02 December 2008

East Timor's women speak out after brutal imprisonment

ABC Australia News 02/12/08 By Sarah Hawke - In their country's quarter of a century-long struggle for independence, around 10,000 East Timorese people were taken as political prisoners by Indonesia.

Nearly half of them were women and many of them were tortured, died or disappeared.

But many of those who did survive have been telling their stories as part of East Timor's Living Memory Project.

In 1977, Maria da Silva Benfica was a 23-year-old captured by the Indonesians for sending supporters to help the Timorese guerrillas.

Maria was imprisoned for over a year, where she was beaten and punched. At one stage she says she forced to be in a cell with a corpse.

Maria has told her story on video as part of The Living Memory Project. She is one of 52 video testimonies from ex-prisoners recorded so far.

Veteran journalist on East Timor, Jill Jolliffe, is directing the project. She says not only are the recordings important for history but also for the healing process.

"We find violence is repeated and mimicked as a result of unhealed trauma and children are affected," Ms Jolliffe said.

"So it's really a very large proportion of the East Timorese population."

Olga do Amaral was a student in 1997 when she took part in an independence demonstration. She was captured and imprisoned for a year.

"[I] got sexual violence, got beaten and punched."

On release she went and joined the guerrilla fighters in the mountains until independence.

Olga is now pregnant with her fourth child and later this month will be decorated for her efforts in the resistance.

Speaking in the third person, Olga says recognition and support of the continuing struggle of ex-prisoners by the Government is important.

"When she get married it's always, haunted from her husband, on the ground, something that she still thinking about this, but there is no recognition from the Government," she said.

Making inroads

Ms Jolliffe says the push for support is a struggle but inroads are being made.

"I think there's a long way to go and we do have, we have been accepted as belonging to a group known as the Psychosocial Group of NGOs," she said.

"We consider the filming itself is rather a healing process, a therapeutic process.

"Our core work is producing the archive but we get sufficient funds, we would also develop the health aspect at the same time."

Ms Jolliffe says she would like to establish a social centre where survivors can develop their sense of common identity.

She would also like to establish a place where older ex-prisoners can come.

"Many of them are isolated, they're getting old, they're getting sick, so we'd like to get a little room where they can come and play chess and read the daily newspapers, have a coffee, chew the fat, do what older people do," Ms Jolliffe said.

"Maybe give some assistance to their children, also in school work, where having access to the computers and the internet and books."

Original story at http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/12/02/2435595.htm

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

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