Fwd (GLW): EAST TIMOR: Women face uphill struggle

Alan Bradley alanb at SPAMelf.brisnet.org.au
Mon Jan 22 04:18:27 MST 2001

The following article appears in the current issue of Green Left Weekly

EAST TIMOR: Women face uphill struggle

DILI — Aurora Ximenes, the coordinator of the East Timor Women's Network,
which comprises 15 grassroots organisations, is angry that women are being
sidelined in the transition to independence.

Listening to her story, it seems that the problems the network faces typify
the problems which have faced most Timorese political organisations since
the country came under the mandate of the United Nations.

Formed in March, the network held a two-day congress in June in which 500
women participated. Given the difficulties, including a severe lack of
resources and funding together with women's low status in society, the
congress was an important step forward.

Among the Women's Network's first efforts was an attempt to ensure
representation of women on the country's National Council, a 34 member
advisory body to the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor.

While UNTAET head Sergio de Mello has the power to ignore all advice, veto
any decision and unilaterally implement any policy, the National Council is
supposed to represent a cross-section of East Timorese political opinion.

When UNTAET encouraged nominations from women, a network meeting in
September nominated three it felt adequately represented its opinions. All
three Women's Network nominees had roots in their communities and had all
been fighting for 24 years against Indonesia's occupation.

But, in its October 23 announcement of the National Council's make-up,
UNTAET ignored all three nominations and co-opted an expatriate, Milena
Perez, who has lived overseas for most of her life but speaks English and
Portuguese. The Women's Network says it has no quarrel with Perez
personally but says she does not represent any women's organisation.

The Women's Network is protesting the mechanism by which the selection was
made and is trying to get an explanation of the selection process. As
Ximenes told Green Left Weekly, “UNTAET is always talking about the
`Timorisation' of the administration but the administrator always has the
final say”.

“It is very difficult for us, as all decisions are made at the top and we
only hear about it after the decision is made”.

Ximenes explains that the movement's biggest priority is to tackle women's
lack of skills. The vast majority of women speak Indonesian and the
indigenous language, Tetum, but find it almost impossible to take on
leadership positions without English and Portuguese.

Women's organisations are tackling enormous issues, including calling for
laws against domestic and public violence, rape, economic discrimination
and for a literacy campaign.

One organisation, ETWAVE, East Timorese Women against Violence, gives
assistance to women facing domestic violence. Many women raped by the
Indonesian armed forces couldn't get abortions, resulting in many orphans
and abandoned children.

Another group, Ermera, which deals with women's health, seeks to educate
the public about HIV-AIDS, a latent problem waiting to explode. There are
also many problems associated with the use of IUDs, with not enough doctors
available to carry out regular check-ups.

Many women are widows, whose husbands died in the war or were killed in the
mountains and who now have to raise their children without economic

One case women's organisations are taking up involves widows whose husbands
were local staff employed by the United Nations killed during the
referendum campaign. The UN has so far refused to pay them any

I was told of another woman, who has 12 children and whose husband was
murdered by the militia — she also could get no support from UNTAET.

Another case involves widows and orphans from the OPMT, the Timorese
Women's Popular Organisation, who recently met with international donor
organisations only to be told that they couldn't be helped because they
were affiliated with the leftist political party, Fretilin.

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