15th December 2008, 15:15 - Governor-General Quentin Bryce has used her first official visit to East Timor to pledge the support of Australian women to ending the hardship and poverty of their Asian sisters.
She also told East Timor’s national parliament the relationship between the two countries - which share “a common ethos and a common humanity” - should be seen as a model by the rest of the world.
Ms Bryce made history in September when she became Australia’s first female head of state.
She met with East Timor’s Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao and President Jose Ramos-Horta during a three-day tour of East Timor on Monday.
At a lunch for senior Timorese women in Dili, Ms Bryce congratulated the prime minister’s Australian-born wife, Kirsty Sword Gusmao, for her work with the Alola Foundation which protects and advances the wellbeing of women in Timor-Leste.
“I know that life for women in East Timor is still relentlessly hard,” she said.
“Many (are) submerged below the poverty line, without access to education, employment, health care, living at risk of violence and without stability.”
A former federal sex discrimination commissioner, Ms Bryce told the lunch Australian women “continued to respond” to stories of women in East Timor, which has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world.
“I have enormous faith in the power of women to connect and conspire, to put down roots of hope and trust,” she said.
In an address to parliament, the nation’s 25th Governor-General said Australians had a deep affection for the people of East Timor, one of Asia’s poorest and smallest countries.
“Our partnership is an exemplar to the world: an enduring pact of friendship, cooperation, mutuality, reciprocity and support that evolves and strengthens with the demands placed upon it,” she said.
Ms Bryce toured Australian defence facilities before dining with troops at the heliport base on Sunday night.
There are about 750 Australian troops stationed in the oil-rich country, although the number will be reduced to 650 personnel by early next year because of the improved security situation.
Australian peacekeepers first arrived in East Timor in 1999.
Some 1400 people were killed and thousands injured or displaced when pro-Indonesian militias, backed and supported by Jakarta, rampaged across East Timor to disrupt an independence referendum.
“We have rejoiced in your emerging self determination, your capacity for recovery, your efforts in re-establishing infrastructure and services,” Ms Bryce said.
“I want to assure you of Australia’s friendship and goodwill, and our ongoing commitment to a bilateral relationship of cooperation and trust.”
Image: Governor-General Bryce of Australia arrives at the Comoro airport in Dili. Picture: Reuters
East Timor Women - Raising awareness of the plight of women in Timor-Leste.