Empowerment of Tomorrow's Women Leaders in East Timor

The FBA provides support to organizations working to promote women's participation in issues concerning peace and security. One of the initiatives supported are WoGiP, a project in East Timor run by Plan International and two local organizations. ‘The project has already achieved a remarkable success’, says Fatima Soares, project manager.

East Timor is a small post-conflict country in Southeast Asia, which became independent in 2002 after being a Portuguese colony and later occupied by both Japan and Indonesia. The road to independence was long and bloody, and the country is today considered among the least developed countries in the world.

It is harder for girls than for boys to enjoy their basic rights. Girls are often expected to do domestic work instead of going to school, and many girls are forced to marry and have children while they are still children themselves.

– In East Timor, men are traditionally the power-holders and decision makers, both at home and at community level. Girls are the least powerful family members and their concerns are less likely to be heard. In times of financial constraints, boys will be prioritized, says Fatima Soares from WoGiP.

WoGiP is short for Women's and Girls' Participation in Local Governance, and the project is supported by the FBA’s 1325 grants, which in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1325 promotes the participation of women in issues concerning peace and security. WoGiP aims to increase girls' and women's participation in local decision-making. Since gender-based violence is one of the biggest challenges to the participation of girls and women, the project also works to reduce gender-based violence in East Timor.

– Domestic violence is another huge issue. Some parents see corporal punishment as an acceptable way of disciplining their children. Girls' responsibilities are traditionally within the house, and their ‘work days’ start earlier and finish later than the boys' days. The tasks are often hard and sometimes dangerous, as fetching water and collecting firewood, which increases the likelihood to get punished in case they don’t manage the heavy workload, says Fatima Soares.

Changing attitudes and traditional beliefs is sensitive, takes time and requires cultural understanding. WoGiP uses an inclusive process where men, women, boys and girls are involved and together with local and religious leaders discuss social and traditional norms.

But how can girls' ability to influence local decision-making be increased in practise? WoGiP creates forums at village and district level, where girls and women from different villages, government agencies, religious groups and the private sector are included. The forums are arenas for exchange of experience and networking, but also for education. The participants are trained in issues such as leadership, speech writing, advocacy, and how to run an election campaign.

The results have not been long in coming; some of the women who participated in the programmes are now part of decision-making bodies at different levels, and there is already an increase in the number of women nominated to become village leaders. In addition, the government recently announced that the WoGiP model will be used in all of East-Timor's 13 municipalities.

– The project has already achieved a remarkable success. There were already organizations in East Timor working on women's rights and gender equality, but until now there haven’t been initiatives that prepare girls to take leadership roles in the society. We believe that change for the coming generation starts with empowering the girls who will be tomorrow's women, says Fatima Soares.

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Gabriela Elroy

Gabriela is expert on women, peace and security

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