Subject: Women's Network statement to Brussels donor conference

REDE: Feto Timor Loro Sae Timorese Women's Network

Statement to the Donors Conference for East Timor, Brussels 5-6 December 2000

Presentation by Filomena Reis

Chairperson, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentleman

REDE: Feto Timor Lorosae, a network of Timorese women and women’s organisation is honoured to be represented at this donor’s conference, especially at such an important and critical moment for our country. We have heard reports on the current situation of Timor Lorosae from the distinguished representatives of the East Timor Transitional Administration, including the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General Mr Sergio Vieira de Melo as well as comments also from the CNRT.

Given that women currently comprise the majority of East Timor’s population, it is fitting therefore that REDE as a network of women’s civil society organisations and individual women has also been permitted to deliver its opinion and recommendations.

REDE: Feto Timor Lorosae was established in March 2000 and currently encompasses more than 15 women’s organisations. These organisations are representative in themselves of a broad cross section of society as there are mass based organisations with national membership ­ down to the village level, cultural, income generating/small business and rights based organisations and organisations affiliated with political parties.

REDE and each of the network’s members have been accompanying the political developments in our country. REDE advocates on a rights based approach to development, justice, social inclusiveness and gender equity and equality. REDE is also participating in and contributing to the reconstruction as well as working directly with Timorese women through amongst others, literacy and income generating and poverty alleviation projects to help them break away from the debilitating ties of illiteracy and poverty.

Although there have been achievements, progress is slow. Women’s lives in East Timor, as with the rest of the population continues to be arduous. For women this is more so because of the situation of women in Timorese society, cultural perceptions of women, the absence of clear laws which protect women and women’s limited participation in decision making.

Political transition

Much has been said about the political and administrative transition. Although consultations have been dimmed to have been extensively conducted with Timorese leadership, REDE must remind you that this has not been exhaustive.

REDE believes, in Timorese capacity to govern and indeed full Timorese administration and independence has been what we have fought for and have been progressing towards. This can not however become and end to itself. Targets and benchmarks as have been presented together with the political calendarisation provide important parameters but the overall framework for the transition must be capable of containing and involving all Timorese.

If the goal is a sustainable political and administrative transition than it must be capable of involving the people in the most informed and inclusive manner possible. The transition can not be of the elite, it must be of the people.

Timorisation and capacity building have become catch phrases for the current administration, and with reason, as the administration has been almost fully staffed by internationals. However the mistaken perception that there is no Timorese capacity or that there is capacity only amongst a few, and the convenience of talking with a limited elite can not justify jumping over and undermining the institutions being created with such difficulty.

Timor Lorosae has just begun to emerge from a dark and very recent experience of an administration filled with corruption and extreme use of violence and oppression to subjugate and control the people. Today the people have fully embraced the opportunity to lay down the foundations of democracy, although the sense of ownership of the process and the feelings of being at the periphery have not been totally overcome. Therefore if the objective is to focus on collective decision making, through newly established institutions such as the National Council, where REDE is also represented than lets respect these. Full consultation with these institutions must be properly conducted to avoid these becoming puppet institutions which simply serve a rubber stamping purpose.

Political and administrative transition must be about creating and establishing the institutions necessary to sustain East Timor into democratic self government. REDE believes that capable, transparent and accountable institutions, are our best guarantees for peaceful and prosperous independence. Memories of the last 24 years of Indonesian military occupation and the civil war prior to the Indonesian invasion are bitter experiences, fresh in the minds of the people. Fears of the past repeating itself are real as examples of political tensions and signs of possible instability abound.

The political transition must therefore take all of these into consideration and it would be most irresponsible for the UN, UNTAET and the international community to ignore these.

Evaluation of past six months

REDE welcomes the positive developments of the past six months although this has been relatively slow and difficult and may become more so because of the onset of the rainy season.

