Subject: NGO takes on women's rights
TIMOR-LESTE: NGO takes on women's
DILI, 26 September 2008 (IRIN) - As a girl, Laura Pina was not expected
to slave in the kitchen simply by virtue of her gender. Then she got
Pina was shocked when she went to visit her in-laws for the first time.
"They thought women had to serve the husband's family," she said. "They
thought I had to stay and cook in the kitchen for all the ceremonies.
They expected me to stay in the kitchen all day and then eat last
because that was their custom - even if we sometimes ate in the middle
of the night."
Pina could not agree to such traditional behaviour. Her parents were
teachers and they had always encouraged her to get an education and be
independent. When she saw how Timorese women were treated as
second-class citizens, she decided to do something about it. She started
by arguing with her mother-in-law.
In 2001, she helped found the Women's Caucus, an NGO that addresses
women's issues. The following year Timor ratified the Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). This
United Nations-led treaty guarantees the rights of women and girls
But a signature did not change the reality for the half-million women in
Timor. As part of the convention, signatory governments must send
periodic progress reports to the CEDAW Committee. Timor-Leste finally
submitted its first report in March this year.
The CEDAW Committee encourages local NGOs to draft a shadow report with
their own analysis to get a clearer picture. Local women's rights
umbrella NGO Rede Feto (The Women's Network) asked Pina to coordinate
After reading the government report, Pina realised it failed to address
a number of issues. "[The government report] didn't say much regarding
the reality of women in Timor-Leste and also it just gives some very
basic information and misses a lot of important things," Pina said.
Pina has been working with dozens of local NGOs to gather data from
across the nation for a definitive report on the lives of women in the
In addition to a lifetime of manual labour, many women in Timor have
limited access to healthcare, drinking water, justice and influence in
community politics. Many women want an end to ingrained cultural
practices such as the bride-price and polygamy, which is still
occasionally practised. The shadow report will tackle all these issues.
Pina knows there is a great deal at stake. In addition to the CEDAW
Committee, the shadow report will be presented to the government. She
hopes it will convince policy-makers that life has to change - soon. "We
want the shadow report to help the Timor-Leste government to really
understand what problems the women of Timor face," Pina said. "The
government here can create concrete measures which can help the women of
Timor-Leste overcome some of these problems."
But Pina understands real solutions take time. Her mother-in-law is
still no fan of women's rights, but at least respects her and no longer
argues with her. That one tiny, personal change has taken more than a
Pina's youngest child is two. She reckons it will be his generation that
has a chance at equality and the government should focus on him. Asked
when she thought women might live as equals in Timor, she said that day
might come when he, and young girls his age, share fully in the
knowledge and other benefits of a university education.
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