Irina Vlah: “Gagauzia Challenges Gender Stereotypes”
The head of the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia about her way through personal success to her region’s success
Three years ago, Gagauzia began moving away from stereotypes when the first woman politician in the history of Moldova ran for the position of Governor. During ‘International Debate Club – Female Governors: Strategy for Regional Performance and Growth’ held at the Second EWF in St. Petersburg, Irina Vlah shared about her way to personal success and then to the success of her autonomous unit.
Irina Vlah - The Governor of the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia, a member of Moldovan Government, lawyer
After her unforeseen for the Moldovan Government prevailing in the election, Ms. Vlah said the autonomous unit ‘will now move towards Russia’.
Her own move towards politics was made back in 2005, when Irina Vlah was elected in the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova. Being the member of 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th legislatures of the Parliament, Ms. Vlah combined politics with her scientific activity at the Comrat State University and teaching at the Academy of Public Administration of Moldova.
In 2010, Ms. Vlah ran for the position of Gagauz Governor for the first time. At the time, a third of electors voted for her. Five years later, at the Governor elections, the independent candidate advocated strengthening ties with Russia and CIS altogether using the following motto: “Better Moldova will begin with Gagauzia”. Back then, 10 candidates ran for the position.
On March 22, 2015, Irina Vlah won in the first round after getting 51.11% of votes.
Ms. Vlah recalls: “My campaign was not easy to run, as men candidates had only one argument against my candidacy. It was the fact that I am a woman. As they used to say, ‘nobody will vote for a woman in our region’. Nevertheless, I managed to reassure my nation! The stereotypes were eliminated”.
“However, when I ran for the governor’s position, those were men who were voting for me, not women. This stereotype should also be eliminated”.
The region at the time was economically weak and subsidised. It had only 28-31% of own income (without natural and any other resources, except human ones). Gagauzia had to be broken free from deadlock.
Irina Vlah’s professional team made regional budget 2.5 times richer over 3.5 years. They also raised the incomes and launched substantial social and economic programmes.
Two free economic zones were established. A large Japanese company became one of the residents there. The Japanese would not come to a region without stability, mutual understanding, openness of the authorities, and major opportunities of economic development.
“We understood we had to focus on small and medium businesses while promoting local manufacturers.
We not only managed to attract a number of grants but also reached the level when we ourselves started giving grants to our economic agents”, says the Governor of Gagauzia.
Ms. Vlah understood that it was important to keep young people working in their home regions. The grant system was very helpful as the young started believing in themselves and their autonomous region. According to experts, the migration growth in the region has significantly decreased.
Then the administration of Gagauzia decided to give grants to processing companies in accordance with working places provided. A working place denoted a certain amount of money. That is how new business partners were attracted to the project irrespective of their location.
Irina Vlah highlights: “We understood that we needed to increase the birth rate. We launched programmes on maternity and childhood support.
We seriously encourage parents. For example, we include them into mortgage programme, give grants to young specialists with children, allocate children’s allowances to families with children aged up to 1, and provide free baby food…”
By the way, on the initiative of the Governor and the Executive Committee of Gagauzia, families receive 1 thousand Moldovan lei when their first child is born. The authorities of Gagauzia give 1.5 thousand Moldovan lei for the second child (in addition to allowances from government). The Executive Committee gives 20 thousand Moldovan lei for twins and 50 thousand for triplets. Throughout 3.5 years, 4 new kindergartens were built (with 2 of them supported by Turkish colleagues).
The Republic of Turkey was involved in the development of Gagauz infrastructure. With the participation of Ankara and Turkish municipalities, more than 10 houses of culture were renovated and a new creativity house for children was erected over the 2 years. The construction of a large educational complex with a roofed stadium is being launched. During a recent visit to Gagauzia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the President of Turkey, opened a diagnostic centre in Comrat city and a new nursing home for elderly people in Ceadir-Lunga city.
“If love towards our region, nation, and team lies in the basis of our work, we will be able to achieve much. One should not be afraid of anything, because the road will be handled by the walker. I managed to shake one of the old attitudes. We must move forward.”
Irina Vlah thinks that many women are afraid of entering politics, but they will be more confident when having certain role models. That is why it is necessary to support one another. At the Second EWF, Ms. Vlah said that it was important for women not to be strict and tough as women leaders are usually perceived. Women should be who they are.
This means that women must translate to their nation all their strengths including family warmth and best traits they share with close people.
Ms. Vlah believes that “any child walking down the street is our child, any old woman living alone is our granny. We should take care of them and think how to help them at such a complicated time.”
Today the Governor of Gagauzia Irina Vlah is intended to build constructive relations with the central authorities of the Republic of Moldova, representing the interests of the citizens of Gagauzia. The consolidation of the autonomous status of Gagauzia and the development of the Gagauz language alongside with its culture and traditions are also the parts of her plan.
Tina Stankevich, news agency of the Eurasian Women’s Community
Translated by Nikolay Boykov and Nikolay Gavrilov