Subject: UCAN: Women Link Discrimination, Violence To Basic Prejudice

ET02089.1436 March 15, 2007

EAST TIMOR Women Link Discrimination, Violence To Basic Prejudice

DILI (UCAN) -- Speakers at a symposium to mark International Women's Day in Timor Leste (East Timor) said greater awareness and education will empower women to fight ingrained attitudes that "justify" discrimination and violence against them.

Salesian Sister Abati de Fatima said women's lack of education in the country has made them powerless in fighting for equal rights. Formal education for women must be promoted to enable them to enjoy equal rights, she added.

The local nun and other speakers at the March 8 event in Dili addressed about 40 representatives from Timor Leste and international women's groups. Rede Feto (women's network), a national network of women and women's organizations, organized the symposium.

Aurora Ximenes, a counselor with the prime minister's desk for the promotion of gender equality, urged all women in the country to keep fighting against a social system that she said is patriarchal and restricts women's freedom. She pointed out the inherent discrimination in the local adage feto hakat klot, mane hakat luan, which means "a woman is born for narrow steps, while man is born for wide steps.

Such an attitude not only promotes male superiority but also creates discrimination and paves the way for violence against women, she said.

"The struggle for the elimination of impunity given to husbands who commit violence against their wives, and for bringing justice to such victims, is the responsibility of all the people, not only women," she asserted.

According to Ximenes, International Women's Day "encourages us, all women living in this developing country, to fight for equality." This year's theme for the United Nations-declared day was Ending Impunity for Violence against Women and Girls.

Maria Barreto a member of Rede Feto, likewise told UCA News after the symposium that observing "International Women's Day is very meaningful for women in this country because many are victims of violence committed by men."

Network chairwoman Ubalda Filipe Alves added that women suffer discrimination not only within their families but also in their social, economical and political life.

Section 17 of the Timor Leste Constitution stipulates that men and women shall have the same rights and duties in all areas of family life, as well as in the political, economic, social and cultural spheres.

Father Jose Antonio da Costa of Immaculate Conception Cathedral in Dili told UCA News on March 8 that the promotion of gender equality must start from the family. "I have experienced girls coming to me and crying, complaining that their parents did not allow them to pursue their studies," he said, describing the girls as "victims of the parents' traditional view that only boys may enjoy higher education."

Franciscan Father Guilherme da Costa Barros Bento, who teaches ethics and morals at the Dili-based Pastoral Institute, attributed violence against women in Timor Leste to a strong patriarchal social system. "The traditional view that confines women to the kitchen must be changed. Men should also work in the kitchen," he told UCA News. "If the conscience and faith of our children are well formed," the priest maintained, "there will be no domestic violence."

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