The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, a country located in Southeast Asia, gained its independence from Indonesia on May 20, 2002. This came after a popular vote in favor of becoming independent on August 30, 1999. As one of the world’s youngest and poorest nations, it is facing numerous social, political and economic issues. The country is not ignoring its issues but is instead working to improve them daily. One subject that is currently being brought to public attention is women’s rights in Timor-Leste, or the lack thereof.
Women in Timor-Leste face daily challenges that their male counterparts do not face to the same degree. One of these challenges is of an economic nature. Many women in Timor-Leste do not have the same training opportunities as men, which limits their job options. This limited access to jobs became a large issue after the conflict that Timor-Leste faced following the vote for independence in 1999 and before it was declared a sovereign state in 2002. During this time, nearly half of Timorese women were widowed due to widespread violence. These women became the sole provider in many households, and with economic options greatly limited for women in the country, many were left in poverty.
The government of Timor-Leste has recognized the economic challenges faced by women in the country. It is for this reason that Timor-Leste’s 2014 Country Gender Assessment includes an area dedicated to laying out a framework for advancing the economic opportunities of women. This framework includes increasing women’s participation in the labor market by improving training opportunities and implementing the Secretariat of State for Professional Training and Employment Policy’s gender mainstreaming strategy. These efforts will help to increase the number of financially independent women in Timor-Leste. In this area, women’s rights in Timor-Leste are advancing tremendously.
Another area of women’s rights in Timor-Leste that the country has struggled with is domestic and gender-based violence. Domestic violence is the most reported crime to the Vulnerable Persons Unit of the National Police by Timorese women, showing that this is a serious issue that is being faced by numerous women in the country. The government of Timor-Leste is determined to end this cycle of domestic violence. In addition to including women’s rights in the new constitution, the nation has also passed violence-specific legislation. This includes the Law Against Domestic Violence, which was passed in 2010 and defines domestic violence as a public crime. Timor-Leste also adopted the National Action Plan on Gender-Based Violence, which provides a strategy of prevention for domestic violence, as well as a number of services for survivors of gender-based violence and domestic violence.
In addition to the legislative actions being taken to reduce domestic violence in Timor-Leste and promote the economic advancement of women, government officials are also speaking out on the subject of women’s rights in Timor-Leste. The Prime Minister of Timor-Leste, Rui Maria de Araújo, made a statement at the Global Leader’s Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in 2015. He stated that Timor-Leste is fully committing to “achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.” There is hope in this statement, and the lives of the citizens of Timor-Leste can only continue to improve as the rights of women continue to increase.
– Nicole Stout