Advancing Diversity and Inclusion: Challenges and Progress in Armenia, Moldova, and Ukraine
Considering their heterogeneous populations and persistent discrimination and violence against marginalized groups, a pressing need in Armenia, Moldova, and Ukraine exists for improved policies and actions to ensure equal rights and opportunities. More effective strategies and comprehensive legal frameworks can significantly impact human rights protection in these three former Soviet states.
Advances that have been made are mainly the result of EU association agreements and partnerships that impose preconditions for obtaining EU candidate status. These requirements can have a transformative influence on aspiring members, spurring the implementation of the EU’s “common values” reform agenda, which requires nondiscrimination and inclusion.
All three countries have linguistically and ethnically diverse populations for whom full integration into the mainstream social, political, and media environments is difficult to achieve. The so-called language question has been heavily politicized for years but is now even more so given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This issue is now bound up with patriotism, and concerns about discrimination have been set aside.
Armenia also faces challenges in terms of communication and intercultural dialogue. Minorities there face not only discriminatory attitudes but also pressure to assimilate.
Individuals with non-traditional sexual orientations comprise another highly marginalized population in these countries. In Moldova, among all minority groups, LGBTQ+ communities are the least socially accepted. They are perceived as “abnormal” by 40% of the general population. Since 2002, annual Pride events have been organized, but these gatherings have become targets of violent altercations.
Kyiv has held an annual Pride event since 2015, but it has also been met with opposition. However, in Ukraine, since the 2022 full-scale Russian invasion, tolerance toward LGBTQ+ communities has increased. Approximately two-thirds of Ukrainian citizens support granting such individuals the same rights as other citizens, and a similar number also supports having them serve in the military to defend the country. Still, they face significant social exclusion. Property inheritance rights, spousal rights in the event of a partner’s death, and joint property ownership for LGBTQ+ couples, for example, are denied to them.
In Armenia, the media and opposition parties reinforce negative portrayals of LGBTQ+ people and acceptance of violence against them. They consequently face hate speech, persecution, violence, and discrimination.
In Armenia, gender inequities result in girls dropping out of school at a higher rate than boys, particularly among religious and ethnic minorities. Entrenched gender roles and stereotypes lead to domestic violence against girls and women and go largely underreported.
Surveys indicate that women in Moldova experience discrimination, above all in the workplace, where they face negative social attitudes and pay disparities. However, it is encouraging that most of the population acknowledges that women are capable of excelling in professional roles and leadership positions while managing domestic responsibilities.
Ukraine is similar to Moldova regarding the pay gap. When Ukraine joined the Biarritz Partnership for Gender Equality in 2020, for example, the pay disparity between men and women was 20.4%. That fell slightly to 18.6% the following year.
People With Disabilities
In all three countries, people with disabilities lack access to quality education, health services, transportation, and public buildings. They are often the targets of discrimination and bullying.
In Armenia, children with disabilities have reportedly been excluded from state orphanages and schools, and even families. Children with inborn or developmental disadvantages live in six private orphanages or institutions, with limited or no education, permanently deprived of independent lives.
People with disabilities face significant societal barriers and discrimination in Moldova, too. They encounter difficulties in accessing medical assistance, using public transportation, and attaining positions of responsibility. They also face general discrimination in the labor market.
Infrastructure in Ukraine is predominantly inaccessible for people with disabilities, exacerbating the daily challenges that they face. While Ukrainian law includes provisions to encourage companies to hire individuals with disabilities, enforcement is inconsistent. The Russian invasion has caused conditions for people with disabilities to endure isolation and neglect.
Because of the ongoing war, Ukraine faces a significant challenge in its new responsibility for implementing policies for integrating veterans, a unique and deserving group, some of whom are themselves disabled. Their successful reintegration into society is critical for their well-being and national stability.
While some laws to address all these issues are on the books in all three countries, implementation and enforcement lags. Lack of legal clarity and insufficient local law enforcement capacity means inadequate prevention and investigation of hate crimes. Victims, some of whom are particularly vulnerable, are also often unaware of their rights.
How Should Each Country Tackle These Issues?
Armenia does not have comprehensive antidiscrimination legislation. There are no laws on hate speech or hate crimes, or other judicial mechanisms protecting gender minorities. Medical and government guidelines and regulations defining appropriate gender-affirming procedures are also lacking.
