Moldova woman councillor slows traffic and saves lives

Photo: UN Women Europe and Central Asia/ Rena Effendi

VS1_Pepeni_MoldovaPhoto: UN Women Europe and Central Asia/ Rena Effendi

After Veronica Spânachi’s husband was killed in a car accident in front of their home, she vowed to make her town’s roads safer so others would not face a similar tragedy.

A UN Programme “Women in Politics” supported National Mentorship Programme for Women Councillors, called Inspir-o! helped her to fulfil her vow.

Serious car accidents were long a sad fact of life in Pepeni, a village near Moldova’s capital Chișinău. At least two serious accidents occurred there every year. In 2014, 35 car accidents caused four deaths. Veronica’s husband was among the casualties.

"My husband was killed by what he feared most – a car traveling too fast. He’d often say, ‘One day I'll wake up with a car in my bedroom.’ Only, the car that killed him wasn’t in the bedroom, but right in front of our house," remembered Veronica.

To honour her husband’s memory, Veronica decided to improve road safety in Pepeni. Eight months after the fatal accident, Veronica was elected village councillor, and immediately applied to Inspir-o!, the UN Women-supported National Mentorship Programme for Women Councillors.  

"Thanks to Inspir-o!, I have developed my communication and public speaking skills and learned how to identify community problems, develop a project, and mobilize people to join community activities," said councillor Spânachi.

To date, Inspir-o! has helped women elected to local councils organize over 100 community activities and projects that have benefitted 25,500 people. Inspir-o! is run by “Partnership for Development” Centre, under the Women in Politics Programme, which works to increase capacity of women working in politics and increase rate of women`s political representation and in decision making processes.  

Funded by the Swedish Government, Women in Politics (WiP) is jointly implemented by UN Women and UNDP with the non-governmental organizations East Europe Foundation and “Partnership for Development” Centre.

In Moldova, women only represent 22 per cent of the members of Parliament, in 2015 they made up just 20.6 per cent of mayor mandates, 30.04 per cent in local councils and 18.55 per cent in district councils, which is far below international standards and the country’s commitments under nationally and internationally agreed goals.

After Inspir-o! accepted her project, “Security in traffic means life”, which sought to establish speed limits and install traffic signs at dangerous curves, councillor Spânachi was ready to hit the road ahead of her with like-minded companions.   

She set up an implementation team of three councillors and four young volunteers. Her team created a road traffic safety awareness and behavioural change campaign, “Attention, speed is good only on the Internet”, and distributed leaflets and drawings throughout the village. To get buy-in, they organized debates between local residents, councillors and the traffic police.

But bureaucracy and local officials stymied her, even though her project sought to save lives. "They argued that speed limits actually cause more accidents!" recalled Veronica.

To change their minds, Veronica did her research and argued. She collected data on the number of accidents in the village and about accident victims. She presented dozens of documents to local and district Roads Departments, the Police Inspectorate, the Ministry of Transport and Road Infrastructure, and even to Parliament of Moldova.

Finally, authorities approved the project. But then, another hurdle arose. There were no local or district budgets to install speed limit signs.

Unfazed, Veronica and her team drummed up enough funding to install four speed limit signs – three in the village and one near the school. The National Mentorship Programme came through with support, 48 local residents with drivers’ licenses contributed financially – and the local authority finally allocated budget to install some of the signs after her month-long campaign for the budget allocation!

"We didn’t give up, and kept mobilizing the community,” said councillor Spânachi.  “I didn’t want anyone to suffer the way I did. We showed that if people are united, they can do great things.”

The local community is delighted with the signs’ impact.

 “The speed limits make drivers more responsible. They stop and give priority to pedestrians,” said community activist Oleg Brega, a Pepeni resident.

"The signs have greatly benefited our village. We hope that the number of accidents will decrease, because Pepeni has the most accidents in Sângerei district," said Ana Maxian, a project volunteer.

Veronica takes quiet satisfaction in her work and what she’s learned.

"You can do everything if you believe in it and persevere,” said councillor Spânachi. “Just like a woodpecker who knocks in the same place a thousand times and succeeds, so can we beat the system.”