06 December 2012

Fundasaun Alola: Women's rights in Timor-Leste

04 December 2012 The Guardian - The aim of Fundasaun Alola, a small NGO from Timor-Leste, is that all women and children will have equal status in all aspects of their lives – from education to social rights to healthcare.

It's a bold vision for an organisation only founded in 2001 and based in the poorest country in south-east Asia, still recovering from decades of conflict with neighbouring Indonesia.

Women in Timor-Leste have been traditionally locked out of decision-making and are often not in control of their own healthcare. Fundasaun Alola aims to change this through a range of programmes related to all aspects of a woman's life, from healthy pregnancy and delivery, to nutrition and childcare, to future educational opportunities.

"The biggest obstacle is that we live in a patriarchal society and women do not always feel as if they have the right to good maternal healthcare," says Teresa Verdial de Ara├║jo, CEO of Fundasaun Alola.

Some of the biggest challenges are cultural. Traditional nursing practices in Timor-Leste have historically encouraged women to reject their own nutritious colostrum milk, produced in the first few days after birth, in favour of unsterilised water mixed with honey. Timor-Leste has one of the highest infant mortality rates at 83 per 1,000 live births and the average number of children per woman is 7.7.

Alola's innovative approach involves cookery classes for women to teach them about nutritious foods, and promoting exclusive breastfeeding through mother and baby support groups. And things are improving – a national health survey showed that exclusive breastfeeding rates had gone from 30% in 2003 to 52% in 2010. Babies being delivered at health facilities have also increased from 10% to 22% (Alola's figures).

Healthy babies will one day grow up to be bright and capable adults, and Fundasaun Alola educational scholarship programmes have helped hundreds of young women such as Lucia Augusta Dos Santos to complete university. "My family had no income, but I've graduated and now I'm working for a private company," she says. "My hope for the future is that more young girls will benefit." Source: guardian.co.uk

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