03 August 2009

East Timor Government Statement to CEDAW July 30, 2009

44th Session of the CEDAW Committee

Initial Report on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women


New York, 30th July 2009



Madam Chair, Members of the CEDAW Committee, Ladies and Gentleman,

On behalf of the Government of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, my delegation would like to start by thanking you for the opportunity to present our Initial Report before this Committee.

As you are well aware - and the report clearly mentions - Timorese women have faced many hardships. Timor-Leste’s social and cultural environment is based on a patriarchal system that has had a negative impact on women’s lives. Adding on to this Timor-Leste is a new country; it had its independence restored in 2002 after 400 years of Portuguese colonial rule and 24 years of Indonesian occupation. Even though, years of conflict had a negative impact on the livelihoods and well-being of all Timorese, women were particularly affected. Nevertheless, the Timorese women take pride in having played an active and crucial role throughout the struggle for independence, and now they enjoy a significant share in the Nation’s institutions and political life.

Since the Referendum that decided the Independence of Timor-Leste 10 years ago, many efforts have been undertaken with the support of United Nations Missions, UN agencies and many development partners to ensure the promotion of women’s rights and the elimination of discrimination and violence against women.

Timor-Leste has paid significant attention to create of a legal framework that brings stability to the country and fosters development based on the principles of equality, namely gender equality and the respect for human rights and freedoms, in compliance with the internationally recognized universal principles. The most relevant of all is the our Constitution that sets out detailed provisions regarding the fundamental rights of citizens and State obligations. These include, among other items, full equality of rights between women and men in all spheres of life (article 17). Also worth of mention is the ratification by the Government of Timor-Leste of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and its accompanying Optional Protocol, without reservation, on 16th April 2003.

Madam Chair, Members of the CEDAW Committee,

The current Fourth Constitutional Government made a crucial commitment to strengthen women’s rights and gender equality by establishing the Secretary of State for the Promotion of Equality – SEPI – by decree-Law number 16/2008 of 4th June. It now incorporates the activities that used to be undertaken by the Office of the Advisor on the Promotion of Gender Equality. This is a significant achievement; it recognizes and acknowledges the need to advance women’s rights and gender equality in the promotion of peace and development.

SEPI is therefore the Government’s main body responsible for the design, execution, coordination and assessment of policies related to the promotion of gender equality as defined by Council of Ministers and presided by the Prime Minister. In order to pursue its mandate in a consistent manner, SEPI has recently revised and further developed its five year Strategic Plan for the period of 2010-2015. It provides a clear direction for the joint efforts of the Government and local administration as well as all relevant stakeholders.

The mentioned Strategic Plan is based on the following four goals:

Goal 1: Build SEPI’s institutional capacity

Goal 2: Advocate for gender responsive policies and legislation in government

Goal 3: Advocate for gender mainstreaming in government institutions and state agencies

Goal 4: Raise the level of gender awareness among stakeholders and the general public at national and local levels

I will now go into detail on these goals to further explain the main achievements of the Government towards women’s rights in the last years.

Regarding goal 1, SEPI has developed a new organizational structure in compliance with the new organic law. In this regard, a number of civil servants are being recruited to reinforce SEPI’s capacity to respond to the various needs previously identified in the plan. Funding for a new building for SEPI is under consideration as well, as the current facilities do not meet its growing needs. This would be an important governmental investment reflecting and acknowledging the need for a strong national women’s institutional machinery.

Another relevant initiative to attain this goal is a commitment to ensure close collaboration and coordination with external stakeholders, such as civil society organizations, the National Parliament – Women’s Caucus and Committee E responsible for Gender Equality policies – and relevant development partners. This collaboration takes various forms, including regular monthly coordination meetings.

Concerning goal 2, the Government has taken steps to implement several initiatives regarding gender responsive policies and legislation. Health, Education, Agriculture and Justice have been prioritized according to the development of a Strategic Plan.

