There are many barriers that prevent women from participating in community integrity building and community development in Timor-Leste. Without going into too much detail, much of the literature around gender equality, or the lack of it, is attributed to the fact that in Timor-Leste patriarchy is still dominant. According to a UN Women fact sheet “an entrenched culture of patriarchy is a worrying cause of widespread discrimination against women, and their continued exclusion from political, economic and social life”.
Luta Hamutuk, Integrity Action’s partner in Timor-Leste, has an objective to ensure a participatory and transparent development process that contributes towards the delivery of basic services for the people of Timor-Leste. Since 2010, Luta Hamutuk and their community monitors have ensured effective oversight of 60 reconstruction programmes and projects, such as schools, roads and clinics valued at over USD $ 60 million. Their work has contributed to greater community engagement and the delivery of critical infrastructure for more than 80,000 Timorese people, fixing problems in approximately 70% of cases where problems were discovered.
One of the key activities that the NGO organises as part of its community integrity building programme are community briefings. The meetings are designed for approximately 30 people and allow the participants to raise concerns, expose problems and suggest solutions. One of the main challenges that Luta Hamutuk has faced during these meetings is the lack of participation of women.
Initially, Luta Hamutuk set up these community briefings by approaching the village chief who would then decide who was eligible to attend the meetings. When Integrity Action staff were able to join these meetings in the past, it became apparent that the village chiefs almost always invited 30 men but no women. Furthermore, when Integrity Action staff had the opportunity to speak with some of the women that live in villages where such community briefings took place, they explained that they did not attend the meetings for two reasons. Firstly, they said that they had not been invited and secondly, that the meetings were usually held at times when they are busy with housework and childcare.
Since 2015, and after encouragement by Integrity Action, Luta Hamutuk has taken new measures trying to position women at the centre of its activities. It has started by proposing to village chiefs to hold all-women meetings. As a result, in the first few months of 2015, several community briefings were held in the district of Baucau and in six villages in the sub-districts of Laga and Venilale, village chiefs were open to the idea of women’s participation in the development process and expressed their commitment to increasing the women’s role within their community as well as keeping women informed about political, social and economic matters.
Between 2008-2014, less than 30% of women participated in these community briefings. Since the beginning of 2015, over 60% of the participants have been women. In an interview with Luta Hamutuk, the village chief of Bado-Ho’o concluded by saying “the reality that the women have to stay at home and cook has passed. We are just not in that era anymore”.
In addition, since May 2014 Luta Hamutuk works in partnership with UN Women on projects in the districts of Covalima and Oecusse. The aim is threefold. Firstly, the dissemination of information around the need for gender sensitive services through community briefings; secondly, to build local capacity and monitoring for gender responsive planning at the local level through the focal point system and thirdly, to link those local communities to the local and national level of decision-making. To date, Luta Hamutuk staff have participated in workshops organised by UN Women and when asked about the partnership, Luta Hamutuk indicates that initial results look very promising. Moreover, they are hopeful that the above activities can be implemented in all 13 districts of Timor-Leste. Without a doubt, since women’s participation has become a key focus of Luta Hamutuk work, progress has been made. It is early days but with attitudes changing this is indeed the right time to push for increased women’s participation in community development.
The village chief of Bado-Ho’o sums it up eloquently when he stated in an interview with Luta Hamutuk that he “wants everybody to understand what’s going on. This is my main objective, to give everybody the chance to participate, not only men and not only women”.