As one of the world’s youngest nations, gaining independence in 2002, Timor-Leste has had to overcome internal violence and political instability to achieve tremendous progress , but there is still much to do both economically and socially to strengthen the nation. Australian volunteers have been supporting Timor-Leste to achieve better socioeconomic outcomes since 1995.
Gender equality and women’s empowerment is a an important part of the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program , including Timor-Leste, as it is a foundation for sustainable development.
Alita Verdial, Senior Program Officer with AVI, delivery partner for the AVID program in Timor-Leste, explains that Timor-Leste’s Constitution provides a framework for the promotion of gender equality, the country has ratified relevant international conventions, and there has been significant progress in women’s political representation.
“Having skilled, inspired and politically engaged women as leaders is an essential step towards gender equality in the country, however many challenges remain,” says Alita.
“The nature of Timor’s patriarchal society means that women do not have sufficient respect and resources to allow them to make their own decisions. There is also a high prevalence of violence against women and girls throughout Timor-Leste, particularly domestic violence.
“This situation prevents women and girls enjoying their rights and creates multiple barriers to empowerment. It confirms that gender inequality is persisting despite the progress made in women’s political participation,” she explains.
The AVID program takes an integrated approach to strengthening capacity across the gender sector in Timor-Leste. This year, for example, 14 volunteers will be placed across 10 organisations to work alongside their local counterparts in legal aid and representation, justice, trauma and psychosocial, advocacy and human rights, labour rights, economic empowerment, education, health, political voice and representation.
According to Alita, “The AVID program has made essential contributions to gender and women’s empowerment programs. It has strengthened local capacity through mentoring and developing individuals and organisational potential to achieve gender equality, which is at the core of development of the country.”
Rede Feto, Fundasaun Alola and Casa Vida Timor-Leste are just some of the many local organisations that the AVID program is currently working with to improve outcomes for women in Timor-Leste.
Rede Feto is Timor-Leste’s umbrella organisation for grassroots women’s organisations. It coordinates submissions to international and national policies and laws, leads advocacy and awareness-raising activities and participates in national and international forums. Australian volunteer Mary Waterford, External Relations and Advocacy Mentor, is supporting Rede Feto to increase its capacity to advocate for improved women’s rights in Timor-Leste, develop its ability to fundraise and strengthen external relationships and partnerships.
Fundasaun Alola is another organisation striving for better outcomes for women in Timor-Leste, led by the motto “Strong Women Strong Nation”. The Foundation works across four program areas:
maternal and child health, education, economic empowerment and advocacy.
Australian volunteer Jude Finch is working with her colleagues on a major integration project across the organisation, which will result in the four program areas collaboratively. This new strategic approach will result in multiple program viewpoints being applied to each issue, delivering a holistic response.
Jude explains, “We plan to test our capacity to work collaboratively and, in terms of community benefit, assess outcomes for the community of combined efforts for change.”
The focus of Casa Vida Timor-Leste is providing support to children and young women who have experienced sexual abuse. With high rates of violence against women and children in Timor-Leste , Casa Vida’s work is critical. Their activities include support services, operating shelters, a day-care centre and pre-school, vocational and life-skills training and community education programs.
The focus of Australian volunteer Katherine Dobson’s role is to provide support, advice and encouragement to the leadership team and to assist with the development of a new strategic plan.
Katherine says, “My most significant contribution to Casa Vida has been providing coaching and support to emerging leaders within the organisation. Working alongside and supporting passionate, dedicated and intelligent national staff has been incredibly rewarding. I also believe it is a really important part of building strong organisations and sectors.”
Mary, Jude and Katherine’s volunteering assignments are part of the Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program, an Australian Government initiative.
World Bank country overview – Timor-Leste, http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/timor-leste/overview#1
Timor-Leste, Rede Feto, ‘NGO Shadow Report’, Implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms Against Women, 2015, p. 58.
The Asia Foundation, Understanding Violence against Women and Children in Timor-Leste: Findings from the Nabilan Baseline Study 2016, 2016.
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 Fifty-nine per cent of women who have ever been in a relationship (ever-partnered), reported having experienced some form of physical or sexual partner violence, or both, by a male partner in their lifetime, and 47 per cent in the 12 months before the interview. The Asia Foundation, Understanding Violence against Women and Children in Timor-Leste: Findings from the Nabilan Baseline Study 2016, 2016.
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