I also would like to highlight one important legislative initiative; that was the approval of the Penal Code in March 2009 - which includes a gender perspective - particular concern was given to articles that directly impact on the lives of women. One particular example is an article sanctioning domestic violence as a Public Crime. It ensures that criminal procedures do not depend on a formal complaint by the victim. Moreover, it ensures that criminal procedures can only be addressed by the state justice system, regardless of the existence of common traditional justice procedures at the community level.

A matter of concern is the criminalization of abortion. The socio-cultural environment in Timor-Leste is strongly influenced by the Catholic Church and therefore very restrictive in this matter. For example, even though the Council of Ministers decided to legalize abortion when the life and physical or psychological health of the mother or fetus is at risk, the National Parliament rejected it. Furthermore, several restrictive measures were introduced by the Parliament, creating further obstacles for pregnancy termination.

SEPI is more than ever determined to continue to raise public opinion’s awareness on women’s rights, so that in the near future a change of public mentality would allow for the decriminalization of abortion. In the meantime, other initiatives such as family planning policies are being implemented by the Ministry of Health to improve maternal health with the support our development partners. I will however address those in more in depth further ahead.

Regarding engendering policies since 2008 there has been a joint effort on engendering the National Priorities process. This is a yearly strategic planning process that involves all Ministries with the support of a technical secretariat from the UN Mission, where all Ministries define their main policies, objectives and targets in the context of the 7 National Priorities for Development decided by the Council of Ministers. SEPI is actively engaged in mainstreaming gender in government policies as to ensure a positive impact of such policies on women’s lives.

Regarding goal 3 on advocacy for gender mainstreaming in government institutions, in 2002 a five year gender mainstreaming policy was approved by the Government. Following this decision, on 19th March 2008 the Council of Ministers approved a resolution establishing and reinforcing a network of gender focal points in Ministries and district administrations. It seeks to establish a mechanism that creates a base for solid analysis in social dimension, economics, politics, families, and culture in all Timorese society, and enables the integration of a gender perspective in strategic development, policies and public legislation. Currently SEPI is in the process of revising the Gender Mainstreaming Policy, while at the same time is also providing on-going training and support to all Gender Focal Points in order to facilitate their role.

Moreover, in order to strengthen the Government’s Gender Mainstreaming approach, development partners have provided a number of assistance measures. Among others it has enabled the recruitment and placement of Gender and Development Advisors in the key policy areas I mentioned previously. These advisors work directly with the Gender Focal Points in those Ministries. In the future, we plan to place additional international Gender and Development Advisors in other relevant line Ministries, as a way to build capacity and foster gender mainstreaming into public policy.

Regarding goal 4, on gender stereotypes and negative cultural attitudes, SEPI has developed several initiatives to ensure gender awareness among stakeholders and the public in general. Among other items, I would like to highlight the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the national Radio and TV. It enables the production of radio and TV programs that address women’s rights and their valuable contributions towards Peace and Development. Also, regular meetings between SEPI and representatives of the media to ensure closer collaboration and raise gender awareness in the media sector often take place.

In addition, in collaboration with development partners and national NGO’s, SEPI has developed trainings and campaigns to raise gender awareness amongst the various stakeholders and the general public on topics of particular relevance. For example, recently SEPI participated in a national campaign to raise public awareness about the new Decentralization and local Election Law on the local elections taking place this coming October. This particular campaign is part of the ongoing efforts to encourage and support women in politics.

Moreover, several trainings and campaigns to fight violence against women are also implemented throughout the country, including in remote local communities. One example worth mentioning is the 16 Days Campaign to Fight Violence against Women, developed with the support of development partners and NGOs taking place from November 25th until December 10th. Also worth mentioning is the recurring training of police officers regarding gender based violence (GBV). Such campaigns and trainings have increased condemnation of GBV by the Timorese society at large. Moreover, the Government has developed several security, health and social protection procedures to ensure that the needs of the victims of domestic violence are met.

Finally, I would like to mention 3 major annual events that advocate on women’s rights, gender equality and the strengthening of public policies that foster women’s empowerment. They are the International Women’s Day on March 8th, the International Rural Women’s Day on October 15th and the National Women’s Day on November 3rd. In addition, this year the celebration of the 10th Anniversary of the Referendum for Independence, will promote dialogue between the women that live on the border of East and West Timor. It should allow their voices to be heard while simultaneously support the processes of reconciliation.

