Subject: AGE: Women of Timor enlist aid of Oxfam

The Age

Women of Timor enlist aid of Oxfam

By Liz Gooch

August 3 2003

After enduring years of violence and civil unrest as their country struggled for independence, the women of East Timor have begun to play a more influential role in their society.

With the help of the aid agency Oxfam Community Aid Abroad, women's groups have increased the proportion of female members of Parliament to 26 per cent, and created a women's charter of rights.

As Community Aid Abroad celebrates its 50th anniversary, the organisation - affiliated with Oxfam since 1972 - is helping people in 15 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The Australian public has continued to support the agency since it was founded in Melbourne, with donations and fund-raising increasing by 30 per cent in the past year.

There is no doubt the growth of the organisation would have impressed Father Gerard Kennedy Tucker, the Anglican clergyman who founded Community Aid Abroad in 1953.

Aid workers from around the world, including Keryn Clark, of East Timor, and Pumla Mabizela, of South Africa, met in Melbourne last week to share their experiences.

In East Timor, Oxfam CAA works with the Government and non-government organisations to help in the country's development.

Ms Clark said that while some gender equity issues remained, such as improving education for girls, women's participation in politics had increased dramatically. Oxfam also works with the community on agriculture projects and health problems such as malaria, diarrhoea, tuberculosis and malnutrition.

Ms Clark said the East Timorese were starting to realise what it would take to rebuild their nation.

"It's a country with very few resources at the moment," she said. "You've got people who are often battling to do jobs that they maybe haven't had a lot of experience with, but they're still very keen."

Pumla Mabizela, who works for Oxfam's HIV-AIDS program in South Africa, says the agency had helped raise awareness of the disease, which has affected millions.

Oxfam works with support groups and youth organisations, and helps families learn how to care for someone with HIV-AIDS. "There's still a stigma out there, but with the intervention I think it will go away one day," Ms Mabizela said.

While Oxfam continues to focus on helping local communities, executive director Andrew Hewett said there had been a shift towards more active campaigning in recent years.

The increase in Oxfam's donations indicated that many Australians had a strong sense of social justice and wanted to be more engaged in the world, he said. "That for me is a really good sign that a lot of people out there want to try to do something about the gross poverty."

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