The unseen strands: Looking at the state of violence and gender in Timor-Leste

Message from the former Head of Office for UN Women in Timor-Leste on the state of violence against women in the country.


Authors: Sunita Caminha and Teresa Verdial

English | Tetun

An elderly widow with her widow daughter and two children in Special Administrative Region of Oe-cusse.Photo: UN Women/Helio Miguel
An elderly widow with her widow daughter and two children in Special Administrative Region of Oe-cusse. Photo: UN Women/Helio Miguel

Gender-equality activists gathered in Paris for the Generation Equality Forum in June, amid growing worldwide solidarity in support of each person’s basic right to live free of violence, regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, age, abilities, skin colour or social status. In Timor-Leste, gender equality and social inclusion have been key principles since the struggle for independence, and up until today.

With this progress around us, we have been reflecting on violence, especially violence against women and girls that still makes the news and our Facebook feeds, in places with familiar names, such as Lahane, Kutet or Rai Kotu, and in familiar settings, such as homes, orphanages, schools, on the street, in taxis, markets, offices and even social media.

As we reflect, it becomes clear that this violence is connected to more factors than we have been seeing, or perhaps than we have wanted to see. The strands that produce the violence in our community are spliced like the inner tali of a bote, woven tightly from behind to hold the basket together.

We make many efforts to promote a peaceful and non-violent society, yet when faced with violence in its various forms, we often respond to individual cases, without letting those incidents inform our view of the whole. In fact, we have allowed violence to increase divisions between individuals and groups. This further prevents us from taking an overall view and breaking the cycle of violence and endangers our progress as a country.

Greater attention must urgently be paid to all forms of violence and recognizing their links to gender inequality and violence against women and girls. We must also take particular note of those forms that are less visible, less headline-grabbing, but still highly destructive.

When a person is murdered with a gun or a knife, there is immediate shock and outrage, and at times, these have been connected with discussions on abuse of power and use of force by security personnel. If someone is murdered without a visible weapon, the outrage tends to be more muted, even though the injustice is no less, because it does not capture the public imagination as much. And if someone suffers injury and exploitation in silence, over time, we often hear doubt or excuses instead of the outrage and support that is needed – and deserved - by survivors of physical, sexual or psychological abuse.

Is this violence any less severe because we cannot see the wounds with our eyes? Do we need to see someone’s injury to feel outrage? We need to be more sensitive to the violations of the basic rights of all members of our community, not just the ones we are connected to personally.

And unless we pay more attention to the factors that link the different incidents, we risk missing our chance to speak out and make a change. By focusing on individual incidents and ignoring the wider structures enabling this violence, we also allow the pattern of abuse to inflict new layers of trauma all around us.

When a person abuses a position of authority to harm another person, whether in a family, in their community or an institution, is it because they do not understand the harm they are causing? Is it because they know they will face no consequences for their actions? Is it because they do not have the skills to manage their emotions and respond in non-violent ways? Is it because they see the act as acceptable or normal? It is likely a combination of these elements.

When we seek to bring a perpetrator of violence to justice, are we too focused on the individual and their circumstances surrounding the act of violence? It is important to understand that incidents of violence are a symptom of how power is asserted in society. When men use authority over a colleague, a friend or a family member, it is connected to the authority that tells a child to endure violence in silence. This same internalized authority reminds women and girls that they will be blamed by society if they speak out against abuse. This erodes a person’s self-confidence and their ability to trust and love themselves and other people. The roots of a single incident of violence, the story of where its seeds are planted, extend far beyond the individual perpetrator and victim.

Violence is experienced by different individuals in different ways. But there is a clear overall trend, in Timor-Leste as elsewhere, that those most at risk are women (including single mothers), girls, boys, persons with disabilities, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, and individuals who are isolated from social supports or protections, or economically dependent on others.

It may seem overwhelming to look clearly at this problem. Maybe the sheer numbers are too much to bear, or maybe we have our own experiences that are difficult to confront. We believe that not confronting it, not seeing and talking about it honestly, is the reason the violence continues generation after generation.