Madam Chair, Members of the CEDAW Committee,

Regarding the celebration of International Women’s Day, it is relevant to refer that in 2008 a joint Declaration – known as the Dili Declaration – was signed by the Timorese Government, Parliament, Civil Society and religious organizations. It committed to invest in women and girls in the following areas:

· To develop a gender sensitive budget;

· To eliminate violence against women and girls and adoption by the domestic violence law of an implementation plan and funds to deal with domestic violence issues;

· To develop a mechanism to promote equal access to property and land rights, as well as equality in access to higher education for women and girls, including scholarships in the field of natural resource management;

· To promote a gender sensitive health policy to prevent HIV/AIDS and promote family planning and promote integrated community-based health services;

· To ensure the insertion of the integrated approach to gender in the second National Development Plan, and seek to increase the financial and human resources to address gender equality within government institutions;

· To establish a dynamic partnership for sharing resources and knowledge on gender equality;

· To invest in women through a decentralization policy, and ensuring that these actions contribute to the achievement of the goals of the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women.

This year, at the International Women’s Day celebration, the Government took the opportunity to evaluate the first year of the Dili Declaration; it took stock of its achievements and challenges. Some of those are:

In the area of Education:

· at the primary school level, the number of girls (78%) and boys (80%) enrolled is almost the same, and more girls stay in school until Grade 6. In secondary school, more girls (24% for junior and 12% for senior high school) than boys are enrolled. Also, 40% of students in technical and higher education are girls.

· In Non Formal Education, the literacy programs’ main target groups are women, and classes are opened in each district. A 3 month accelerated literacy project called “Sim eu posso/ Hau Bele”, that means Yes I can, delivers classes in all districts, covering 442 sucos. The districts of Oecusse and Atauro have a special pilot project offering classes in Tetun and in Portuguese and are expected to be free from illiteracy by 2010. This model will then be replicated into all districts. Literacy classes are flexible and able to adapt to women’s busy schedules. The primary school equivalence program allows young women to gain a formal education in three years.

· Regarding adolescent pregnancy and consequent school drop outs, it is worth noting that in Timor-Leste the adolescent fertility rate is 58.5 per 1,000 adolescent women. In response to high teenage pregnancy, as a result of lack of information on sexual and reproductive health, the Ministry of Education and Culture has developed a life skills education program for youth out of school and currently is running a pilot in 7 districts. The Ministry of Education and Culture is also developing a national secondary school curriculum which also includes sexual and reproductive health issues targeting adolescents.

In the area of Health and Reproductive Rights:

· concerning maternal health; the 2002 UNFPA, WHO, and UNICEF figure rate of 660 per 100,000 maternal mortality, is till now the only data source for maternal mortality rate in Timor-Leste. This is one of the highest rates in the region. Unfortunately, a more recent figure cannot be provided. However, the Ministry of Health and National Statistic Directorate is currently conducting a Demographic and Health survey and the result will reflect the current situation in country with regard to maternal mortality.

· the government is strongly committed to reduce maternal mortality. Efforts such as the development of the Reproductive Health Strategy, the National Family Planning Policy, Training on Safe and Clean Delivery and Emergency Obstetric Care to health providers and the equipment of established health facilities are expected to have positive impacts on the current situation and will help the country achieve the target of 480 per 100,000 maternal mortality ratios by 2010.

· The limited number of midwives able to offer maternal health services, especially in the rural areas, constitutes a great challenge to the government in ensuring greater access to maternal health services. To deal with this shortfall, in 2008 the government in collaboration with the National University established a midwifery and nursing school, aiming at achieving a more sustainable system. Moreover, the Ministry of Health is bringing down the health services to the community level through its program known as “SISCA” – Integrated Health Services in the Community – in order to ensure that maternal health services are accessible to the communities.

