Subject: FOKUPERS: Women Seminar Dili 25 Nov
Date: Tue, 08 Dec 1998 17:19:00 +0930
From: Rob Wesley-Smith <rwesley@ozemail.com.au> Organization: Australians for a Free East Timor (AFFET) /Troppo Rural Consulting

Another Women's Conference in Dili report by Jude. (see prev posting 23 Nov 1998)

Together Against Violations of Women Mai Hanu tuk Ha’ Lak on Violasaun ba Feto

The women of East Timor or Timor Loro Sae as it is becoming known more widely in that country, are taking every opportunity in this era of “reformasi” to speak out about violence. The inaugural women’s conference was not long over before Fokupers held a seminar and demonstration in Dili on November 25, UN Day Against Violence of Women.

Fokupers has been established about a year. It has an office with a small number of staff and many volunteers who have law and economic degrees. Fokupers stands for Forum Komunikasi Untuk Perempuan Loro Sae – Communication Forum for Women from the East. The director, most appropriately is Maria Domingas Alves or Micato, a woman with a phenomenal ability to analyse and inform about the suffering of East Timorese women in the last 23 years since the Indonesian invasion.

Speakers: Micato and Sabina Fonseca from OMT (formerly called OMPT – the long established clandestine women’s group which like other clandestine groups is now coming out into the open) were the main speakers at the Forum giving information on both domestic and military violence. They spoke about mental violence and how it was time for Timorese women to "wake up" and fight against violence from the military, husbands and the government. They are stirring the women into more overt action than has been customary in the past.

Commentators were Father Jovito who presented the church's view of violence against women. Father Jovito admitted that Catholic doctrines can be mistaken by supporting the idea that men are dominant. He believes that women should be spiritual law educators. Benjamin Corte Real gave the view of a well educated family man; and Aniceto Guterres from Yayasan Hak, the only legal aid organisation in Timor Loro Sae, commented on the supposed protection that the law provides - which in reality is nil.

The floor was then opened to discussion. The first question was “why has nothing changed? According to international law we have a right to our own country.” The real reason for the seminar in a nutshell! As requested by Fokupers everyone spoke in Tetun and pamphlets on domestic violence were written in Tetun. There was some disappointment that the legal expert had to use bahasa Indonesia to amply describe what the law was incapable of doing.

500 people attended – about 65% women I would estimate. The crowd was overflowing out of the well appointed hall and consisted of housewives, professionals, farmers, nuns, ex-prisoners etc and a few westerners. One American friend was amazed that there was no break for four hours and that people did not complain. But of course the opportunites for such discussions have only been available for the last few months.

One of Fokupers’s volunteers (Nehek) had written a stirring song especially for the day that was taught to the audience at the start of the seminar, passionately sung at the conclusion, on the way to the demonstration in the back of the truck and of course at the demonstration itself. The chorus is still ringing in my head.

Avante….Avante Forward ……. Forward Ne’e Mak ami nia direito This is our right Tuir deklarasaun ONU According to the UN declaration Kontra hahalok a’at Against violations Nebé haterus Feto Which women suffer Iha mundu …… Rai Klaran All around the world

The demonstration was held around a busy roundabout on Jalan Tugu Pramuka in central Dili facing a monument celebrating integration! The objective was for the military to see them – SGI and Korem military offices are nearby. Supporters controlled the traffic and handed out flowers and pamphlets on violence and flowers. I strolled past 2 policemen who seemed quite happy to have flowers in their button holes. I saw no other military till later.

Everyone was mainly silent but in what I have come to realise is Timorese tradition there were prayers and singing. After about 1½ hours in the hot sun the organisers were happy to depart and I walked down a quiet side street to my next destination only to suddenly realise I was alone with three parked truckloads of military police with rifles loosely slung over their shoulders or in their hands. I felt a surge of nervousness which I quickly dismissed though I remembered two of the women the day before expressing some apprehension about the military’s reaction to the demonstration. Some of the men smiled and asked me “Mau kemana?” “Jalan-jalan” I grinned. They laughed but not all of them. Some scowled.

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