To move forward, we need to understand that as a society, we have been taught to see and accept violence as something that just happens, like a heavy storm whose course cannot be changed. But we need to understand that each case involves not just the individual perpetrator, but the wider societal context and, by extension, the attitudes and actions of each of us. Everyone therefore has their role in changing the cycle of violence, even if we do not see it directly.

This connection of every individual to the roots of violence is also a cause for hope and empowerment. One step for positive change is recognizing how much violence is linked to the wider imbalance of power that privileges individuals because of their sex, sexual orientation, social status or physical and cognitive abilities.

This inequality is the root cause of the ongoing violence, and, like weeds threatening a garden of vegetables, must be identified and eliminated. And like a crop that must be watered and cared for, we must cultivate non-violence by confidently standing up and speaking out in support of equality for all people. We must not wait until another incident of violence against women reaches our social media feed to be outraged or send our sympathies.

Every day we are silent allows the weeds of inequality to grow. Our silence hurts everyone experiencing violence and abuse; it leaves an imprint on future generations - reducing their potential to be free and grow fully.

We must start within, by embracing our own power, acknowledging our individual privilege and recognizing the connections between us. By bringing together these connections, we can grow as a collective of diverse voices against violence and abuse, so that all people can enjoy their right to be seen and heard, with love and equality.

This message is co-authored by Sunita Caminha, former Head of Office for UN Women Timor-Leste, and Teresa Verdial, Program Analyst for Together for Equality (T4E) programme


Talin ne’ebé invizível: Haree ba situasaun violénsia no jéneru iha Timor-Leste

Mensajen husi eis Xefe UN Women iha Timor-Leste kona-ba situasaun violénsia hasoru feto iha rai laran.

Date: Monday, July 5, 2021

Authors: Sunita Caminha and Teresa Verdial

English | Tetun

An elderly widow with her widow daughter and two children in Special Administrative Region of Oe-cusse.Photo: UN Women/Helio Miguel
An elderly widow with her widow daughter and two children in Special Administrative Region of Oe-cusse. Photo: UN Women/Helio Miguel

Ativista igualdade jéneru sira mai hamutuk iha Forum Jerasaun Igualdade iha Paris iha fulan Juñu, bainhira iha parte barak iha mundu hatudu haburas solidariedade hodi suporta ema hotu nia direitu báziku atu moris livre husi violénsia, la haree ba identidade jéneru, orientasaun seksuál, tinan no abilidade sira, kór ka kondisaun sosiál. Timor-Leste mós tama iha progresu ida ne’e, promove igualdade jéneru no inkluzaun sosiál komesa kedas husi ninia luta ba ukun rasik aan to’o ohin loron.

Ho progresu ne’ebé iha, ita halo ona refleksaun kona-ba violénsia, liu-liu violénsia hasoru feto no labarik feto sira ne’ebé sei nafatin fó sai iha notísia nomós pájina Facebook sira, iha mos fatin ne’ebé ita kuñese, hanesan Lahane, Kutet no Rai Kotuk nomos iha fatin ne’ebé ita hamahan aan ba, hanesan iha uma, orfanatu, eskola, dalan, iha taksi laran, merkadu, fatin servisu nomós iha ita nia plataforma média sosiál.

Bainhira ita halo reflesaun, ligasaun entre violénsia ne’e, barak liu konektadu ho buat ne’ebé ita bele heree ka ita hakarak haree. Talin ne’ebé prodús violénsia iha ita nia komunidade mak hanesan tali tahan ne’ebé homan hamutuk husi kotuk hodi kesí hamutuk ita nia bote.

Ita halo esforsu barak hodi hodi promove sosiedade ida ne’ebé ho dame no la ho violénsia, maibe dala barak, bainhira ita enfrenta violénsia ho forma oi-oin, ita responde ba kazu individual no izoladu deit, sein haree ba konstestu violénsia ne’ebé boot. Ho nune’e ita fó ona dalan ba violénsia atu kria divizaun entre ema individual no mos grupu sira. Ida ne’e dada ita nia progresu fila fali ba kotuk no prevene ita atu hapara liña siklu violénsia tomak no ida ne’e mos sai perigozu ba ita nia nasaun atu progresu ba oin.