· Advocacy at the national and regional levels in the context of the Reproductive Health Strategy and the National Family Planning Policy has been undertaken with the support of the major stakeholders and key players in country and in different regions, such as representatives from both the Ministries of Health and Education, religious leaders, community leaders, young people and parents. The vast majority of women receive family planning supplies from the public sector, with health centers as the most popular source. Family planning methods are now available in all level of facilities and up to the community through SISCA.

In the area of Agriculture including land and property rights:

· in terms of programs and policies, 7 women farmers’ groups’ accessed mini tractors as technology input and in 12 out of 13 districts Food Security Committees have been established composed of Government, Civil Society, NGO, Church and Private sector representatives including at least 3 female members per committee.

· internally the Ministry has adopted a gender action plan as an integral part of its annual action plan with an allocated budget; it has been implemented throughout district agricultural offices. According to the National Priorities Planning process for 2009 the Ministry targeted 30% women farmers for training, inputs delivery and all other extension services. Also worth noting, senior female staff in the Ministry were promoted to managers of seven out of 12 departments. Finally, the Ministry of Agriculture is currently developing an agriculture gender national policy.

· in the area of equal access to property and land rights SEPI in collaboration with other stakeholders has led several public consultations throughout the country in order to ensure a gender perspective in the Civil Code. Such consultations resulted in a set of recommendations to be included in the draft Civil Code particularly aiming at the land and property rights. The draft Civil Code is expected to be approved by the Council of Ministers this year.

In the area of women in the economy:

· the Government, through SEPI, provides financial support to projects led by groups of women in order to encourage women’s small business initiatives. In 2008 SEPI supported 24 groups of women through this funding line, and in 2009, this number increased to 29. The Ministry of Economy and Development has also introduced temporary special measures for women in its microcredit funding, by giving priority to women’s groups; and banks are now open in most of the 13 districts, giving women easier access to banking services across Timor.

· also, for the second consecutive year, and in the context of the celebration of International Rural Women’s Day, SEPI in close collaboration with other governmental bodies, development partners and NGO’s will hold a one-week fair that will provide an opportunity for women from the rural areas to present and sell their products and handicrafts. During the fair, other events will take place, such as trainings and seminars supporting women in business and informing the public about relevant projects run by private initiatives – such as the Association of Timorese Business Women.

Madam Chair, Members of the CEDAW Committee,

Last but not least, in the area of Justice I would like to highlight the fact that a Draft Law against Domestic Violence is currently under discussion by the Council of Ministers and that a strong commitment has been shown by the Government and National Parliament to have the law adopted in 2009. The main purpose of this law is to establish and strengthen the necessary mechanisms to prevent domestic violence and promote the rights of the victims, as well as to guarantee legal protection to the victims. In order to respond to these objectives, the draft law proposes, amongst other items, the strengthening and enlargement of a network of support centers, and defines the responsibilities of the various governmental bodies in collaboration with civil society organizations that act as service providers.

Madam Chair, Members of the CEDAW Committee,

To conclude, I would like to emphasize the importance that the Government of Timor-Leste places on the area of women’s rights and gender equality, and therefore its recognition of the valuable work of the CEDAW Committee. To this end, we have carefully selected our delegation from the highest levels of our Government, and I will now present them to you.

Head of Delegation:

Ms. ldelta Maria Rodrigues, Secretary of State for the Promotion of Equality –

State Secretariat for the Promotion of Equality

Members of the Delegation:

Mr. Armando da Costa, National Director for Gender and Development Policies –

State Secretariat for the Promotion of Equality

Mr. Afonso Soares, National Director for Policy and Planning –

Ministry of Education and Culture

Mr. Octávio Almeida, National Director for Policy and Planning –

Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries

Mr. Celito Cardoso, Policy Officer at the National Directorate of Human Resources –

Ministry of Justice

Ms. Isabel Gomes, Head of the Maternal and Child Health department –

Ministry of Health

Ms. Sebastiana Barros, Assistant Policy Officer of Multilateral Division –

Ministry of Foreign Affairs


Mr. Sidonio Trindade Freitas

We, the delegation of the Government of Timor-Leste, are at your disposal for any further clarifications. Thank you.

Source: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/docs/statement/TimorLeste44.doc

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