The government should increase its funding of NGO-run support centers for victims of domestic violence and take action to prevent targeted attacks and hate speech against activists.
A general lack of knowledge about safeguards, such as protection orders through a domestic violence law, hinders the prevention of such violence. Awareness-raising is, therefore, a priority. So are reforms to existing policies and laws to protect gender and national minorities, domestic violence survivors, and people with disabilities. These reforms should be drafted in consultation with affected parties and their representative organizations. Officials should also create formal bodies to oversee the implementation of reforms.
Finally, the Armenian government has moved away from the practice of holding regular discussions about minority rights with NGOs. The authorities make important decisions without consulting stakeholders. The government must reverse this trend and encourage the involvement of all groups in civic life.
Moldova has antidiscrimination laws in place, though implementation is poor. Amendments to criminal and misdemeanor codes approved in April 2022 represent a milestone in legal conformity with European standards on handling discrimination cases. These amendments focused mainly on defining "bias motive", revising the list of offenses, and outlining aggravating circumstances related to crimes motivated by prejudice and hatred.
The main problem is that victims often hesitate to report incidents, fearing retaliation or job loss. In some populations, such as the LGBTQ+ community, reporting is done through NGOs. Unfortunately, law enforcement and the judiciary still struggle to investigate and adjudicate these cases properly. The authorities must improve law enforcement capacity and promote a culture of local support for victims. Furthermore, to raise awareness and understanding of hate crimes among targeted groups and the general population, the government should support educational and consciousness-raising initiatives. Moldova could do this by, in part, prioritizing efforts to teach its citizens about diversity and inclusion, particularly in schools. It should also implement campaigns and initiatives to promote tolerance and acceptance. Policies that encourage businesses to hire employees from diverse backgrounds should also be developed. Hate speech and discrimination should be criminalized, and laws should be enforced to protect the rights of minorities. Resources for promoting intercultural dialogue to foster understanding and tolerance, especially of vulnerable minority groups, would be welcome. Such resources could include funding for NGOs that support minority rights, cultural exchange programs, and community events.
Ukraine has passed a law to prohibit discrimination based on sex and gender. The country ratified the Istanbul Convention (Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence) in July 2022, and it entered into force four months later. A bill on civil partnerships was introduced in 2023. The Ukrainian government should now concentrate on establishing a professional, independent justice system to ensure enforcement of antidiscrimination laws. It should run antidiscrimination advocacy campaigns and allow free debate of the proposed civil partnerships bill.
The establishment (under the previous government) of the Ministry of Veterans Affairs demonstrates Ukraine's commitment to addressing the challenges faced by those who have served their country, and NGOs led by retired military professionals are playing a vital role in their social reintegration. However, the government must ensure that veterans services have a human face by preventing bureaucratic hurdles from limiting access. Digitalization of these services can help enhance efficiency and minimize corruption.
Conclusions and Recommendations
It is crucial to intensify efforts, raise awareness, and implement effective measures to combat violence and stigmatization, and guarantee a safe and inclusive environment for all members of society. The gap between the letter of the law and its practical application highlights the need for greater efforts to ensure that antidiscrimination laws are effectively implemented and enforced. Armenia, Ukraine, and Moldova should:
- Continue to align legislation, institutions, and practices more closely with European standards on human rights, the rule of law, and democracy
- Undertake measures to respond to, combat, and, ultimately, prevent violence against minorities
- Introduce a system to respond to cases of gender-based violence that involves representatives of multiple professional disciplines
- Introduce effective legislative mechanisms and provide for their proper implementation
- Develop and adopt comprehensive antidiscrimination laws with explicit protection from discrimination based on gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, religion, disability, and HIV status
- Organize comprehensive training in diversity and inclusion for those in law enforcement, including judges and prosecutors, and for all service providers, including doctors and educators
- Further digitalize public services to reduce opportunities for discrimination and corruption
Alisa Jamalyan, Catalina Plinschi, and Yurii Stechyshyn are 2023 GMF Policy Designers Network (PDN) fellows. This article is part of a series of contributions from PDN fellows. The PDN is made possible by a grant from the German government through the KfW development bank.