women’s empowerment in Timor-Leste

Women’s empowerment in Timor-Leste has been a serious agenda since the nation gained independence from Indonesian occupation in 2002. The occupation left 70 percent of the nation’s infrastructure in shambles and most of its inhabitants displaced.

The small island suffers from one of the highest poverty rates in Asia as well as high levels of malnutrition. Women in Timor-Leste face challenges including poverty, gender-based violence and a lack of opportunities to be seen as community leaders.

The country’s government, as well as outside groups, is working to make sure that these issues are addressed. It is imperative that women’s empowerment in Timor-Leste is a top priority as the country seeks to provide a better future for all its inhabitants.

When Timor-Leste became an independent nation, a Gender and Constitution Working Group was formed with support from U.N. Women. This group was tasked with making sure that gender equality and women’s empowerment would be an integral part of Timor-Leste’s new constitution.

Because of the Gender and Constitution Working Group’s efforts, gender equality is included in Timor-Leste’s constitution, as well as a provision declaring that all citizens must be given equal opportunity in the social and political sphere. Due in no small part to these policies, Timor-Leste now has the largest percentage of women in political positions in the Asia Pacific Region.

A report by Mercy Corps found that increasing women’s empowerment in Timor-Leste helped to reduce childhood malnutrition and improve children’s health. Mercy Corps reported that when women have control over household finances, they are more likely to use funds to benefit themselves and their children. Similarly, when women have increased decision-making power they are more likely to make an expedient decision to get a sick child the care they need.

Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) is another organization that supports women’s empowerment in Timor-Leste. According to AVID senior program officer Alita Verdial, the nation’s “patriarchal society means that women do not have sufficient respect and resources to allow them to make their own decisions.” The organization is combatting these problems by providing volunteers to support local workers in areas such as human rights, education and economic empowerment.

Timor-Leste is a young country which faces many challenges. Women in the country do not yet have equal opportunity in the social, economic or political spheres. But key policies have been implemented to make sure women have equal protection under the law, and international programs are working to support the country’s women.

If Timor-Leste’s government and humanitarian organizations can continue to make women’s empowerment in Timor-Leste a priority, there is hope that the country will have a freer and more equitable future.

– Aaron Childree

Photo: Flickr

development projects in Timor-LesteTimor-Leste is a small country home to 1.29 million people on the eastern part of the island of Timor, shared with Indonesia. After 400 years under Portuguese rule, the country gained independence in 1975, only to be invaded by Indonesia nine days later. Over 150,000 Timorese died during 24 years of Indonesian occupation until a U.N.-backed referendum in 1999 led to independence in 2002. Fifteen years later, the United Nations missions have ended and the country is aiming to stand on its own two feet. These are five development projects in Timor-Leste:

  1. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Avansa Agrikultura (Forward Agriculture) project: Partnering with businesses in the private sector and with three government ministries including the Agriculture Ministry, USAID is promoting climate-friendly agricultural practices to increase food production and income in five municipalities across the country, including the capital. The $19.2 million project supports women’s empowerment and agricultural development projects in Timor-Leste, seeking to improve nutrition in Dili and beyond.
  2. The World Bank’s Sustainable Agricultural Productivity Improvement project: The World Bank’s agricultural project targets smallholders in Timor-Leste’s agricultural industry, encouraging the formation of community-based development plans. The World Bank is committing $21 million to development projects in Timor-Leste in partnership with the Agriculture Ministry to promote sustainable technologies in watershed agriculture.
  3. The World Bank’s Road Climate Resilience project: Coffee is one of Timor-Leste’s most well-known and important exports, popularizing the country’s name overseas and supporting development projects in Timor-Leste itself. As climate change begins to threaten small island nations, the World Bank is investing $20 million in a project to build climate-resilient roads and infrastructure in Timor-Leste’s coffee-producing regions, including in the corridor between Dili and the southwestern town of Ainaro.
  4. The Asian Development Bank’s Technical Assistance Special Fund: Through its Technical Assistance Special Fund, the Asian Development Bank is providing grants to help Timorese youth enter the country’s lucrative coffee industry. A $225,000 grant from the fund will contribute to a plan to develop the country’s coffee industry and create more jobs for local youth, collaborating with the Agriculture Ministry and the Timor-Leste Coffee Association to establish development projects in Timor-Leste.
  5. The World Bank’s Community Empowerment and Local Governance Project: Beyond agriculture, the backbone of the Timorese economy, foreign donors have been supporting development projects in Timor-Leste that seek to improve local governance and institutions. Between 2002 and 2005, in the first years of Timor-Leste’s independence, the World Bank committed $23 million to building responsive institutions that helped reduce poverty and support current initiatives for sustainable growth and economic development.

With these five development projects in Timor-Leste, the nation will be closer to a sustained and shared prosperity for all its people.

