03 October 2008

State-Building for Gender Equality in Timor-Leste

From Progress of the World's Women 2008/2009 Who Answers to Women? Gender and Accountability UNIFEM - As elections approached in Timor-Leste in the Spring of 2007, the Timorese people and the international community looked on with both anticipation and trepidation. Would Timor-Leste, one of the world's youngest nations, continue on its path to democracy and the consolidation of democratic institutions, which began with the independence referendum of 1999?

The remarkable voter turnout quickly assuaged the anxiety of observers: 81% of registered voters went to the polls, 47% of them women. They elected 65 new members of parliament, including 20 female MPs. During the election, women candidates signed on to a Women's Political Platform, emphasizing their common goal of giving women's issues a prominent place on the political agenda, and the General Election Monitoring Commission (KOMEG), a group of men and women advocating women's political participation, closely monitored the commitments of political parties to gender equality.

Today, women in Timor-Leste are represented in significant numbers at the highest levels of political decision-making and increasingly at the local level: they constitute close to 30% of MPs, hold 3 out of 9 cabinet posts including three key ministries – Justice, Finance and Social Solidarity – and an increasing number of seats on village councils. Numeric representation, furthermore, is reinforced by a strong public commitment to gender equality: Timor-Leste has a women's parliamentary caucus, a parliamentary committee devoted to Gender Equality, Poverty Reduction and Rural and Regional Development; a Secretary of State for the Promotion of Equality under the Office of the Prime Minister, and, most recently, a Prime Ministerial Commission for Gender Equality, among other mechanisms devoted to women's rights and empowerment.

Accountability in Timor-Leste, however, as in all other countries emerging from the trauma of prolonged violent conflict, remains an enormously complex political and institutional project. In the new state of Timor-Leste the public administration literally had to be built from scratch. In 1999, for example, there were only 70 lawyers in the country and no formal judicial system, no civil service and no political institutions to ensure citizen's access to justice in the emerging independent state.

Unlike many other post-conflict contexts, Timorese women were able to engage centrally in state-building from the start. In this they were assisted by the United Nations peacekeeping missions that sought to support national accountability to women. The first United Nations mission (2000-2002), for example, promoted gender equality in policy, programmes and legislation in the East Timor Transitional Administration. This eventually evolved into a policy-making mechanism strategically integrated into the new government. With the support of a representative network of women's organizations and a critical mass of women in high-level decision-making positions, this work provided the foundation for the comprehensive institutional framework for gender equality that exists today. As the Special Representative of the Secretary General, Atul Khare, has pointed out, "Women are strong advocates for justice and accountability. Therefore, the alliance between peacekeeping operations, women and women's organizations is crucial for promoting long-term stability in any country."

Other excerpts from the full report

Efforts to professionalise the senior civil service rarely include ‘fast tracking’ to bring women into managerial roles. In the few countries that have civil service quotas for women, such as Bangladesh and Timor-Leste, efforts concentrate primarily on placing women in entry-level positions, where the quota can rapidly become a glass ceiling.
In Timor-Leste and South Africa, for example, women’s groups organised to develop Women’s Charters — published statements about government responsibilities to women — to promote gender equality across the public sector during periods of national reconstruction.
In Timor-Leste, the government established Vulnerable Persons Units within the National Police that are responsible for receiving and investigating allegations of gender-based violence. Working closely with women’s groups that provide counseling, legal assistance, shelters and judicial escorts, the presence of these Units has led to marked increase in women reporting gender-based violence cases.
In Timor-Leste, Centro Feto, a local NGO in the province of Oecusse, works with informal systems on “fi nding good solutions for women.” It seeks to educate villagers on issues related to gender-based violence, such as rape, domestic violence and forced marriage. The group also lobbies for women rather than their families to be compensated directly when they are victims of domestic violence.
As we celebrate the achievements of Timor-Leste as one the world’s youngest nations, we remain deeply committed to building a country of equal rights for all citizens, both men and women, of equality for all citizens in the eyes of the law. We have come a long way in building a society based on respect for human rights and the ideals of justice, liberty and equality. But great challenges remain. We must continue to create an atmosphere of stability, so that people do not feel afraid and have confidence in the future. We must put an end to domestic violence. We must ensure that the principles to which we have committed ourselves by signing the Convention for the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women translate into real improvements in the lives of women and girls, not only in Timor-Leste, but all over the world. As a nation, we shall never forget the important contribution and sacrifice of the women of Timor-Leste during our struggle for freedom. Accountability to women is the key to building a nation based not on violence but on peace and security, development and human rights. Men and women must work in partnership towards these goals. This is our hope for the future. The women of Timor-Leste expect nothing less.

Dr. Jose Ramos-Horta President of Timor-Leste and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, 1996

East Timor Women - Raising awareness of the plight of women in Timor-Leste.

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