Every day, Timorese women like Martina seek refuge from domestic violence. Today, Timor-Leste ranks 128th out of 187 countries according to the United Nations Gender Inequality Index (GII) (United Nations Development Program).
Timorese traditional society and cultural practices, as well as the trauma associated with the conflicts and violence in Timor-Leste’s past, put the women of Timor-Leste at risk of suffering. gender inequality and gender-based violence (GBV).
Timorese women continue to experience high levels of violence (ReliefWeb), despite the ratification of the 2003 Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and other laws that aim to protect women from violence sexist.
Martina is one of those women in Timor-Leste who fled domestic violence in 2008. âThere was still violence in our area,â says Delfina, Martina’s eldest daughter. âMy mother suffered so much, but she maintained her strength to take care of us.
In Timor-Leste, gender-based violence is the largest category of crimes reported to police, with 59% of female couples aged 15-19 having experienced intimate partner violence at least once in their lifetime (The Asia Foundation). However, this figure is only a fraction of actual cases, as most cases of domestic violence are handled informally and are never reported to law enforcement (UNDP Timor-Leste).
In recent months, gender-based violence is believed to have increased due to COVID-19, as it is believed to have contributed to triggers of violence, such as financial stressors, tight confinement of families and isolation from support networks.
âVulnerable women are at risk of not accessing support services due to restriction of movement during containment and state of emergency measures,â said Fernando Pires, Caritas Australia representative for Timor-Leste. “Loss of employment and income by partners can increase stress levels in the home, making women more vulnerable to gender-based violence.”
Caritas Australia’s protection program started in 2016 – and is now operating in the municipalities of Baucau, Manufahi, Viqueque and Oe-cusse in Timor-Leste. We work with 13 local partners to help protect the dignity, safety and access to services for those most vulnerable to gender-based violence.
We supported three shelters to provide immediate protection, support and referral to other services for women and children survivors of violence. The shelters also provide training to enable survivors to acquire livelihood skills and help them support themselves and their children as they reintegrate into their communities.
After escaping domestic violence in her home, Martina decided to come to Uma Pas, one of the shelters we support, which provided her and her eight children with accommodation, food and referrals to other services, including health and education. She also received basic financial training to learn how to best manage her money, gain economic independence and the ability to support her children.
Today, Martina is an inspiration to her community, her children thrive and she even runs her own small business.
âMy life has changed completely. I used to live in fear and darkness with no one to help me, âsays Martina. âThe support I received gave me the strength and the opportunity to rebuild my life and, above all, to be able to provide a better future for my children.
We are also working with our local partners to strengthen their capacity to respond to cases of violence, and work together to define new strategies to engage and rehabilitate perpetrators.
âLocal partners provide information on the support services available for GBV when socializing COVID-19 prevention measures,â says Fernando Pires. “They also offer loans and savings programs to vulnerable women to help them achieve economic security and recovery.”
This program also engages the whole community in prevention measures, including young people, dioceses and high schools, in discussions and trainings on masculinity and early marriage, and a better understanding of the role that men can play. in reducing violence. Groups of men also meet regularly to discuss domestic violence and to develop strategies to create harmony in their homes and to influence other men in their villages.
Our local partners also work with families to identify the factors that contribute to violence in the family and to develop appropriate strategies to reduce its frequency.
Along with the generosity of our supporters, this program is supported by the Australian Government NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).