From where I stand: "People living with disability in Timor-Leste need respect, not charity”

Cesario da Silva is the executive director for the Association of People with Disability in Timor-Leste (ADTL). UN Women and the UN Human Rights Advisor’s Unit in Timor-Leste have been working closely with ADTL to support the rights of persons with disabilities and build an inclusive society, through the UN Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNPRPD) program. Amid immense and persistent challenges, Cesario has seen some progress for the community.


Cesario da Silva is the executive director for the Association of People with Disability in Timor-Leste (ADTL). Photo:  UN Women/Helio Miguel


Our advocacy, supported by our partners, has started to bring some progress in response to the needs of the community of people living with disabilities, even if we haven’t seen a radical change as yet. These results are due to the many policies, program, activities, and some actions that have improved inclusiveness in Timor-Leste.   

One of biggest challenges is the perception, among the public but also by decision-makers in government, that this community needs charity rather than deserves empowerment.  We need to put it firmly in everyone’s mind that the citizens of Timor-Leste include people with disabilities. The government must guarantee that all program include these people. Everyone must erase from their mind any notion of charity. Anyone with a disability must be able to engage with any opportunity based on their ability, and regardless of their disability.

Personally, I have faced various acts of stigma in public, and often been excluded or referred to by my disability rather than my name. I cannot deny that it hurts and I feel deeply insulted, but at the same time, I acknowledge that these are the challenges that make me stronger.  

In my family, everyone loves me and really encourages me to do the things that I am capable of without looking at my physical condition, especially supporting my education. I wasn’t born with a disability, but I got it after turning 1, which was caused from a vaccine I took when I had a bad fever. As a result, I’m now a person with disability, when I was diagnosed with polio.   

Within the group and types of persons with disabilities, women with physical and mental disabilities are the most vulnerable group, facing multiple discrimination. Through the UNPRPD, with the joint program under Empower for Change project, the five UN Agencies (UN Women, UNFPA, UNHRAU, UNICEF, and WHO) have addressed the rights of persons with disabilities with different types of program (with three outcomes) of the project from 2018-2020.

As a result, some positive changes have been seen at the national level. There has been a positive impact on society, especially public awareness, basic knowledge on gender-based violence for women and girls with disabilities, and promoting equal participation in social services such as access to education, justice, and health services.  Moreover, this three-year project has also empowered Disabled Persons Organizations (OPD) to promote their rights through national advocacy. The ratification of the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) is one of their advocacy goals. Although the government of Timor-Leste has shown some positive commitment to ratify this convention, however, the ratification still under discussion within relevant line ministries such as the Ministry of Social Solidarity and Inclusion (MSSI), Ministry of Justice (MoJ), and Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoF) to endorse this matter through the parliament, as well as other campaigns for the rights of people with disabilities.

Through the UNPRPD program, this year we launched a guidance for prevention of gender-based violence against women and girls with disabilities, and we now have 11 facilitators who can help transform service providers. The program is especially targeted at those who deal with the rights of children and women with disabilities.

I hold out hope that all the people with disabilities in Timor-Leste will one day be free from all acts of violence or discrimination, and we will be granted equal opportunities to those with no disability. And my biggest hope is to not leave anyone with disability behind in the national development process. For my fellow persons with a disability, our life journey is full of struggles, we must be brave to counter them. But amid all the challenges and conditions of living with a disability, none should prevent us from competing with the rest of society.

SDG 5: Gender equality

Under the Empower for Change Program funded by Multi-Donor Trust Fund through UNPRPD, and working with UN Women and UN Human Right Unit in Timor-Leste, in 2019 the partnership launched a toolkit on GBV prevention against women and girls with disabilities. Cesario’s advocacy and stories link to SDG #5 on Promoting Gender Equality, SDG #10 Reduce Inequality, and SDG #16 on Partnership to Achieve the Goal.