myself still young :D) I didn't have so many opportunities, programs, internships, etc., respectively, all I know now is strictly what I learned myself through international online courses.

Why? Because I understood that my way of expression is activism that must be learned from kindergarten and in the family and must be supported. That's why I always tell my kids that if they don't agree with what I'm saying, then argue. Don't say 'I don't want' or cry, argue, and if they give me 3 arguments why what I say is not correct, I give in because they knew how to support their position. Sometimes this is a headache as a parent.

For example, we have some loud discussions and arguments with the eldest, but I understand that in the family I have to encourage free expression and I will also do it at school, although it often gives him difficulties. Once the teacher said "what, are you Turks?!" to the whole class, he stood up and said that "Turks are people just like Moldovans, Ukrainians" etc., after which he was forced to stand for the whole lesson. Of course, I went and defended his position, and it seems like an act of courage for a 7-year-old to do so.

But that has to be learned, he didn't teach us. All that the Soviet system taught me was to be silent, to follow the herd, to be docile, obedient, good, and I think it's the most wrong approach for our society, because that's why we can't defend our rights. Yes, sure, on social media, but when we have to go out on the street, few do.

I also wanted to talk about our educational system, even if I am from Romania and not from Moldova, they are almost the same.

Yes, similarly, I have colleagues from Romania with whom we discuss. It's not much of a difference, just that you have some changes for the better.

They're not very noticeable, to be honest. So what do you think we as students can do about the system? If you try to have a nice chat, you are automatically punished. Take for example the dress codes, the fact that you are told "you cannot go to activity x because you are a girl", "you cannot play football, you must only play handball"; the same with teachers: they don't take you to the Olympics because "the boys are good at math, you only go to Romanian" and many, many others.

Don't give in, fight back and stand your ground. It's complicated, it's hard, but we have to do it because things won't change as long as we stay silent. It is easier for us now to defend women's voices than it was for our foremothers (who often risked their lives) and it is our responsibility to continue the fight. We don't have to conform! I did it in university when I didn't defend my right to write my bachelor's thesis on the topic I wanted, and I'm very sorry.

True human rights defenders do it with dignity and respect, because that's what we ask for in our mission. The only advice would be this. If it does not work through discussions, then contact the director, the Ministry, competent organizations in the field.

For example (I'm referring to Moldova here), when the students wrote to the Equality Council to come and talk to the teachers about certain things. It is possible, indeed it is possible! There will be consequences, but I think the pride that you did a good thing is worth it. I really believe that school is not the only pillar in our personal and professional development, i.e. if you think that school limits your rights, you have to fight even if you will have lower grades!

Why did #V start the Feminist Women's Blog? If you can share something about your experience as a vlogger?

Always when I talk about something in the field of gender equality, I give an example directly from my life, experiences and mistakes, and many people contact me afterwards to write more about that topic. One day, for example, the oldest boy came and told me that he doesn't want to help in the kitchen anymore because that's "women's work" and I was like "pfoa". I realized that this was imprinted on him in kindergarten, so at a parent meeting I explained why it is not good to teach our children with such a mentality.

This is how one after the other was born the idea of the vlog. I admit that at first I was also afraid to expose myself publicly because I could see how much hate my husband, who already had a vlog, was getting. And psychologically it is very difficult to cope. Very few understand how difficult it is to make a vlog, in the rain, in the wind, with the baby breastfeeding, the editing, the technique and a bunch of little things like that...

Finally, after many hours of filming, designs, scripts, etc. we released the vlog (the first episode waited a few months to be published because we had a petition going on at the time and didn't want it to overlap). I was full of emotions and even shaking. I kept saying this: if 1000 people will watch the video, at least 100 will somehow change their thinking. When I saw that he had collected about 60,000, I couldn't believe it!

I like what I do! Lately, I've been trying to make videos that feature my colleagues, not just me. In the future, I would like to relaunch it, but only make spots. It's a very nice experience, although there are a lot of mean non-public comments and I don't understand why. They criticized me in private, with curses, with everything. At first I was answering them, trying to have a dignified conversation, but in vain. So I gave it up because it was consuming me so much. I hope to come back though and expand the team so more people can talk.

What topics would you like to address further in the #Vloguluneimamefeministe?

One of the topics that matters a lot to me is sex education, especially because in the Republic of Moldova the number of girls who give birth and have abortions at a young age is increasing, let's put it this way: children give birth to children. So I want to share my experience because first of all sex education starts from family and not anywhere else.

