28 November 2008

Nation-Building across Urban and Rural Timor-Leste Gender, Justice, Peace and Security, Development and Governance

Wednesday 8 July to Friday 10 July 2009, Dili, Timor-Leste

The Timor-Leste NGO Forum, RMIT University, Australian Volunteers International with Charles Darwin University and Caritas Australia.

Ten years after the 1999 vote for independence, this conference will consider how nation-building is being experienced and responded to across urban and rural communities in Timor-Leste. Broadening the discussion beyond that of *state-building*, the conference would
consider some of the myriad ways the new republic has been *built*, not only from policy and programmatic initiatives but also from grass roots experiences and perceptions of how Timor-Leste as a nation is seen and understood.

The conference seeks to explore and understand what appears to be one of the most significant characteristics of the nation-building process in Timor-Leste, namely the sharp distinction found between urban and rural communities, especially between Dili as the capital and the
hundreds of agricultural communities where the majority of the population live. Dili has emerged as the centre for economic and political power in a way that is extraordinarily disproportionate with the remainder of the country, while rural areas often remain highly isolated and continue to be dominated by subsistence agriculture.

Differences in access to services-from running water and electricity, communication networks, adequate roads and transport, schooling and health-are among the more obvious differences alongside lack of access to paid work or opportunities for business development. The distinction
between the centre and the periphery is found in everyday discourse in Timor-Leste, where it is the norm for people to speak in oppositional terms about *Dili* and the *foho* (literally meaning mountain but used to refer to non-urban communities).

While acknowledging the sharp distinctions, the conference would look beyond assuming an urban/rural disconnect. Firstly, while bringing much-needed attention to issues such as the lack of access to services, information and formal power in rural areas, this conference will
explore how rural communities have actively responded to the challenges of nation-building on their own terms. Secondly, the conference will attempt to consider the ways in which the urban and the rural in Timor-Leste interconnect with one another, not just in terms of the
movement of people or economic interaction, but also in terms of how national-identity is understood.

Presenters are encouraged to consider the more general character of nation-building in Timor-Leste, conceptually exploring the character of that process over the last ten years. Equally, the conference will also give an opportunity to practitioners and community members to draw out
concrete examples of community experiences of nation-building, especially with an emphasis on the key themes of gender, justice, peace and security, development and governance. For instance, how is justice practiced or gender understood differently across the two domains, how
do socio-cultural differences between urban and rural communities impact opportunities for peace and security, and what are the different forms of governance that dominate the political *centre* and the *periphery*.

Discussions are continuing with East Timorese Government, civil society partners and potential donors. Further details regarding the conference will be sent out over December 2008 and January 2009 (such as the registration process and conference venue).

Please contact damian.grenfell@rmit.edu.au if you have any queries in the meantime.

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