Gender and Development
Coordinator, East Timor Women’s Network (REDE)
The issue of gender in East Timor is similar to the issue of gender anywhere else in the world. Generations of women everywhere have been given the task of only performing household chores, while men have been valued as the productive members of society, working in the plantations, in the ricefields, and in public positions. This long held division of labour covers all facets of community life, so that women have never been prioritised for their importance as individuals, but only prioritised in relation to the needs of men. This situation is such that roles and responsibilities are divided according to gender.
In our society, men are brought up to have authority, with the result that a paternalistic culture develops. This causes a discriminatory social environment where women are not accorded the same rights as men and are not respected. The result is that women are marginalised and subordinated and. This means that in our social environment division between the roles and responsibilities of men and women arise automatically, giving rise to the issue of gender.
Gender first came to the fore as an issue in the 1970s when it was brought up by Ann Oakley who described the issue of gender whereby: “the different characteristics accorded women and men are a social construct, while the real differences are only those of biology”.
Based on this assumption, the understanding of gender can change over time with changing situations, such as crisis or conflict that can change a situation very rapidly.
As we already know, women in East Timor have experienced great changes due to the conflict in East Timor, and these changes have resulted in people seeing the reality of the construct of gender. The situation of conflict in East Timor caused women to become involved in the development of all aspects of life, in the National Freedom Movement, as well as in the movement to free their fellow women, especially in the fields of politics, economy and education.
However, this period of participation did not last long, because Indonesian military activities caused people to become quiet and to stop struggling. Women’s position of subordination in a patriarchal society was made worse by the conflict in East Timor, where women were forced to endure violence. This situation resulted in women becoming ignorant and poor, and their sense of dignity suffered.
As such, we can see that along with a paternalistic East Timorese society, due to the long conflict in East Timor, women as subordinate members of society have experienced changes since 1975.
East Timorese women’s organisations have taken initiatives to raise the dignity of East Timorese women, and to free women from their ignorance. In relation to undertaking such initiatives, the Women’s Congress held in Dili in June 2000 discussed the following issues:
· Policies that are supportive of women are required;
· Policies that ensure equality for all people are needed in the fields of law, justice, education, health, economy and transportation.
· Lack of funds;
· There is no provision of basic goods for production purposes;
· There is no means for transportation of goods;
· There is unequal distribution of income;
· Lack of business skills in the community;
· Women do not yet have access to small business;
· There need to be policies and programs that support women, such as micro credit.
· The majority of women are still illiterate;
· Lack of school facilities;
· The school curriculum is not yet decided;
· There needs to be guidance for children as to how to value and respect other people;
· Develop Tetum and Portuguese languages.
· Lack of medicines in villages;
· Lack of vitamins;
· Lack of health workers in villages;
· Lack of mental health workers and programs;
· Lack of clean water facilities.
Media and communications:
· Need adequate communication facilities
In relation to the above issues, it can be concluded that women must be able to contribute to and take part in development in all areas.
In general women do not advance due to many inhibiting factors in areas such as education, economics, communication and politics. These factors influence gender development because if women do not experience an improved level of participation in all of the above areas, the development process will remain uneven. The development process will not address community needs in general, and women’s needs in particular.
At the CNRT National Congress in August 2000, a Resolution on Women’s Rights was made concerning:
1. The continuing discrimination and inequality of opportunities for women in East Timorese society;
2. The violence against women in and outside the home;
3. Polygamy and the lack of participation of women in decision making;