Ita tenki fó atensaun urjensia ba forma violénsia hotu no rekuñese katak violénsia hirak ne’e ligadu ho dezigualdade jéneru no violénsia hasoru feto no labarik feto sira. Partikularmente, ita mos tenki hatene katak forma violénsia hirak ne’e barak mak ladun vizível, ladun fó sai iha notísia, maibe nafatin perigozu.

Bainhira ema ida hetan oho ho sasan kroat, ezemplu: kilat ka tudik, hamosu hirus makas, no dala barak hamosu mos konversasaun ligadu ho abuzu podér no forsa ne’ebé mak mai husi autoridade seguransa sira. Bainhira ema hetan oho, mais la ho sasan kroat ne’ebé ita bele haree, ema nia atensaun no hirus ladun makaas mezmu injustisa ne’e hanesan mos ho violénsia komete ho sasan kroat. Bainhira ema sofre husi kanek no eksploitasaun ho silénsiu, iha tempu naruk nia laran, dala barak ita rona dúvida no razaun oi-oin invez de hirus makas no suporta ne’ebé presiza – no merese – ba sobrevivente husi abuzu fíziku, seksuál no psikolójiku sira.

Ita hanoin violénsia ne’e la todan tamba ita la bele haree kanek sira ho ita nia matan ka labele kaer ho ita nia liman? Ita presiza haree kanek ne’ebé ema seluk hetan atu hamosu sentimentu hirus ba injustisa ne’ebé akontese? Ita presiza vítima sira husi violénsia tenke ema ne’ebé besik ita (familia ka kolega), atu ita bele sente empatia ho ema individual ne’ebé sofre violasaun ba sira nia direitu báziku?

No bainhira ita la toma atensaun ba fatór sira ligadu ho insidente violénsia hirak ne’e, ita lakon oportunidade atu koalia sai no halo mudansa. Kuandu ita foka liu ba insidente violénsia individualmente no ignora estrutura ne’ebé kauza violénsia atu mosu, ita mos fó dalan ba violénsia atu hamahar tan trauma iha ita nia leet.

Bainhira ema uza sira nia forsa atu hatuun/hakanek ema seluk, tantu liuhusi sira nia pozisaun iha familia, iha komunidade ka instituisaun, ne’e tanba sira la komprende impaktu negativu husi saida mak sira halo? Karik ne’e tanba sira hatene katak sira sei la hetan konsekuensia ba sira nia asaun sira ne’e? Karik tanba sira la iha kbi’it atu jere sira nia emosaun ka responde ba situasaun sira ho maneira la ho violénsia? Ou tanba sira haree hahalok ne’e hanesan aseitavel ka ema simu tanba sira nia pozisaun, no ne’e konsidera hanesan buat bainbain deit? Karik iha kombinasaun husi elementu sira ne’e.

Bainhira ita buka atu lori ema ne’ebé komete violénsia ba justisa, karik ita foka liu ba ema individual no situasaun ne’ebé akontese iha aktu violénsia? Tuir lolos la bele para iha nivel individual. Importante tebes atu ita komprende katak insidente violénsia sira ne’e mosu hosi sintoma podér ne’ebé mak tau ona iha ita nia sosiedade. Bainhira mane sira uza sira nia forsa atu hatun no domina servisu-maluk sira, kolega ka membru família, ne’e mós liga ho forsa ne’ebé hanorin ba labarik atu nonok deit bainhira sira esperiénsia violénsia. Autoridade ida ne’e mos fó hanoin ba feto no labarik feto sira katak sosiedade sei fó sala ba sira bainhira sira koalia hasoru abuzu no forsa kontra sira. Ida ne’e halakon ema nia konfiansa ba sira nia aan rasik no sira nia abilidade atu fiar no hadomi sira nia aan no ema seluk. Abut sira husi insidente violasaun ida deit, ístoria kona-ba oinsá fini husi violénsia ne’e moris, sei la para deit ba iha autor no vitima violénsia ida.