REDE continues to have a number of concerns and wishes to highlight the following:

Gender mainstreaming

Mechanisms at government level which work towards development and implementation of gender mainstreaming policies must be strengthened. These must have their own dedicated programmatic budget line from the overall governmental budget and not be reliant on bilateral funding. Outreach into the districts of Timor Lorosae are vital but REDE believes that we must move away from the current gender focal points to actual gender officers positions for every district. The gender officers only focus would then be on gender rather that combining a number of responsibilities which minimise their effectiveness in all.

The focus needs to be on capacity building, mainstreaming and sustainability.

Affirmative action quotas/policy

There is currently a 30% minimum affirmative action quota/policy for women’s participation in the public service and leadership. Current recruitment figures show that this will not be reached because this policy has not been accompanied by sufficient targeting of women nor strict adherence to equal opportunities policies and guidelines.

Specific targeting of women in the recruitment stage with specific, intensive on the job training programs for those recruited must be developed to bridge the current gender imbalance.

Justice and the rule of law

The 1st Congress of Timorese women held in June of this year identified the absence of clear laws which protect women as one of the reasons for violence against women inside and outside the home. Domestic violence is rampant and of great concern whilst sexual assault and harassment continues to prevail. Reporting of these is slowly increasing. Fear, lack of confidence in the justice system but more so a lack of knowledge of victims rights, the law and limited support services contribute to this already compounded problem.

Laws which protect women must be enacted and information campaigns must be conducted to inform women of their rights and the intolerance by the government of the use of violence.

Justice and Reconciliation was also discussed in the women’s congress and participants concluded that although they wanted reconciliation, this could not be achieved without justice.


This is also of grave concern given the need for improved and increased services. REDE is concerned with both the physical and mental health status of women. Women who have been subjected to sexual and domestic violence must be able to access the necessary counselling and mental health services. Those who were subjected to sexual assault last year are especially vulnerable as are women who have been held as sex slaves by the militia in West Timor.

The infant mortality rate continues to be one of the highest in the world with 85 deaths per 1000. There is very limited services for women’s health and care during maternity. With limited resources REDE’s members have their hands tied and can not out reach to where services are most needed in the districts.

Funds allocated for the use of NGOs must ensure that the majority reaches people in need in the districts. In the absence of government capacity to cover all areas, it is also of utmost importance that credible NGOs who have the confidence of the people are engaged to provide services.


Illiteracy continues to be a great deterrent to women’s full participation with at least 65 % of the illiterate being women. Literacy programs must be given the necessary attention to break this cycle.

Rural Development

The destruction to East Timor by the Indonesian authorities has resulted in movements of people to the capital Dili and main centres like Baucau. Rural development is critical to attracting people back to the districts. Sufficient funds must be allocated for this as well as operational budget allocation for the district administration to ensure rural development and growth in this sector.

Food security

Even though the emergency period is officially over, food security continues to be a problem in some parts of East Timor. REDE members visiting villages in the sub district of Maliana in the west of East Timor were extremely concerned by the state of staples such as corn crops which were highly affected by pests and with no chance of yielding a successful harvest. From Ainaro REDE has also received reports of people having reverted back to eating leaves and the tubes of the maek plant which is used when there is limited food.

Mechanisms of government and the role of civil society organisations

To conclude, experience has told us that developing and implementing an inclusive policy needs constant attention. Although advances have been made and there is the beginning of the implementation of a gender mainstreaming policy, our struggle for gender equity and equality is by no means over.

Therefore REDE believes that donors need to ensure that the OECD’s own DAC guidelines are adhered to and that enough funds are allocated for civil society and institutional strengthening.

A mechanism at the highest level of government to ensure women’s rights and gender equity must be institutionalised with adequate staffing and an operational budget. This has to be done parallel to funds allocation for programs to strengthen civil society and civil society organisations in particular women’s organisations to provide complimentarity and the needed balance for both to be effective advocates and instruments of positive and sustainable change to women’s lives.

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