Subject: UNIFEM Regional Conference on "Men as Partners to End Violence Against Women" mobilizes Timorese men for change.

UNIFEM Regional Conference on "Men as Partners to End Violence Against Women" mobilizes Timorese men for change.

August 31st, 2007.

Thailand's Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, the Royal Thai Government, in collaboration with UNIFEM's East and South-East Asia Regional Office in Bangkok will bring together male participants from the Asia-Pacific on the 3rd and 4th of September, in Bangkok, with an aim to brainstorming methods on the active engagement of men to stop various forms of violence against women.

The participation of male representatives from Timor-Leste will supplement a dynamic range of participants in the conference, which aims to facilitate the sharing of experience and good practice across the region.

Whilst regional, the conference will provide a foundation for development of programmes in Timor-Leste through UNIFEM's Supporting Community-led Initiatives to Promote Women's Engagement in Peace-building and Prevention of Sexual Violence (SGBV), which is currently mapping sexual and gender-based violence in the western districts of Bobonaro and Covalima in an effort to address three outcome areas: building enabling legal, policy and institutional environments, promoting women's access to legal and other support services, and supporting gender advocates and women's groups participation in local conflict reconciliation and in shaping institutional mechanisms to address SGBV.

Dr Rui Maria de Araujo, Timor-Leste's former Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Health and current Special Adviser on Policy Implementation and Management Strengthening to the Ministry of Health will provide insights to the conference on measures being undertaken in Timor-Leste by the country's health and public sector's respectively.

"My presentation will cover initiatives implemented in Timor-Leste over the last five years. This conference will allow, also, an opportunity for me to share some of my experiences while in office as a member of the government in the fight against gender based violence," Dr Araujo said.

"I expect to gain more concrete initiatives from various sectors in the region, particularly in the area of the state playing a leading role in combating violence against women."

Timor-Leste's broad network of advocates and civil society organisations pushing to end violence against women, according to Dr Araujo, is a positive reflection of a national interest to see violence against women eradicated. Of major importance, however, is the role of the state, and the role that men can play.

"There is a widely disseminated misperception that gender is a women's issue. It is important to promote the role of men in advocating gender issues. Men, and the state, have to become greater advocates for ending violence against women."

Timor-Leste's patriarchal culture is often cited as impeding the development of gender equality. Dr Araujo believes, however, that positive lessons from the region can have an influential role in breaking down such culturally ingrained perspectives.

"There is always room to learn good things from other societies and then try to implement them in Timor-Leste. In that process of adapting, however, one should always be aware of cultural sensitivity. It's obvious that we shouldn't copy and paste things from other countries. We should, however, learn from the positive examples and look for creative ways in implementing them into our society. The experiences of other countries and, in turn, the synthesis of these experiences into Timor-Leste's society is extremely worthwhile," Dr Araujo insisted.

The role of Timor-Leste's strong patriarchal society was acknowledged, also, by HAK director, Jose Luis Oliviera, as he prepared to join the delegation.

"Men in Timor-Leste have a paternalistic and patriarchal mentality. It's important that men are conscientious to help other men, to advocate for other men. Men close themselves off to women because they believe they are more important. But men can help one another to encourage a heightened respect for women," Oliviera insisted.

"Culture is not static. Culture is dynamic. In a dynamic process, you must also have interaction with other parties to diversify cultural society. This conference will allow us to gain another positive example of advocating for human rights that can be implemented in Timor-Leste. Human rights are universal. They are not simply an idea external from Timor-Leste. They apply in Timor-Leste also," he concluded.

Other participants in the conference will include Padre Fransisco Jose Baeza Roca from the Salele parish in Suai, Men's Association Against Violence (AMKV) board member, Mericio Akara, President of the Timor-Leste Journalism Association, Virgilio Guterres, PNTL's head of the Capacity Development Department, Domingos Gomes, and the director of local newspaper, Tempo Semanal, Jose Belo.

Already, a commitment has been made by the participants to bring lessons and strategies from the conference back to Timor-Leste to further consolidate efforts to fight violence against women. A preliminary meeting with participants showed encouraging signs for the future with suggestions of a task-force to end violence against women, the establishment of an active advocacy working group and the de-centralization of communication and training strategies.

UNIFEM's Regional Programme Director, Dr. Jean D'Cunha, reinforced the pressing need for such a conference and the participation of men. "There is an urgent need to systematically generate a critical mass of men advocating for humane gender sensitive values and practices in which girls and boys, women and men, together build cultures and communities of peace, security, and equality in gender relations."

"With an understanding of the male ethos, men can develop a persuasive language as advocates to demonstrate how, as men violently guard narrow male privilege, they seriously compromise their humanity as they perpetuate a culture of violence."

UNIFEM, which works to promote women's empowerment, rights and gender equality worldwide, in Timor-Leste, runs in-country programs seeking to further champion women's empowerment in democratic governance as well as advocating for a platform within the country's nascent democracy to eradicate violence against women. Their Timor-Leste programme Supporting Community-led Initiatives to Promote Women's Engagement in Peace-building and Prevention of Sexual Violence (SGBV) is a two-year programme aimed at developing community based responses to SGBV and promoting women's engagement in local conflict reconciliation and peace building initiatives.

For more information, please contact:

Chris Parkinson Communications UNIFEM Timor-Leste

p. (+670) 726 3773


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