– Giacomo Tognini

Photo: Flickr

Hunger in East TimorThe situation in Timor Leste (East Timor) has been characterized by war and oppression for decades. In 1975, after Portuguese colonialism finally abdicated control of the region, there began a brutal war between the people of Timor Leste and neighboring Indonesia.

The war resulted in a 24-year Indonesian occupation of Timor Leste, and a cumulative death toll of 200,000 people – nearly one-quarter of the current population. Throughout the country’s occupation, there were guerilla movements working to remove Indonesia from power. However, the final decision to leave Timor Leste to its own devices came after a change of leadership occurred in Indonesia and U.N. intervention.

The Timorese voted for independence in 1999 – the result was a 78 percent majority. Unfortunately, the vote was far from respected. Those who did not wish to be independent of Indonesia instigated yet another insurgency against the majority of Timorese, necessitating more direct United Nations involvement. Finally, in 2002, after two years of U.N. Peacekeeping presence, full independence was attained.

However sweet this victory may have been, it did little to alleviate the problems of poverty, malnutrition and hunger in East Timor. Hunger is arguably the country’s most urgent problem. It affects nearly 100 percent of the population.

In 2010, 57.7 percent of children under the age five were classified as stunting, a term used to describe the condition of weighing too little for your height. Other indicators of malnutrition, such as wasting and generally being underweight, are prevalent, indicating that the situation is dire.

One of the many organizations working to mitigate the effects of hunger in East Timor is Oxfam Australia. The work they do is primarily aimed at educating the public, generally women and children, about the effects of malnutrition and specific ways to increase their family’s consumption of important nutrients.

In classes which they term “supplementary feeding courses,” they demonstrate how to cook nutritious meals, process fresh food so it lasts longer and which ingredients have the highest protein content.

This program, coupled with the organization’s efforts to work with local farmers on improving agricultural yields for their farming cooperatives, has been a formidable attempt to arm Timorese communities with life-saving nutritional and agricultural knowledge.

-Katarina Schrag

Photo: Flickr


Poverty Rate in East Timor
East Timor is one of the youngest countries in the world. Located in eastern Asia, the Independent Republic of Timor- Leste declared independence in 2002. Since then, the oil-dependent economy has grown rapidly and the government has worked to create institutions and provide services. East Timor has funded development by rerouting money from its petroleum fund, which collects profits from the petroleum-based economy. The government distributed these funds through its budget. East Timor created the Strategic Development Plan to guide its work from 2011 to 2030. Despite the government’s focused work, much of the country still lives in poverty.

What is the poverty rate in East Timor?
A reported 41.8 percent of the population in East Timor lives below the national poverty line. There is also immense income inequality in East Timor. In 2006, the poorest two-fifths of the population accounted for 18 percent of the country’s expenditure and the wealthiest two-fifths of the population accounted for 66 percent of the spending. Poverty rates are highest in rural areas.

How has the poverty rate changed?
In 2001, the poverty rate in East Timor was 36.3 percent. In 2007, the poverty rate rose to 49.9 percent. The poverty rate increased from 2001 to 2007 because the part of the economy not based on petroleum decreased. The non-petroleum economy must increase in order for the poverty rate in East Timor to decline. In addition, some of the initial elections in the country were violent and chaotic, which can cause poverty and instability.

What are some of the causes of poverty in East Timor?
As a young country, East Timor has had to rapidly create many institutions. The expanding population is placing pressure on the already limited job market. Many people in East Timor are unemployed. In addition, the transition from Indonesian occupation was chaotic and violent. A significant amount of infrastructure in the country was destroyed or damaged during this transition. These damages have hurt the operation of the economy and the government has had to fund repair projects.

How can the government reduce the poverty rate in East Timor?
The government needs to make plans to diversify the economy. In addition, the country needs to improve healthcare and education services. The population needs to gain industry skills so that the economy can expand and diversify. Programs should be designed to target young people; 60 percent of the population is under 25, and they are the future workforce. The government should also encourage private investment. Finally, as a new country, East Timor must continue strengthening its national and regional institutions.

While East Timor has quite a long way to go, it has also seen many successes, mainly in healthcare and education. The population has an increased life expectancy and a reduced child mortality since 2002. School enrollment and literacy have increased since the country gained independence. East Timor also eliminated leprosy since its inception. The poverty rate in East Timor should continue to decline due to the government’s focused work.

Sarah Denning

Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Timor-Leste
Timor-Leste gained independence in 2002. Unfortunately, this budding country is working from the ground up in regards to establishing a reliable health care system. Malnutrition and poor health contribute to Timor-Leste having the highest maternal death rates and deaths of children under the age of five years in Southeast Asia.

USAID is striving to fortify health care in Timor-Leste by enhancing the clinical skills of Ministry of Health professionals. Through improving the level of care, they are setting a new standard for health care in Timor-Leste. This is particularly important for women’s health, where they have increased the number of positive outcomes for women and children.