My parents didn't tell me anything. I have 3 children aged 9, 7 and 4 and they all know very well what is the difference between girls and boys, between the penis and the vulva, they understand that a child is born as a result of a sexual act (of course, they didn't ask me details ), I know how a child develops, I know what gay and lesbian mean, what menstruation means, etc. And believe me, I didn't come and tell them "let's talk about...", no! They see/hear certain things around or at the kindergarten and come to ask me questions, and I explain them with arguments. I found all the answers in a single guide made in Romania, namely 'Sex education guide for parents - what to answer at each age'.

When my boy heard about sex from his colleagues, he came and asked me, and I was so stuck with the answer and I said "Dumitraș, excuse me, I'm tired today, but don't mind if we continue the discussion tomorrow . Look, my head hurts a lot" (that's what I usually do when I don't know an answer). Then I quickly document myself and explain to him, after which he pats me on the shoulder and says "yes, I knew, mother, I just wanted to check on you". I understood that it was a test of the child for me to gain his trust, if I did not pass it, the child would not discuss serious topics with me anymore, and I do not want to lose the chance to be the main source of information of my children (rather than getting information from anywhere and untruthfully).

The second topic is sexual harassment, especially among young people, and another is the sexualization of little girls through entertainment and media products, sexist advertising in general. Last but not least, to try a kind of online training, that is, to explain certain terms, trends, what to eat, what is this, what is that and others in a way that everyone can understand.

How lax is the legislation on women's rights?

Very. The most discriminatory field is labor market. We, as an impact and post-Covid, the labor market only intensified and bolded the problems. The labor market leaves you behind, leaves you financially independent, excludes you when you have a family and children and does not give you the opportunity to reconcile both. Here I am talking about a simple situation:

It is impossible in the Republic of Moldova not to be put in a situation where you have to choose between career and children, and the state continues to practically lock you in the house when you have a small child. Precisely because of this, when you come back you are willing to accept any salary and any job just to get back on the market, and this is what I am talking about from my perspective. After returning, I doubted myself a lot, because I kept hearing "taca-paca instead of orange". That's why there are salary discrepancies.

The legislation does not allow it, even if changes are attempted. Regrettably, in the Republic of Moldova everything that is done is done according to the system 'one step forward, two steps back'. Another example would be related to childcare leave. It should have three basic pillars:

  1. Maximum flexibility for parents (to take into account the state of health of the child, the mother, the financial situation, the socio-economic status, etc.)
  2. Fathers should also be encouraged to take care leave
  3. There should be as many alternative childcare centers and organizations as possible

Plus other loopholes that don't help us, rather they confuse us. And this is where all the problems start, and many forms of discrimination at work and family violence would decrease if the state intervened.

Have you mentioned this pressure that "oh, you have to have a baby by age x", "why are you having children so quickly" or "why aren't you married yet". How can we manage this pressure from society?

Yes, indeed, it exists especially on young women. You always feel this pressure of eternal reporting before the court of society, I say. If you're going to focus only on that, you can't avoid it because, whether we like it or not, this is the society we grew up with certain stereotypes and visions and we can't change it overnight. Better not to consume yourself and make it clear that it is your right what you decide to do with your life.

Do you think humor helps us fight all these stereotypes?

Yes, I think humor in your genes helps you cope with many situations. I, at least, would be out of my mind without humor. When you're joking, it's a lot easier. But the most important thing is not to listen to the mouth of the world and avoid it, because it will always talk. With humor, verticality and will we will overcome all obstacles. I really recommend that people use humor to overcome these situations.

As a final question, what would you like the readers of this interview to leave with (quote, advice, gist of what we talked about, again, absolutely anything)?

I will try to give some advice for any age, from young to old:

Know that you can do ANYTHING. 

Everything is in your hands and most importantly, don't give in!

Don't inhibit your voice, always speak up and don't be afraid to do it!

Don't let yourself be guided by stereotypes and labels neither towards you nor towards the people around you.

You are not alone, and I believe that we can promote women's rights through solidarity! The borders of our countries do not prevent us from uniting.

When you feel like you can't anymore, remember when you were little - we didn't know anything and we struggled to learn, but we didn't give up!

And the last one: "from any sour lemon you can make a tasty lemonade if you know what ingredients to add" because any experience, good or bad, is an experience that helps you in life if you know how to use it!

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