Ema individual oi-oin hetan esperiénsia violénsia ho meius oi-oin. Maibe iha Timor-Leste nomos nasaun seluk, ita nota sinal ida katak ema ne’ebé hasoru risku ba abuzu aas liu mak feto (inklui inan solteira sira), labarik feto, labarik mane, ema ho defisiénsia, ema lezbika, gay, biseksuál, transjéneru no interseksu, no ema individual ne’ebé izola husi apoiu ka protesaun sosiál, no ema ne’ebé iha dependénsia ekonómiku ba ema seluk.

Dala ruma ita sente todan atu haree problema ne’e ho didiak. Dala ruma tamba númeru insidente barak liu mai ita atu aguenta, ka ita iha ita nia problema rasik ne’ebé difisil mai ita atu konfronta. Ita fiar katak kuandu ita la konfronta, la haree, no la koalia kona-ba problema ne’e, ho onestidade, ida ne’e mak razaun ne’ebé violénsia sei kontinua buras husi jerasaun ida ba jerasaun tuir mai.

Ita fiar katak atu la’o ba oin, ita presiza kumpriende katak nudar sosiedade ida ita aprende ona atu haree no simu violénsia nudar buat ne’ebé akontese deit, hanesan udan boot ne’ebé mosu no nia dalan ita la bele atu muda. Maibe, se karik ita kumpriende katak violénsia involve liu ema ida ne’ebé komete violénsia no abuzu, no rekuñese katak problema ne’e ligadu ho kontestu sosiedade nian, entaun ita mós bele rekuñese ita nia knaar rasik iha istória ne’e. Ita hotu iha knaar atu muda siklu violénsia atu kontinua, maske ita la bele haree ka sente ninia impaktu iha ita nia moris rasik.

Ita nia ligasaun entre ema individual no abut ba violénsia mós sai dalan ba ninia prevensaun, esperansa no empoderamentu. Pasu pozitivu atu halo mudansa mak rekuñese katak violénsia ligadu ba poder ne’ebé laiha balansu no dezigualdade ne’ebé mak fó previlejiu ba individual sira iha sosiedade tanba sira nia seksu, orientasaun seksuál, kondisaun sosiál ka tamba sira nia abilidade fíziku no kognitiva sira.

Dezigualdade mak abut ba violénsia ne’ebé kontinua mosu, hanesan ho duut fuik ne’ebé sei estraga toos ida ho fasil, ita tenki identifika no elimina lalais nia abut. Hanesan mós ho to’os, ita kuda tenke rega ho kuidadu, ita tenke tau adubu la ho violénsia liuhusi hamrik ho fiar aan no koalia sai ho apoiu ba igualdade ba ema hotu. Ita tenki asegura katak ita sei la hein tan insidente hasoru feto no labarik feto sira atu mosu iha ita nia plataforma média sosiál atu ita senti hirus no hatudu ita nia simpatia ba vitima sira.

Loron-loron ne’ebé laiha asaun, ita nia nonok no ignoransia mak sei sai sasan kroat sira ne’ebé sei fó espasu ba du’ut fuik dezigualdade atu moris. Ita nia nonok sei hakanek ema sira ne’ebé mak esperiénsia violénsia no abuzu. Ida ne’e mós rai hela marka ba jerasaun ftuir mai, hamenus sira nia poténsia atu moris livre no buras totalmente.

Tamba ne’e, ita bele hahú ho tau hamutuk forsa ne’ebé mak iha, rekuñese ita nia previlejiu individualmente, rekuñese koneksaun entre ita. Bainhira ita tau hamutuk koneksaun sira ne’e, ita bele moris hamutuk kontra violénsia no abuzu ho lian diversu, atu nune’e ema hotu bele goza sira nia direitu atu ema bele haree no rona sira, ho domin no igualdade.

This message is co-authored by Sunita Caminha, former Head of Office for UN Women Timor-Leste, and Teresa Verdial, Program Analyst for Together for Equality (T4E) programme