Due to Australia’s geographical proximity to Timor-Leste, they feel a strong sense of compassion for the Timorese. There are several humanitarian organizations specializing in different areas of health care dedicated to improving health care in Timor-Leste.

Labor is the most common source of income for the Timorese. However, demanding physical labor and repetitive motions often lead to muscular skeletal pain and disabilities. Unfortunately, this ailment is not a priority for the health care system in Timor-Leste. Hands On Health Australia (HoHA) identified this gap back in 2013. HoHA devised a training program for local health care professionals to increase the level of care for those suffering from acute or chronic musculoskeletal pain.

This HoHA program continues to succeed thanks to the practitioners and students who volunteer their time to strengthen health care in Timor-Leste.

The lack of clean water in Timor-Leste contributes to the high number of Timorese contracting rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever can persist into rheumatic heart disease.

The East Timor Heart Fund (ETHF), another Australian-based organization, offers pre-screening to Timorese citizens. Patients displaying signs of cardiovascular complications are referred to ETHF by local physicians. The ETHF team then transports the Timorese in need of life-saving heart surgery to Australia. ETHF is not only focused on treating patients, they are also partnering with the Timor-Leste government to conduct a study that will assess the scope of rheumatic heart disease throughout the country.

The ETHF believes studying the prevalence of the disease will give insight into reinforcing prevention methods in Timor-Leste.

Even the U.S. Navy has reached out a helping hand to edify health care in Timor-Leste with their Pacific Partnership Program. In June 2016, the hospital ship USNS Mercy made its sixth round in 11 years to Timor-Leste. The project involves working closely with Timorese health care professionals to share knowledge and skills, as well as help prepare them for emergencies.

During their stay, the Pacific Partnership program also sponsored a convention offering workshops in chronic disease, basic first responding, advanced life support skills and nursing skills. One of the major goals of this year’s mission was to empower women in disaster relief efforts and make sure that their skills are being well utilized in times of crisis.

Danielle Delacruz, a pediatric nurse aboard Mercy, said that the success of this venture was a gift not only to the Timorese, but also to those who worked alongside her to support health care in Timor-Leste.

Amy Whitman

Photo: Flickr

east timor
East Timor has produced its first feature film, which exposes the dire events of the country’s 24-year Indonesian occupation and the role of women in the nation’s struggle for independence. The film, “A Guerra da Beatriz” or “Beatriz’s War” is the story of a young woman’s fight to reveal the truth about her husband in the midst of his disappearance during a brutal massacre by Indonesian troops and his subsequent return. With the violence of the invasion as a backdrop, the film depicts a woman’s inner battle to remain true to her two loves: her country and her husband.

The film has a similar plot design as the 1982 French film, “The Return of Martin Guerre,” which portrays a historical case of a 16th-century soldier who returns from war and is no longer recognized by his community.

The main character, Beatriz, is a girl growing up in the mountains of East Timor in 1975 when the Indonesian invasion commences. Beatriz is married at the age of 11 to a young boy and, as the destruction of the occupation ensues, Beatriz becomes a resistance fighter to defend her nation. After her husband vanishes amid the 1983 Kraras Massacre, she continues her crusade against Indonesian forces. The reunion with her presumably dead spouse 16 years later ignites sentiments of longing that are further complicated by suspicions surrounding his identity.

The majority of those involved in the film have strong personal connections to East Timor’s brutal history. The actors and crew, including thousands of extras, have all had relatives lost during the war and have witnessed the torture and murder of family and community members.

The film was co-directed by East-Timorese filmmaker Bety Reis, who also plays the part of Beatriz’s mother. Reis co-founded East Timor’s first film and television production house, Dili Film Works, in 2010 and is its acting director. At the age of 16, Reis witnessed first hand the killing and rape of her fellow countrymen by the Indonesian military. Reis claims that she came very close to execution and is thankful that she was spared, allowing her to create a film which could inform the world about her country’s bloody past.

“Beatriz’s War” completed its production in 2013, mainly funded through crowd sourcing campaigns, and is now in limited release in Australian theaters. The film was awarded the Golden Peacock award for Best Film at the 44th International Film Festival of India in 2013 and was screened at the International Film Festival of Adelaide. In early 2014, the film competed in both the Bryon Bay International Film Festival and the Big Picture Film festival in Sydney, Australia.

The rise of East Timorese cinema marks an important step in the country’s cultural development. The growth of the nation’s culture was severely stunted by the impacts of the recent war with Indonesia. As more of the country’s citizens emerge with creative narratives that illustrate East Timor’s rich history, the world will benefit from gaining insight to the strengths and triumphs of a newly minted nation.

-Talia Langman

Sources: Dili Film Works, Sunday Morning Herald, Mount Holyoke
Photo: Timor Leste Merkeda